Published: July 22nd 2012July 22nd 2012
Blogging from a country that is still (hopefully) transitioning to a more open and democratic society, poses some interesting dilemmas over which photos and names to include. So I'm sorry to say, this entry will be a bit sketchy, and leaves out some interesting experiences altogether ;)
I had been given a contact name for the Myanmar Library Association, Professor Kyaw Zaw Naing, who has been a legal adviser to them. The professor turned out to be a man of great intellect and energy, being involved in drafting new national and public library legislation, and also intellectual property law, as well as ILO discussions. Not bad for a "retired" guy!
He introduced me to the deputy president of the Myanmar Library Association, a Karen man whose motto is "Once a librarian, always a librarian", who again is "retired, but not retired" - spending half his time lecturing at the university, and the rest running a library for the CETANA
organisation housed in the YMCA building. CETANA
is supported from the US, and provides English language lessons to students generally aged around 16 - 22. I happened to be there first on the day that a group of their students
were "graduating", but had neglected to carry my camera! I grabbed a few photos on a return visit - already the next course was filling up!
The CETANA library is best described by the photos attached. It functions well, due to the voluntary expertise of U Tin Maung Lwin , small charges to student users, and lots of donations of books and funds from the US. There is no automation.
By chance, the Myanmar Library association, was having a meeting at the National Library to discuss Intellectual Property rights, so U Tin Maung Lwin took me along, and I was privileged to meet the Deputy Director of the National Library
, Daw Kay Thi Htwe, who is also the General-Secretary of the Library Association.
The current location of the National Library
is rather obscure ( down a narrow lane) and the buildings best decsribed as non-descript. They are currently preparing for the move to the new National Library in the new ( and controversial ) national capital, and it was clear they were aware of the challenges of relocating thousands of irreplaceable items including ancient palm-leave manuscripts. Apprently a digitising project is underway, which eventually may make
People who just can't retire
the materials more accesible. Due to the short notice of my arrival, it was impossible to gain permssion for me to see any of the library collection. I gathered this is also the case for non-foreigners!
The Deputy-director confessed to having been unable to gain further training qualifications overseas, due to her having a government job. I read this as other countries refusing to permit her entry. It will be interesting to see if this changes provided the contry continues to move towards legitimate democracy. However, a number of times other people were mentioned as having received library training in Australia, and it was clearly seen as valuable. Similarly I later met a member of the advisory board of the CETANA school, a professor of economics, who received her training in Australia (at UNE) in the early '80's.
The Library Association is affiliated with IFLA, and they told me they could only do this because the our National Library assisted them in this.
I also attended the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Information Centre for Every Youth (ICEY) who run a voluntary library with the main purpose to provide resources for students attempting entry tests for foreign
unis and/or studying computing; and later I visited the library and spoke with the director ( one of the founders ). This was clearly a facility initiated by the better-off members of society, and similarly targetted. The energy and enthusiasm was obvious , and I'm sure many of these young people will go on to help build civil society, but I couldn't help contrasting this with the reality in rural locations where there are minimal libraries and the educational/job opportunities extremely limited.
I met with several other people working at addressing this more pressing need - all trying to establish tutoring groups and/or small primary schools with libraries in various parts of the country, usually under the umbrella of a local monastery: just to provide basic literacy, in a more flexible framework than the current government provides. Many tutoring establishments, some commercial, some free, have grown up to fill the gap in under-resourced public schools and universities.
Fortunately the Education ministery is developing a major review of education, so hopefully this will radically improve the quality of schooling more generally.
The need for teacher professional development, and the development of vocational training for youth were both themes
that kept cropping up in any conversations I had with those passionate about education.
There are more photos below