Sister Cities/Sister Libraries: the next steps
by Janet Lee, Regis University
Nearly two years ago, the City of Aurora (CO) formalized an agreement with Adama, Ethiopia to become a Sister City, as Aurora Sister Cities International made the positive decision to reinvigorate and reestablish its Sister City program. A delegation, including the mayor, came from Adama to Aurora formalize the agreement. In turn, a delegation from Aurora, including Mayor Steve Hogan, traveled to Adama. In both instances, the delegations visited their counterpart’s libraries.
More recently, I have joined a library committee within Aurora Sister Cities International to investigate ways the International Library Cultural Exchange Interest Group and the Aurora Public Library could partner with libraries in Adama.
Taking advantage of a travel opportunity to Kenya with a Regis University colleague, I decided to travel through Ethiopia on my return. I also wanted to take the opportunity to meet with my University of Denver colleague, Dr. Shimelis Assefa, who was on sabbatical since January and teaching at the Adama Science and Technology University. Jeglalo Guye, Executive Director of the Adama Sister City program, attended to local arrangements and with Shimelis greeted me at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa (the new flower) and capital of Ethiopia.
As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Ethiopia from the 1970s, I have seen many changes on recent visits. The most striking change on this visit was the express/tollway from Addis Ababa to Adama. As we approached Adama we were met by a wind farm of 50 to 100 wind turbines, which supplies this region with much needed electrical power.
I immediately was escorted to the Adama Science and Technology University where I was greeted by Tagel Aboneh, Director of Libraries, who gave a presentation and overview of the libraries. In attendance was Vice President Lemi Guta who was very helpful with further explanations.
Universities in Ethiopia have specific areas of specialization and students who pass the national exam enter the appropriate program, even though the university may not be located within their region. ASTU, as the name indicates focuses on science and technology.
On Saturday, I visited three public libraries in the city, donated several children’s books including a copy of a book in Afaan Oromo, which I printed from the African Storybook Project (http://www.africanstorybook.org/) and holds a Creative Commons license. I also presented the librarians a thumb drive that included 12 stories in Afaan Oromo and 12 stories in Amharic to either be printed or shown on a computer.
Finally, I met with library staff on Monday to determine next steps for the library committees.
The following photos will serve to illustrate the next steps in our discovery process.
I was greeted at the airport by Dr. Shimelis Assefa, Associate Professor at the University of Denver, who is completing a sabbatical project at the Adama Science and Technology University and by Jeglalo Guye, Executive Director of Adama Sister City International. We immediately drove to Adama using a newly built super highway/toll road to Adama for a prearranged visit to the ASTU libraries and a presentation by the Library Director Tagel Aboneh. Seated in the audience was ASTU Vice President Dr. Lemi Guta, who was showing both his support for the libraries and his great appreciation for their work.
Tagel gave a noteworthy presentation on the current state on the six libraries on campus, including defining the mission of excellence and to become the leading library in science and technology as a 2025 goal, a goal which I believe they will achieve. The ASTU library system has 65,000 books, 14,795 photocopies of books, and 25,000 ebooks. The libraries can hold approximately 1500 students at a given time. It should be noted that the spring session just ended and most students are on break, otherwise the seats would have been filled with students.
Throughout Ethiopia, universities typically have a room or area that is designated female only. ASTU is different in that it has an entire library that is designated female only. With 24/7 access to all library buildings, this is done for the female students’ safety in mind. The female-only library is located near the women’s dormitory.
Tagel oversees approximately 250 total staff who maintain three shifts to cover the 24/7 access. These include employees with diplomas, first degrees (Bachelors) and second degrees (Masters).
Like 90% of the university libraries in Ethiopia, ASTU runs its online catalog using Koha open source software.
The institutional repository utilizes D-Space.
They receive great support from KOICA, (Korean-sponsorship) and plan to digitize 10,000 in high demand book titles utilizing 20 scanners of varying levels of robustness.
He has a proposal to the Vice President for Administration to implement a fully electronic library and 200 additional computers.
