World Libraries


PROBLEMS OF REGIONAL LIBRARY EDUCATION IN THE CARIBBEAN[1]

floral device Abstract

The Eastern Caribbean Regional Library School (ECRLS) opened in Trinidad in 1948, providing the first effort at library education available to all the Caribbean nations. University of the West Indies (UWI) at Mona, Jamaica, succeeded ECRLS as the regional programme in 1971. UWI offers professional degrees and subprofessional certificates, and facilitates continuing education. Various problems have been encountered by UWI, among them the difficulty of maintaining both local and international connections, finding the ideal size of the school, and meeting the rise in student costs for those who come from distant countries. There are also structural challenges, based on varying characteristics of the several countries (demography, mobility, economic stability, per capita income, etc.). An increasing amount of emigration to America and Britain has thinned the pool of applicants. UWI has become primarily a school for residents of Jamaica and of Trinidad and Tobago, with very limited attendance from other Caribbean countries. The picture is brightened by the persistent intention of the West Indies Commission to maintain UWI as a regional institution. Proposals are offered to strengthen UWI in that role.

floral device The Two Regional Schools

The Eastern Caribbean Regional Library School (ECRLS), which operated in Trinidad from 1948 to 1963, was the first regional institution for the training of librarians in the Caribbean. Between 1955 and 1958, some teaching was carried out by the library staff of Trinidad and Tobago Central Library, and after 1958 the staff offered special tutoring for students who wished to complete their studies. ECRLS achieved a high rate of success in the preparation of librarians to pass the Library Association Examinations of the (British) Library Association–the A.L.A./F.L.A. This was accomplished in spite of the fact that the programme was an admixture of correspondence courses, part–time face–to–face teaching and short–term full–time study. Furthermore, there were administrative problems that led to interruptions of the programme in 1956–1959, 1961, and 1962 [1, p. 194].

The Department of Library Studies at the University of the West Indies, in Mona, Jamaica (UWI), succeeded ECRLS as the regional training institution in 1971. The new library school seems to have been well–planned: it was established with UNESCO funding after many years of demand, consultations, and discussions at national and international levels. It was to continue the work of the ECRLS, and it inherited some of the characteristics of that school, although situated in a different locality, institutional setting, and political era. There were almost as many points of similarity as differences between the two institutions. UWI has had a mixed record of success in meeting regional goals. Its difficulties stem at least in part from the regional educational concept itself.

floral device The Regional Educational Concept

The concept of the regional institution, serving more than one country, is intended to provide a strong programme for a catchment area in a central place available to all. It avoids the creation of programmes in various adjacent countries, which may be based on nationalist fervour rather than actual need. It promotes student mobility within the region, and offers an internationally acceptable certification. The idea has been implemented in Africa and South America, but it seems that one of the most durable, effective regional schools for librarians is the one in Jamaica. In addition to professional education, it provides sub–professional training. It also facilitates continuing education for librarians and sub-professionals. Funding for a regional programme is often rather strong at first; in the early years of UWI it had some staffing and workshops funded by various agencies. Since then the school has not been well–supported.

The concept of a regional institution carries many problems. One is the tendency to concentrate on international rather than local connections. The wish for a school to externalize its focus may lead to a diffuse and indirect outcome. Finding the ideal size of the regional school is another problem. UWI was most useful and effective when its output was small, directed more to upgrading staff already holding positions, with all students on scholarship. The demand for places increased as the population grew, and there were qualified students wanting to enter the profession directly from the university or secondary schools. Scholarships for all could no longer be offered, for economic reasons. Moreover, with increased urbanisation the cost of student accommodations has spiraled. The cost of air travel also is very high, but it remains the common mode of travel for students in the Caribbean because cheap sea travel is no longer available. In fact the costs for study at UWI have increased to such an extent as to make it cheaper to study abroad. Students going to other countries may find the opportunity for part–time jobs that does not exist in Jamaica. Cost factors have tended to limit the UWI student body to three groups: those with scholarships; residents of Jamaica; and those from higher–income families in other countries of the region.

