I have been a lifelong librarian in Myanmar since 1985. It is a great pleasure and honor to share the challenges and success of the e-Library Myanmar Project implemented by EIFL. During the darkest years until 2011, when all information was cut off, I stayed a librarian because I believe in the power of information to improve and transform the libraries and the lives of the librarians in the academic society. For universities, the impact of being cut off from the international community was distressing: scholarship and teaching stagnated; university infrastructure decayed; library collections were limited and out of date, and books were falling apart.
Now Myanmar has a new democratic government and is emerging from decades of isolation – bringing many challenges and many opportunities – and one of the most important is the reform of Higher Education.
Within this context, the impact of the e-Library Myanmar Project is to support educational change by increasing the availability and usage of e-resources to faculty and students and strengthening the role of libraries in improving teaching and research.
We started with two major universities, the universities of Yangon and Mandalay, and soon other universities started approaching us. We simply could not say no. There are now seven partner universities, among them two universities are located in suburban areas, 30 miles away from downtown. 166,000 students and 4,000 academic staff at seven universities in Myanmar now have 24 hour access to more than 14,000 scholarly journals and 150,000 eBooks. EIFL negotiated access to over 40 e-resources and a license to EDS.
There are many challenges:
- The role of librarians and libraries had been ignored for five decades, and the importance of libraries and the enhancement of librarians’ capacity was also overlooked
- Low bandwidth (but no internet at all until the project!)
- Difficult for institutions to get static IP addresses
- Unreliable electricity supply, especially in summer
- Rote learning has been the norm for decades
- Some librarians and faculty have poor IT, English language and information literacy skills
- Very few libraries are equipped with quality books. Most books in Myanmar libraries are outdated or damaged
- Budget constraint on Foreign Exchange Currency in government institutions, resulting in poor collections, especially in foreign literature
There was no library cooperation in the past, but a consortium of academic libraries launched in May 2016 and this will allow for more universities, if they can get IP address and internet access, to benefit from e-resources negotiated by EIFL.
Levels of enthusiasm and desire for change among the faculty and librarians is overwhelming, and has given the project great momentum. How it was done:
- Training for librarians
First, training was provided to librarians on topics from basic information literacy to an introduction to online resources. We interviewed librarians to identify those with aptitude to become trainers (advanced group), and trained all library staff on everything from how to use email and its etiquette to how to search e-resources. We provided additional training for the advanced group of librarians, including advanced search/information literacy skills, presentation skills, the importance of building close links with faculty, and how to use Facebook to communicate with users.
- Training for faculty and students
A 2-day training session was provided to faculty and students in every department. Advanced librarians gave presentations and provided hands-on support during the sessions.
- General awareness raising and advocacy
Facebook pages have been set up and managed by librarians who are now posting regularly about e-resources and training. Head Librarians now have confidence to raise issues directly with university rectors: results include new computer equipment, improved bandwidth, and air conditioning units.
Over 9,000 faculty, students, and librarians are now trained in how to use high quality e-resources effectively. The e-library project has had great impact:
- Huge increase in the skills, capacity, and confidence of librarians, and growing relationships between libraries and faculty
- Librarians have become Master Trainers and are competent and confident in supporting students and faculty with new technologies and e-resources
- Through training and support from newly created departmental ‘Power-user groups’ faculty and students become confident in finding e-resources
- Subject guides including licensed and OA resources which are developed jointly by librarians and faculty are a testimony to the successful integration of library services with teaching and research
- High usage statistics are an indicator of a successful training program for librarians, faculty, and students
- Regular posts on new library Facebook pages (the University of Yangon Library has received over 6,173 friend requests since May 2014!). It heralds a new way of marketing library resources and services
- Increased profile of libraries among academic society – the library is a serious player in education reform
The project is a catalyst for changes such as investment by universities in technological infrastructure (new fiber internet lines; elibrary training room with computers, laptops etc).
Scholars in Myanmar are very keen to offer their own content. The key is open access — a concept widely known internationally but little known in Myanmar. Since learning about open access through workshops organised by EIFL, the universities of Mandalay and Yangon have formed working groups to develop institutional repositories and open access policies.
Librarians have embraced the power of cooperation and sharing in the form of the newly born Myanmar Academic Library Consortium, which will be, jointly with EIFL, the partner for negotiations of e-resources for academic libraries in Myanmar. The eLibrary Myanmar Project is a milestone for librarians in Myanmar and they are now leading the way in helping faculty and students to integrate high-quality e-resources into their teaching and research activities, thereby transforming academic outputs. The project provides a modern library environment for the higher education system in Myanmar. This change happened quickly; from very old print journals to updated online journals in less than two years.
Featured image: “Bagan Temples” by KX Studio, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr