Speaking about U.S. libraries with Kyrgyzstan journalists
On March 4, I met with a group of visiting journalists from Kyrgyzstan, their local host (International Center of Syracuse) and a translator to talk about information access, libraries, copyright, literacy, databases, salaries for librarians and more! (I even told them about the Creative Commons.) We met in the iSchool and upon request I took them to see our SU Library.
The work that our librarians do is much more than what the librarians in Kyrgyzstan do, according to this group. We really work to service our communities, not just check out books. The variety of library services that we have are not known there.
Librarians and teachers are not well paid in Kyrgyzstan, and it could be that their plight is similar to the wages of some librarians in the U.S. where some trades are highly regarded and paid. After they told me the yearly pay for a librarian in Kyrgyzstan (US$2,000), the yearly income of our librarians - even those that are not well paid - seem extravagant.
Their questions about literacy were interesting. 98.7% of the adults in Kyrgyzstan are literate. According a 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy report, in the U.S.:
Twenty-two percent of adults were Below Basic (indicating they possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills) in quantitative literacy, compared with 14 percent in prose literacy and 12 percent in document literacy.Now I wonder how Kyrgyzstan has managed to have high literacy rates. What could we learn from them?
When talking about information access, clearly we have access to a lot of information from everywhere. Is there some information that is off-limits? Yes, but often clues to it can be found in the open sources (publicly available sources). Our journalists - and others - often mine open sources for those clues...those threads...that begin to reveal information that is hidden (perhaps with the help of a good librarian).
They wondered if the digital resources in libraries are hacked and I don't think that they are, perhaps because information is so prevalent in the U.S. I did talk about the need to keep our patron records secure and I allude to the PATRIOT Act.
It was a delightful visit! I have a better appreciation of our libraries now, even those that are funded well. I'm proud that they exist and that they serve an important need. And I'm proud that even those that aren't funded well can still be an inspiration to others.