Such problems were also noted in the earlier ECRLS in Trinidad. Special provision had to be made to accommodate the students from Jamaica on a special program of four months duration. Professor Douglas noted: “Most would–be librarians from the British Caribbean, who embarked on a training programme in the 1950s and early 1960s attended the school. However it was not possible for as many Jamaicans as were needed or interested to attend... .” [2, p. 569]

floral device Structural Challenges of the Region

Certain factors inherent to the Caribbean must have affected the work of the UWI library school, and led to some wastage and failures to meet regional needs. There is little doubt that in each country individual national welfare takes priority over regional goals. Yet there are many common interests that make regional cooperation feasible. There are many areas of similarity in the broad organisation of the governance of the various island states, their national constitutions, the composition of the executive, judicial, and parliamentary arms of government, the functions of government ministries and extraministerial departments, even the basic approach to the conduct of affairs in the public and private sectors. There are even similarities in the structure of society in the different countries.

But in the details there are almost as many areas of disparity and differences. There are different levels of national resources, both natural and human. The levels of educational development are not the same across national boundaries. For example, the literacy levels in the region are uneven. There are inequalities in access to education and educational services for economic reasons, especially at the lower levels, but also at university entrance level. Out of these similarities and diversities there are some common factors which in their totality affect the region in the same manner. The West Indian Commission notes, “In our work we have indeed found great diversity, but we found great commonalities also.” [3, p. 69]

Demographically, there is a wide range of factors. A report by Compton Bourne noted that:

... only in two countries (Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago) does the total population exceed one million and that there are four countries with populations smaller than 100,000. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago alone account for 63% of the Caribbean community population. The land area itself is unevenly distributed with Guyana comprising 79% of the total land mass, Belize 8% and the Bahamas 5%. Because of the tiny land mass, most of the countries are densely populated despite their minuscule population. Only the “large” land mass countries have low population density. Two consequences of the high population densities are that for several countries, the urbanisation ratio is also high and the spatial distinction between town and country has no meaning. [4, p. 6]

Mobility has been quite high and has had a distinct influence on the regional economy. Bourne stated:

Emigration has played a powerful role in moderating social pressures in the Caribbean community. Remittances from emigrants are important supplements to domestically generated incomes especially in rural communities... . Many of the recent migrants from the larger Caricom countries are well educated, highly trained and skilled workers (including professionals) and members of the entrepreneurial and managerial classes. In those countries, which experienced “brain drain,” i.e., Jamaica, Guyana and Grenada, the main stimuli have been economic collapse and political disorder. [4, p. 6]

The economic performance, according to Gross National Product (GNP), of the countries cannot be readily compared as the national structures vary considerably. Bourne observed:

... because of their differences seven countries, viz. Antigua and Barbuda; Belize; Montserrat; St. Lucia; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines experienced more or less continuous growth ... since 1975. Dominica was distinctly weak until 1979, St. Kitts–Nevis experienced a down turn after 1981: Barbados expanded between 1975 and 1980 and became distinctly unstable thereafter. Trinidad and Tobago started with a deep economic recession in 1982 which had not ended by 1987. Guyana’s and Jamaica’s economy collapsed during the later 1970’s and have maintained a downward trend since then but for brief resurgences. [4, p. 7]

In terms of income per capita, Bourne observed that:

Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and Barbados and ranked first, second and third among Caricom countries, with income levels 4 to 6 times the median income for the group. Some OECS countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, and St. Lucia) rank in the top half of the Caricom distribution. Guyana and Grenada are at the bottom of the league with per capita income levels almost 50 percent less than the median incomes and less than one tenth of the net income level of the top three Caricom countries. [4, p. 9]

Unemployment is high in the region, inhibiting job mobility between countries. The situation is worsened by the work permit regulations of all the countries of the region, which do not allow for the easy employment and mobility in those job areas in which there are vacancies. The work permit system should be revised, along with short contract appointments, and the practice of restricting access to the top positions to locals. A situation must be created that will encourage people to take up appointments outside their home islands.

