World Libraries, Vol. 5, No. 1, (Fall 1994)
Abstract: Gives a background on information Network on Rural Development (INRD), established in 1992. INRD was formed by the Center on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP), an organization of 11 members. There are 24 libraries in INRD, devoted to the exchange of information on rural development and poverty. A participatory decision structure is operating. Interlibrary loan agreements have been made, with special attention to unique depositories of data. Training programs for staff have been initiated, and bulletins are being published. INRD functions without external aid, as the network is considered to be an integral function of the members libraries.
The concept of a network, as it is used in this paper, refers to a group of libraries cooperating with each other to share bibliographic descriptions and subject information regarding published or unpublished material, and providing access to such material, using either manual or automated methods. Such a network may operate through either formal or informal agreements. The word library includes documentation centers, information centers and other facilities providing bibliographic information.
In this paper, an attempt will be made to describe the formation of a mission oriented information network in Bangladesh and to identify some of its characteristics. This will be preceded by an overview of the development of information networking in Bangladesh, to provide the background to the initiative taken by the Center on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP) in forming the information network on rural development (INRD).
Although library cooperation was not unknown in Bangladesh, the initial impetus for information networking came from external initiatives taken to develop international and regional databases and information networks. These networks were a reflection of the growing trend towards international and regional cooperation worldwide. Some examples of these information networks and databases are Agricultural Information System (AGRIS), Health Library Information System (HELLIS), Development Sciences Information System (DEVSIS), Asia Pacific Information Network for Social Sciences (APTNESS), and Development Information Network for South Asia (DEVINSA).
Organizations responsible for the creation of the sectoral and mission oriented regional and international information systems had to rely on the countries participating in the system to gather information for feeding the databases. The effectiveness of the information systems depended to a great extent on the quality of those inputs. In Bangladesh, as well as in other South Asian countries, with the possible exception of India, the development of the information infrastructure lagged behind those of the other sectors. In the absence of organized information systems in the participating countries, the information gathering capabilities of the focal points of the international and regional networks were strengthened to have an effective twoway flow of information to provide inputs and to disseminate the information products of the system. The organizations initiating the networks provided the training and inputs to the focal points. However, although the focal points in Bangladesh were strengthened with training and with the provision of other facilities, national networks were slow to develop. For instance, AGRIS was one of the earliest formal networks in which Bangladesh participated, but attempts made to develop an agricultural information network did not fully materialize. Similarly, the Population Information Network (POPIN), initiated with external support, was operational only for a brief period. One regional network that has had an impact on information networking in Bangladesh is DEVINSA, which has been functioning effectively for seven years. By adopting a novel approach of a national correspondents network, DEVINSA has been able to gather, process, and input information to the regional database; disseminate the DEVINSA output in Bangladesh; undertake document delivery; and encourage cooperative activities among libraries. A strong local network of libraries may grow out of the DEVINSA effort.
Inadequate financial resources, a perception of the network as benefiting only the focal point of the network, a lack of true commitment to the idea of resource sharing, and slow implementation of policy decisions are some of the reasons for the slow growth of networks in Bangladesh. The individualistic and inward looking nature of libraries, and their preoccupation with their own users may also have impeded progress. However, several libraries have formalized interlibrary lending, and these arrangements are continuing satisfactorily.
Currently there are several policy documents and proposals intended to develop the library and information system in a holistic manner. One is the National Scientific and Technical Information Policy, to operate under the direction of the National Council for Science and Technology, under which Bangladesh National Scientific Documentation Center (BANSDOC) will be the coordinating body for information networking. BANSDOCs role will be to stimulate the networking process. Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC), with all its resources, will connect the libraries of National Agricultural Research System (NARS) and develop a cooperative National Agricultural Information System (NAIS) to meet the information needs of agricultural research. In the field of social sciences, five networks have been proposed. They are networks of university libraries, general college libraries, technical and special libraries, libraries of each division of Bangladesh, and national libraries. A national social science library and information science center is planned, to function as the national coordinating body and national focal point to organize the proposed social science information network.
The Center on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP) initiated an Information Network on Rural Development (INRD) in 1992. CIRDAP is an intergovernmental organization of 11 countries, headquartered in Bangladesh. The mandate of the Center is to promote national action in its member countries to develop rural areas and alleviate poverty. One of its objectives is dissemination of information for supporting its programs. It is in pursuance of these objectives that CIRDAP initiated INRD in Bangladesh, with the participation of 24 libraries working in the area of rural development. INRD is a loosely structured network of libraries, with CIRDAP assuming the role of facilitator. The objectives of INRD as identified by the members are to promote the use and exchange of information on rural development and poverty alleviation by sharing resources; to improve the capability of network members to collect, process and disseminate information; to assist network members to use new information technology; and to assist in developing the skills of information personnel. A working committee of seven members has the responsibility to plan and implement network activities. The working committee members are rotated periodically to ensure a participatory decision making process, rather than a centralized one. The working committee meets every quarter to review past activities and plan for the next quarter. In the first year the activities consisted of the following:
INRD has been in operation for a little over one year. During this period three issues of a bulletin containing the publications of network members have been published. A format for reporting data has been prepared following the format recommended by the Library Association of Bangladesh. The data, entered into the CIRDAP bibliographic database using CDS/ISIS, are made available on diskette or as hard copies to users. Eleven libraries have regularly provided inputs to the database.