Challenges faced are similar to those worldwide:
Advanced technical training
Lack of RFID microchip
Resource & experience sharing
Community service project with local libraries
In visiting the primary library we were shown the circulation area, newspapers in local languages and in English, the general stacks and the computer areas. Dr. Lemi also informed me that they are investigating a plan to equip 300 high performing scholars with laptops to aid in their instruction. There are approximately 9700 total students, 30% female and 70% male. They are actively recruiting female students to the school for this upcoming year.
Youth Center Library # 1
On Saturday, I was greeted by the library staff of all three of the Youth Center libraries at Youth Center Library #1. The libraries are under the direction of the Youth Center and are situated in the same building as the recreation center, allowing children and students to avail themselves of both. I was initially confused because I saw photos of the library when the Aurora Mayor and his contingent had visited. This didn’t look like the same building as in the picture, but it was. The main difference was the removal of wooden shelving and the replacement of much sturdier metal shelving with the books neatly in place.
The library staff tracks attendance and Youth Center Library #1 usually sees approximately 300 student on average per day. Students drop their IDs in the box upon entrance. Similar to other libraries that I have visited, there is an abundance of textbooks and very few reference books of note. Also missing were any types of books for young children. Aurora Sister Cities International has shipped a container of books to Adama, but it is being held up in Djibouti, a not so uncommon experience.
The reading room is spacious, especially now when school is not in session. The library staff did state that it is frequently full as students look for a quiet place to read and study. There is ample natural light, but no signs of technology.
An Ethiopian-American author found me on the internet seeking advice on children’s publishing. He published Zonni’s Manners on Amazon as an ebook and just a couple weeks prior to my trip announced that it was available in print. I purchased a few copies and promised that I would take some photos of children reading his book. I also downloaded books from the African Storybook Project and printed one copy in Afaan Oromo and one copy in Amharic for demonstration purposes. I left this copy in Afaan Oromo as well as a flash drive with 12 titles in each language.
Upon the recommendation of Jeglalo, I gave all of the books that I had for Adama to Youth Center Library #1. It is the larger of the three libraries and the one more likely to have children. Definitely more books are needed in the future.
Youth Center Library #2
The strength of Youth Center Library #2 is its local language collection, both in Amharic and in Oromo. One could also say that about its Library Manager, Jamal Tuke, who brings eighteen years of experience to his position. High school and University students come to this library to take advantage of the local language materials.
Youth Center Library #3
Youth Center Library #3 holds a substantial health care focus with pamphlets, posters and other materials providing a wealth of information about preventative care for healthy well being. It also boasts free, but limited Internet Access for interested parties to search for further health care information.
Everyone came together on Monday from Youth Center Libraries 1, 2, 3 as well as representatives from Tourism and Culture, which has a few libraries of its own.
The group articulated their major challenges and concerns clearly and fervently. There was no expectation that the issues would be solved, but clearly appreciation that they had a voice. After describing the services that they are capable of providing, they voiced some frustration that they could not serve to the best of their ability because of many challenges: shortage of reference materials, no children’s books, inability to provide customer services at the level that they desired. The materials that they did have were dated. The size of their facilities was inadequate for the population that they served. They lacked technology, even basic computers and internet. The budget provided for salaries (they did not complain about salaries, but I am sure they are minimal) but did say that they were short staffed. The budget provided for little else. All services must be provided free of charge, so there is no provision to recoup expenses by charging for internet, for instance. Overall they have had no training and would greatly appreciate training to improve their skills. The libraries themselves are not attractive (although the new shelving in library # 1 greatly approved its appearance). There is inadequate lighting for studying. Some facilities lacked sufficient toilets.
In our discussion, we agreed that we are starting positively by having public libraries and that the next step is to make improvements. Jeglalo is charged with voicing their concerns to the mayor by giving a report of activities. He will also meet with Tagel at the University Library to arrange for the training that the library has so generously offered. When the Mayors of Aurora and Adama met, they spoke of a new library in the new industrial complex that will be developed over the next decade. I will return to Aurora Sister Cities and share their concerns and see what ASCI might be able to do. We discussed the possibility of first language publishing and Jeglalo would see if there are funds to print the remaining African Storybook Project books. We departed on a high note with hope for the future.