The West Indian Commission saw the need for this and noted “that deliberate steps be taken towards the creation of a single Caricom market for human resources” [3, p. 263] and “that there should be systematic liberalisation of policies and work permit regulations applicable to highly skilled and professional people coming from outside of the Region [3, p. 264] ... The process of creating such a market should commence with the freer movement of professional and skilled people, starting with U.W.I. graduates.” [3, p. 235]

Despite such obstacles, there is a migration pattern in the Caribbean, in the form of movements for jobs from country to country, either on a short time and seasonal basis or for long periods. There is also emigration to nearby countries such as the U.S. and Canada and — until recently — the U.K., and the number emigrating is increasing. An inescapable feature of the migration pattern is that a large number of professionals including librarians are being trained for work abroad. The situation is more obvious with the professional bodies such as engineering and medicine where the university unabashedly seeks foreign accreditation on the basis that many of its graduates would join a labour force abroad. The high standard of education generally in the Caribbean, and of UWI in particular, is largely due to the awareness that its graduates will be competing with those in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere.

A regional institution by its concept is supposed to cater to all the countries in the region, but because educational and other developments have not been evenly distributed many of the potential allocations for some countries are not taken. A study of the country of origins of the products of the UWI library school indicates a large disposition in favour of the big island countries of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and that many of the smaller islands have not used the facilities of the school.

floral device Politics and the Regional Concept

Political considerations within which the regional library institution is situated must have serious repercussions on it. Issues of national sovereignty may be of more interest to politicians and civil servants than they are to the common people. A widespread wish for some kind of unity in the region has been noted. The West Indian Commission found that:

the people desired closer integration but within the general aspiration there were almost as many views as there were persons to express themselves about what form integration should take. The great majority of people seemed to despair that they would see full scale West Indian political unity in their lifetimes... . In the meanwhile, the goal of general West Indian unity at the political level remains for our people, it is clear, a sort of Holy Grail... . Amalgamation of power in one single centre is not practical at this time: the joint exercise of sovereignty in a whole range of operational matters is, we believe, perfectly feasible. [3, p. 24]

It is in this context that one must ask how much real support other than for exigencies of a short period, is given to regional institutions. The Commission notes that there are over 200 regional institutions and records “the unwavering support of Government for the retention and strengthening of the University of the West Indies (UWI) as a regional institution... .” The Commission states confidently, “We have seen ourselves as challenged to find a common strength in our diversity. In our work, we have indeed found great diversity; but we found great commonalities also... . The flame of such a belief is flickering here and there; but the light of unity has by no means gone out.” [3, p. 90]

floral device Proposals

The foregoing portrays the milieu of the UWI library school. We have noted some of its success and problems as it has operated within that context since 1971. Now some proposals are in order. If the regional institution at Mona has the aforementioned general defects or disadvantages, then the need to correct them is important. This effort should include the search for and immediate implementation of outreach measures, including:

  • Correspondence courses
  • Satellite sites
  • Summer schools
  • Workshops and seminars for credit
  • Radio and TV instruction
  • Videocassette and CD–ROM courses

The need to provide distance education from a central point to support existing formal courses and programmes is obvious and is being more widely promoted by UWI. The existing and developing UWIDITE network cries out for greater use. The expensive period of library education for non–Jamaican students can be shortened, by various forms of distance education or independent studies. Correspondence courses may old–fashioned now but I wonder if they can be completely ruled out. For if in these days of improved telecommunications and storage systems, they are slow — particularly in response time but they are affordable and sure. They have a place in developing countries, where modern communication equipment is unreliable.

Learning centres or satellite sites could be staffed part–time by qualified professionals who are found in almost all the Caribbean countries. Satellite courses would be in modules from the syllabus of the library school and would be examined by the school. These need not be only in summer months but throughout the year. Distance education is now a component of many library school programs in the U.S.

I think that a way by which the library school can now more easily expand and develop its programmes is to offer some of its courses in the other campus countries, especially in the postgraduate courses and thesis supervision for higher degrees, and thereby reduce the period of attendance at the main campus by up to 50 percent of the required period. In fact this opinion was considered at the first advisory committee of the library school in 1973.

