• christinemackenzie

Next Generation Libraries: Collaborate and Connect: CONSALXVII

Next Generation Libraries: Collaborate and Connect was the theme of CONSALXVII, the conference of the Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians held in Naypyidaw Myanmar 2-5 May, where I represented IFLA. Special Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, ceremonially opened the conference by striking a large gold coloured gong. The opening ceremony featured traditional dances and was attended by a number of Government Ministers and senior bureaucrats. Daw Aung spoke about the importance of access to information, the role of libraries in improving literacy and encouraging the love of reading, and the current efforts to improve school libraries in Myanmar, particularly through the efforts of the Foundation that she set up in honour of her mother. She also went off script to speak about how much she loved print books and how important it is that children are introduced to books.

The title of my presentation was Let’s work together which is my Presidential theme. It covered IFLA’s Global Vision Project, and described the 10 highlights and opportunities that were the findings of an extensive consultation process. The presentation highlighted that libraries and librarians around the world are united in their vision and aspirations. We now know our profession globally agrees that access to information is the most important value we hold and the most important role we have; and that without access to information, people and societies cannot develop and thrive. The presentation is available here.

The conference was very well attended, with 800 attendees including 600 from Myanmar as well as a large number of local volunteers from the library schools. This was the first time CONSAL has been held in Myanmar and it is the biggest library conference hosted by the country.

The conference had a number of streams and there was a varied and interesting range of presentations. One of the sessions I attended featured Mi Ki Kyaw Myint from the Asia Foundation. One of the Foundation's projects is to solicit donations of new and current books from American publishers and distribute them to libraries in Myanmar. To date 200,000 English language educational and children’s books have been distributed to 400 institutions including university, public and school libraries.

Mi Ki described the current situation in Myanmar and explained that the country has been in a transition period since 2011 when the democratisation process started. The change has brought hope, opportunities and possibilities as well as a number of challenges. Although Myanmar is rapidly building information structures, research undertaken by the Asia Foundation found that citizens had little or no access to information about governance and democracy and very few voters know about the voting process or how the president is elected.

As well as the book donation program the Foundation is running a program through libraries providing access to information and knowledge on human trafficking and risky migration. This is an innovative way to empower at risk, vulnerable young people with a comprehensive package of knowledge and skills to prevent them from being trafficked and enable them to make informed decisions about labor migration. The program has trained librarians to deliver training and also shows that librarians have a role beyond simply looking after books.

U Aung Than Htut, an INELI-ASEAN innovator, spoke about the library he has established - the Intensity Library attached to his English language school. He runs programs that would be familiar to many libraries in developed countries such as chess competitions, voter education, new book sessions, painting time, a children’s literacy festival, a religious conference featuring representatives from the major religions and presenting certificates for reading and volunteering.

Daw Myo Oo presented on the Myanmar Library Association (MLA) which was founded in 1991. As a result of IFLA’s Building Strong Library Associations program that was run from 2013- 6 the Association developed the MLA Strategic plan 2014-2018. One of the strategic areas is advocacy and MLA has developed a strong relationship with the three ministries that are responsible for different libraries in the country - the Ministries of Information; Education; and Religious Affairs and Culture. MLA has also organised library forums on library development and preservation of palm leaf manuscripts and has developed strategic partnerships with the Asia Foundation, resulting in the upgrade of 10 school libraries; and with IFLA.

The conference was held in Naypyidaw, the new capital of Myanmar. The major cultural institutions and their treasures are progressively being moved to the capital from Yangon and both the National Library and National Museum are impressive buildings. The Parliament House is very grand, and the multi lane highways and a lack of traffic means that it is easy to get around the city. I also visited Uppatasanti Pagoda, a replica of the famous Shwedagon in Yangon, which is the centre for Buddhist worship in Naypyidaw.

I would like to thank the wonderful colleagues in Myanmar for being so welcoming and providing such a memorable experience on my first visit and I look forward to returning to see much more of this fascinating and complex country.

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