One year is too short a time to make an evaluation of INRD activities, but some of the more important issues regarding its organization, activities, and finances are highlighted in the following paragraphs.
For the present, CIRDAP functions as the coordinator of INRD activities. The experience of many networks is that the focal point becomes the core of its structure, bearing the main responsibility for sustaining network activities. The membership assumes the role of passive observers or receivers of services in return for bibliographic data inputs. The formation of a working committee, with the provision for the periodic rotation of its members, is expected to make the INRD decisionmaking process participatory, involve members in the design and development of the substantive work of the network, and ensure a collective approach to networking. This approach is also expected to facilitate the withdrawal of CIRDAP as INRD coordinator.
INRD membership comprises libraries working in the area of rural development and poverty alleviation. They range from government departments and ministries to international organizations to local and foreign nongovernment organizations. In some of these organizations information is perceived as important, while in others it is on the periphery of organizational activities. Staffing patterns vary from the professional to the nonprofessional.
The program of work for the first year included activities that would immediately benefit members and their users. Providing access to the library collections of network members was one activity that could be carried out without much difficulty. All libraries have agreed to provide access to their collections, and make photocopying facilities available at nominal charges.
Many of the organizations to which the network participants belong are engaged in research project implementation. Local, regional and international initiatives and efforts are taken, which produce information ranging from basic facts, to plans which are documented as feasibility studies, project reports, research studies, evaluation reports, etc. Most of this literature is unpublished and remains confined within the agency concerned with such activities. Network members, realizing the need for access to such documentation, agreed to share documents generated by their organizations. CIRDAP collates the information for dissemination through a regular bulletin. In the absence of a national system to collect such information, the INRD effort at disseminating it to the development community is a significant step towards gaining bibliographic control of national nonconventional literature.
Most of the network participants have followed training programs conducted by CIRDAP in using the CDS/ISIS software program for information storage and retrieval. This training supports the development of a computer based information network. CIRDAP attempted to develop a standard format for information exchange, keeping in view the format recommended by the Library Association of Bangladesh. Since most of the libraries are in the early stages of computerization, the adoption of a uniform data entry format becomes feasible. Computerization will also facilitate the integration of the databases of the network members, doing away with the necessity of preparing bulletins to disseminate information; and computerization will reduce the need for additional staff. INRDs goal is to work toward data exchange on diskette.
The response to the formation of INRD has been positive. Members of the working committee have been regular in their attendance at meetings, and have reiterated their commitment to continue INRD activities. Parent organizations have provided facilities for meetings. Eleven libraries have provided inputs to the two INRD bulletins that have been published to date. However, the responsibility for the network should be taken by the national organization, and a coordinating body should be identified to take over this function. As resource sharing is essential for the development of a national information system, the members should be more outward looking and consider networking a part of the their professional duties.
Earlier networks planned in Bangladesh could not be made operational due to the lack of financial resources. INRD, however, commenced activities without external funding, and has been functioning with internal resources, with members bearing the costs. If networking is considered as an integral part of the activities of the libraries, a selfreliant network can be built on a cost sharing basis among the linked institutions. External resources may be solicited for expanding its activities, but a time will come when project funding will cease and the network will have to continue on its own. One way to resolve the issue of financial support is for each library to prevail on its organization to make a budgetary provision for networking. Cost saving, which may be achieved, for example, by participating in a cooperative acquisitions program, will more than compensate for the expenditure incurred on network programs.
The rationale for national networks is the need to maximize the use of information by resource sharing. This implies the development of a national information system at the macro level; with sectoral, discipline, or mission oriented systems at the middle level; and specialized units at the micro or organizational level. The development of one contributes to the effectiveness of the others and consequently, as far as possible, a holistic approach needs to be adopted to information networking. While national information networks serve the information needs of particular groups of users, they can also be integrated with regional and international networks for sharing information. The idea of collective efforts, as opposed to individual efforts, will be readily subscribed to by all. However, it is the usefulness of INRD outputs that will ultimately determine its continuation. It is the responsibility of the INRD members to demonstrate its usefulness, as sectoral networks are essential for the development of a national information system in Bangladesh.
 Based on a paper presented at a national seminar organized by the Library Association of Bangladesh, Dhaka, 1012 November 1993. The author wishes to thank Mohammad Yahya Waliullah and Durga Prasad Pauudyal of CIRDAP for their comments.
Ahmed, Zakiuddin. Highlights of the National Science and Technology Information Policy: Bangladesh, In: Proceedings of the Seminar on Impact of National Science and Technology Information Policy on SocioEconomic Development, Dhaka, 2324 June 1988 Dhaka: BANSDOC, 1988, pp. 3453.
Ahsanullah, A. K. M. Development of a National Information System, In: lbid., pp. 5463.
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Leelangi Wanasundera is Documentation Officer, Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP), Dhaka, Bangladesh. She has a B.A. in Economics from the University of Ceylon, and is an Associate of the (British) Library Association. Before joining CIRDAP she was Chief Documentation Officer in the Peoples Bank, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ms. Wanasundera has published widely, including bibliographies, directories, and journal articles.
Her special interests include gender issues and information systems.
©1994 Leelangi Wanasundera.
Wanasundera, Leelangi. Information Network on Rural Development (INRD), Bangladesh, World Libraries, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Fall 1994).
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