Local opportunities for the professional development of practicing librarians have been few. The seminars and workshops have been irregular, although enthusiastically and efficiently organised and addressing useful themes when held. But offerings depend largely on regional funding, so that and many years sometimes pass between them. Moreover, because of costs for travel, accommodation, board, etc. they have been open to only a few, who have been chosen on a quota basis for each country rather than genuine interest in the topic of the seminar or workshop.

floral device Local Training

The English–speaking Caribbean has in the past (in the 1950s and 1960s) had a commendable record of training locally. Before the establishment of the ECRLS in Trinidad, training for library work was informal and localized through the effort of locally available qualified librarians. Training took various forms, including visits to libraries, professional advice, ad hoc practice sessions, and series of talks, and instruction in basic routines for school teachers and library personnel. Such informal training continued as supplementary activity in some of the islands (for example, St. Kitts, Dominica, and Jamaica) even after the opening of the ECRL in Trinidad. [1, p. 333]

The East Caribbean Regional Library School regularly presented, after some direct teaching, successful candidates for the professional examinations of the British Library Association through a formal system of training at the school in Trinidad by 1948 supplemented by an informal coaching, correspondence, and independent study. The effort produced many of the local professional librarians of the early years, and continued until 1955.

The effort was not confined to professional examinations. The ECRLS had by 1948 first initiated an intensive six–month in–service training course for library workers. The British Council and Jamaica Library Service later were prominent in running in–service training courses for assistants and voluntary classes for the preprofessional library examinations of the British Library Association.

Professor Douglas records: “The ECRL school remained in existence as a unit until 1955... . Between 1955 and 1958, teaching was undertaken in a skeleton programme by the Trinidad and Tobago Central Library staff. Later in 1959, this organisation employed successive tutors for the express purpose of continuing the work.” This thrust to provide qualified staff began in 1948 and many of the leading libraries in the Caribbean were the product of this effort.

floral device Sub–professional Training

The effort to draw up a suitable curriculum for subprofessionals (paraprofessionals or library technical assistants) has been commendable, but there are only two — at Barbados and Jamaica — known to be functioning and whose training results are noteworthy. Trinidad started its own sub–professional curriculum in October 1983.

A library studies advisory and planning meeting was held at Mona in 1982 at which the West Indian librarians present expressed the need for structured training programmes for library assistants. This was reinforced by a survey of human resources available by the library school during the 1981–82 session. It was noted as a result that the pace of training of the full professionals has not yet accelerated and therefore most Caribbean libraries will continue to rely heavily on non–professionals for a long time to come.

The ECRL School provided training indirectly at the sub–professional level, because the Registration Examinations of the British Library Association were in four parts that were taken during a period of time before completion when the Chartered Librarian status was conferred. Many students, both in the Caribbean and in Britain, never completed the required parts and remained in libraries as sub–professionals.

Although not much could prevent the UWI school from running sub–professional courses for certificates or diplomas at its site in Mona, as there are other non–degree certificate and diploma courses at the University, I believe that this aspect could be a strong basis for a vigorous outreach programme located in some other countries of the region which could be coordinated and directed by the UWI school with assistance by local supervisors or field lecturers using a locally oriented and examined syllabus for a UWI certificate and diploma. This would be a part of its full programme that would demonstrate the acceptance of its responsibilities by the school as a regional institution.

Some effort in this direction was made with the work of H. Bennett and other staff of the UWI school who set up subprofessional programmes in Barbados and Jamaica with the local library associations. In a series of meetings between 1982 and 1985 they drew up a regionally acceptable curriculum for sub–professionals.

floral device Continuing Education

The library associations of the various Caribbean countries have irregularly put on some workshops and seminars. The texts of these presentations are not usually readily available in published form to those who were not present. They have in the main not been deeply researched and perhaps largely represent random thoughts and personal ideas of mid–career librarians rather than carefully documented presentations. This may be what the seminars and workshops of a professional association should do — seek the informed and rational views of its membership on matters of professional interest. But the viewpoints may not be as convincing or correct as they should be due to lack of authority and experience. This criticism would not apply to library seminars and workshops by the library school which should be marked by high intellectual content except when they are hands–on workshops. The library school has recognised the need and importance of extension activities through conferences, workshops, and seminars and has so stated them in its publications, plans, and statements of intention. There was a flurry of activity by Professor Dorothy Collings and her staff, travelling all over the region, consulting, discussion, and addressing library groups. It seems that 14 courses at the professional level were organized, along with 16 training programmes for para–professionals, between 1971 and 1986, nearly all of them after 1978. Trinidad’s first workshop did not take place until 1978, after repeated requests by the campus librarian; it was about trends in information retrieval.

