UNESCO digital library launch flops

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SEKETE LESAOANA

MASERU – What was meant to be the launch of the UNESCO Digital Library on February 11 in Maseru hit a snag after stakeholders disagreed on the principles behind the establishment of the platform.

Stakeholders eventually agreed for the gathering to turn into a consultative forum on the proposed Lesotho digital library as they questioned the naming and the properties of the UNESCO Digital Library. Among the many queries raised by those present were the issue of the name of the digital library being the Lesotho Digital Library “yet the National State Library, as the overseeing authority, was not made aware of the existence of such an entity in the country.”

Other issues of concern were that the digital library application showed that the library will be selling books, which the stakeholders queried saying a library does not sell books but lends to its members. Speaking at the forum, the Director State Library and Archives, Motlalepula Thabo Lethibelane, said the main issue of concern is the naming of the digital library which makes it an umbrella of all the libraries in Lesotho through its naming – which he said it isn’t allowed globally.

“I only heard of the invitation this morning, and I was eager to be at this launch as I thought they are only digitalising the UNESCO library that already exists; and I would have no problem with them customising their already existing library. “A library is different from a bookshop; there are control measures that they overlooked while working on this product. “Through this product there is potential of enhancing the information industry, and we need to work together on it and they should allow librarians to help them as we are professionals in this field,” the director said.

Stakeholders further emphasised that private consultations are evidently needed between UNESCO and all stakeholders, indicating, among other issues, that when digitising libraries, problems of copyright also arise, which might lead to litigations. The librarians also mentioned that the books cannot be downloaded from the digital application, but rather read online, and users subscribe instead of borrowing them. While addressing these issues, Dr Buhle Mbambo-Thata, Director Librarian at the National University of Lesotho, reminded converged librarians that under the laws, they are allowed to digitise some of the book for educational purposes.

Mbambo also urged the forum to go the national library way as the consultations should have been done before this forum as UNESCO is a big institution that can be sued. Dr Mbambo noted that “the library sector was not consulted for this eventuality, and if we are called stakeholders and we are only knowing of this now, then this should be called a consultative stage not a launch as we have not seen the prototype.

“I would even suggest that this should not be called a library as a library involves a lot of other practices, but it could be called Lesotho e-books collection and help Basotho with e-resources online.” Joshua Takalimane, from the science and technology sector in the Ministry of Education, told the meeting that as the Ministry of Education they encouraged the initiative and the collaboration but that this should be done through legal consultations. Takalimane pleaded with the UNESCO members not to feel attacked but that they should do things correctly and create a milestone.

In his closing remarks UNESCO Programme Coordinator for Education, ’Mako Matšela, said, “I am thrilled to have observed this day, with the criticism, and mostly negative criticism. In school I developed the urge to accept criticism and from this meeting we also adopt the criticism laid out for us. It says we should go back to the drawing table because there are discrepancies to be resolved. We have taken note of them and we will follow proper channels in building the idea.”

The library promises better access to literary works and database of authors as it will provide a system that will track which books are read the most. In the presentation done at the event, it was said the library will be a simulator for new authors while opening doors to them. In in its creation the library is said to be half way into catering for people with disabilities since there will also be audio books.

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