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Library/Information Management as a Tool for Transparency and Good Governance

The Secretary General of the National Assembly of Cameroon (in dark suit) thanks Allene Hayes for her visit. Cultural Affairs Officer Yolonda Kerney is standing behind the two.

The U.S. Embassy in Yaounde hosted Allene Farmer Hayes, Digital Projects Coordinator at the U.S. Library of Congress, from October 4 – 10, 2009.   To raise general awareness on the importance of library and information management in promoting transparency and accountability and fostering democracy, this week-long program included a working session with officials of the Library of the National Assembly of Cameroon; seminars for librarians in Yaounde; a presentation for Communication Department students of the University of Buea, and an information session for civil society actors in Limbe.

Mrs. Hayes presented the Library of Congress as a tool for transparency and good governance.  The institution provides members of Congress with the research and resources they need to make the informed decisions, and it provides for direct accountability by enabling citizens to monitor what their Congressional representatives are doing and how they vote on various pieces of legislation.  Mrs. Hayes told audiences that an effective records management system is crucial for the smooth functioning of a democratic society, because a highly functioning democracy requires an informed, engaged citizenry.  As a practical example, she noted that it is impossible to have successful elections if the electoral registration records are in disarray, or if the record management systems can not be understood from one municipality to another.    “Information is knowledge, and knowledge is power!” she told participants.  Allene Hayes also introduced Cameroonian audiences to some of the cutting-edge projects recently developed by the Library of Congress. These include Web Archiving and the World Digital Library Project.

During the seminars, Allene Hayes highlighted the importance of the U.S. Library of Congress in supporting Americans’ active dialogue with their elected leaders, a crucial aspect of a mature democracy.  As Mrs. Hayes explained, through its structure, organization, and daily functioning, the Library of Congress -- which functions as the U.S. National Library -- helps the American people stay informed and educated.  Mrs. Hayes stressed the fact that organized and accessible information is essential, noting that even with the several million books in the Library of Congress collections, if the materials are not retrievable, it is as if they do not exist.  Librarians from Cameroon’s National Archives, National Library and various Cameroonian ministries shared their experiences and brainstormed ways to implement some of the tools Mrs. Hayes introduced.

An all-day workshop in Yaounde brought together thirty library science students and professors.  For six hours, Allene Hayes walked participants through up-to-date cataloging and retrieval systems, metadata and other digitally-based management systems, and information management techniques.   She explained the shift in librarianship and how IT managers, archivists and librarians now closely overlap in developed countries.  She noted that  American managers of public records frequently have academic backgrounds in librarianship/information management.  This, she added, will inevitably happen in Cameroon with the shift to electronic and Internet-based databases.  Participants worked extensively on MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging), and other automated library systems.  Mrs. Hayes explained how the theory of information management is rooted in the cataloging systems of libraries, and how those same theories now drive the indexing and searching abilities of the Internet.

In addition to these formal training sessions, Allene Hayes visited three Cameroonian libraries: the Library of the University of Buea, the Library of the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation in Limbe, and the Library of the National Assembly of Cameroon in Yaounde, and provided their staff members some guidance on how to improve the management of their collections, and in turn make the collections more useful to their patrons.

More than  two hundred librarians, students in library and information science and communication, university professors, and civil society leaders participated in Allene Hayes programs in Cameroon. Most of them declared that they had learned more than they expected they would, and promised to make good use of the information gathered. “Although Cameroonian libraries will probably never have as much financial and human resources as the U.S. Library of Congress, we can at least use this model to showcase the importance of good information management” one of the participants commented.  One municipal librarian thanked the U.S. Embassy for this unique opportunity.  “Thank you for highlighting our profession and making us proud to be librarians in a society where people don’t always appreciate the work we do” she said.