However, performance of the UWI school in this regard could be greatly improved upon. Seminars and workshops have been irregular and the regional ones have taken place only every two or three years. Provision for these events has been largely dependent on the discovery of a dependable funding agency. Perhaps funding should be built into the departmental budget as part of its outreach activity. More local courses in such specific areas as in the areas of information technology, cataloging, management, etc. with “hands on” provision are needed and are insufficiently provided for.

floral device Wastage

By wastage is meant superfluous and excessive practices and to resources or facilities that are underutilised or even totally untapped. Also included are aspects of resources that are produced locally but are in reality not for use in the local situation, where they could well be used; and finally, those resources that cannot be used because they are inappropriate, misconceived, or inefficient. Wastage has been considerable in the training for librarianship in the region. The turnover of those who were trained for librarianship and left the field has been significant. Starting with the early days of ECRLS and the first contingent of trainees, it was noted that “only 28 out of 58 remained in libraries... . This was undoubtedly because most of them came from the secretarial and clerical employee group, and had no idea that they were really on the threshold of a profession, new in the West Indian context.” [2, p. 569]

The location of the institution has always contributed to wastage. What Douglas noted about Jamaica, in the days of ECRLS in Trinidad, now applies to the islands except Jamaica: “Most would–be librarians from the British Caribbean who embarked on a training programme in the 1950s and early 1960s attended the school. However, it was not possible for as many Jamaicans as were needed or interested to attend.” There was wastage since many who wanted to and should attend, could not. The situation led to insistent Jamaican pressure for a library school in Mona. Study of the country of origin of the UWI graduates reveals a disproportionate number of Jamaicans. There are more librarians produced for Jamaica than can be absorbed, and this wastage is due to the fact that the library school is located in Jamaica. It also means that some of those from other islands who “needed or were interested” in attending could not do so.

Wastage occurs when students enter librarianship and then leave the profession. There are still those who have a wrong notion of the profession, and those who enter the training for the wrong reasons, including a perceived soft opinion, only to find that it is not so, as well as those who have no notion, knowledge, or experience of what librarians really do. Such misjudgments could be corrected through more effective pre–admission counseling.

The location of a regional institution is very important and it is generally agreed that it should best be situated in a central or easily accessible place. Trinidad and Mona are administrative centres but not geographic centres as they are situated at both extremes of the region. Students not from the locality therefore have to travel some distance, usually by air since there is a lack of inexpensive sea passage. Students cannot easily go home for the holidays and in emergency situations.

The objective of ECRLS was the training of public librarians. In fact, other types of libraries were provided for by a wastage system, through which staff trained for the public library left to take positions in special and academic libraries. The UWI school was not supposed to have a special bias, but it would seem that it has become public library oriented. Most of its graduates are to be found in the public library systems of the region. This could be part of its inheritance from ECRLS. The generalist programme of the curriculum is more suited to public libraries and small libraries than to university librarianship. It is a sad fact that its first degree graduates are not qualified — according to criteria for professional posts in the UWI libraries — to enter professional employment in the university from which they have graduated. In any case, some wastage is there if the resources of the library school are not fully utilised, if its graduates either cannot directly enter into a professional position or are not attracted in more numbers to the local university libraries.

The migration syndrome or the brain drain to other countries has contributed to wastage in more senses than one. First, there are those who have been trained locally in the regional institutions who have since migrated abroad and continued their careers there. Second, the fact of migration is so prominent from a labour aspect in the Caribbean that local professional training has always drawn up its programme with an eye on the realisation that some of the products would emigrate to nearby countries — the U.S., Canada, and possibly Britain. In fact, for example the planning and the programmes in the fields of medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, engineering, etc., have openly sought accreditation by overseas professional bodies. (UWI does not have accreditation by the American Library Association.) It is also only natural and a matter of pride to be confident that when its products migrate to the U.S., Canada, Britain, or elsewhere that they should be employable as professionals in their field of study.

The move to other professions, especially in the small countries where there are no vacancies or even positions for qualified librarians, has contributed to wastage. So also in the situation where there are no career development posts or promotion opportunities and trained librarians have to move out to other posts outside librarianship for advancement and fulfillment.

The quest for accreditation and universal acceptance has led to attempts to internationalise the curriculum, while also promoting courses that have local relevance, and maintaining subject specialisations. Such multiple intentions have taxed the scarce instructional resources, and have not invariably provided the graduates with backgrounds suitable to their new professional situations. Wastage results from the attempt to be all things to all persons.

floral device Curriculum

“The question of curriculum work continues to be discussed because curriculum is dynamic and subject to changes according to professional and societal needs.” [5, p. 284] In a regional institution curriculum design is influenced by three factors. First, there is a desire to provide a basic a general core education training in its subject field, as obtains everywhere. Next, there is a necessity to be directly relevant to its immediate environment and circumstances by including materials with a local content, that is, by seeming to indigenise its curriculum. Third, there is the intent of pitching the programme at a high level that would be accreditable and meets international standards. The result is that the programmes take longer (15 months) to complete than similar programmes overseas. Yet the local programme is regarded as lacking the sophistication and the quality provided by the superior facilities, equipment, and versatility of staff at the foreign schools which provide shorter courses. Every effort is made by many students, especially at the postgraduate levels, to seek scholarships and find funding to go abroad for study. Of course any accreditable professional education is useful anywhere, and what the Caribbean students learn abroad includes a good grounding in theory and the example of the practice of foreign countries which can be adapted to local circumstances.

I believe that what the local regional institution should do for international recognition is to strive to achieve this by being outstanding locally and being accepted as such with a core of experienced staff comparable with those available elsewhere, working with standard equipment in functional physical facilities (not necessarily architectural monuments) with a well–selected body of intelligent students. The successful result of the above should be a large number of students manning and running efficient libraries all over the region with many holding high positions. They should be able to do this with preparation by a curriculum that contains a core content of librarianship, introduction to developments in information technology at the theoretical and practical levels, and a heavy dose of locally relevant content and examples. In being outstanding, relevant, and recognised locally, international recognition for the local library schools’ qualifications and products is a matter of time and their ability to hold their own ground in the world arena. Programmes should meet the international criteria of the IFLA “Standards for Library Schools” [6].

Increasingly, Third World countries and their institutions should realise that they are not in any competition in trying to produce students equal to those from developed countries, but that they should produce those who are superior in the local librarianship to make up for any other deficiencies, and who can practice librarianship in their local milieu with distinction. Whatever else is lacking may be added in a programme of professional growth and development through post–professional courses, workshops, seminars, and advanced degrees.

floral device Notes

I wish to acknowledge the cooperation of the University of the West Indies, Department of Library Studies and Advisory Committee on Librarianship, who gave me access to the various minutes, papers, and reports that made this article possible.

floral device References

1. Jordan, The Development of Library Service through Inter–Library Cooperation (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1970).

2. Daphne Douglas, “British Caribbean,” in M.M. Jackson, Contemporary Developments in Librarianship: an International Handbook (London: Library Association, 1981), pp. 567–594.

3. The West Indies Commission. Time for Action: Report (Barbados: The Commission, 1992).

4. Compton Bourne, Caribbean Development in the Year 2000: Challenges, Prospects and Policy (London: Commonwealth Secretariat, 1988).

5. Julie I. Tallman and Joseph B. Ojiambo, Translating an International Education to a National Environment (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1990).

6. “Standards for Library Schools,” IFLA Journal volume 2, number 4 (1976): pp. 209–223.

About the Author

O.O. Ogundipe is Director of the Library, University of the West Indies. He was formerly director of the libraries at the University of Sierra Leone, University of Zambia, and University of Benin. He was educated in Britain and the United States.

©1994 O.O. Ogundipe.

Top of Page | Table of Contents