Declining Resources, Underperformance, Time Against Jamaica Library Service Realizing Vision by 2016 – Joe Issa

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Chairman of Cool Corp and education advocate, Joseph J. Issa, recently said in an interview that declining resources, membership and use of technology in Jamaican libraries will make it impossible for the government agency responsible, the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) to realize its vision of delivering ‘excellence in customer service, an information-literate society and a positive impact on national development', in time for the 2016 deadline http://www.northcoasttimesja.com/?p=2266

Joseph John Issa

You only have to go in one of its libraries, look around and ask some questions and you’ll realize how poorly staffed they are and the limited access they offer the public across the island to digitized materials, e-books and computers.

Chairman of Cool Corp and education advocate, Joseph J. Issa, recently said in an interview that declining resources, membership and use of technology in Jamaican libraries will make it impossible for the government agency responsible, the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) to realize its vision of delivering ‘excellence in customer service, an information-literate society and a positive impact on national development’, in time for the 2016 deadline http://www.northcoasttimesja.com/?p=2266

Issa’s statement comes as the JLS, the largest provider of free internet access in Jamaica, launches a US$3 million project on November 7, 2014 entitled: ‘Using Technology to Empower Individuals and Communities for Development’. The launch of the ICT project, which was published in The Gleaner on November 8, at http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20141108/news/news3.html, also followed revised 2014 data by the JLS, showing that library membership and circulation of materials had fallen once again, with computer usage being the lone exception, after falling over the past three years.

The march to JLS’ vision has been taking place alongside a national budget that has remained relatively flat for the past four years, from $536.4 billion in fiscal year 2011-12, to $539.3 billion in 2014-15. At the same time, the recurrent budget for the Ministry of Education, which controls the JLS, has also remained flat, moving from $75.7 billion in 2011-12, to $78.3 billion in 2014-15. As a result, the budget for the JLS has also suffered, coming from $904.2 million in 2011-12, to $867.6 million in 2014-15, according to The Gleaner’s diGJamaica publication titled 2013-14 Jamaica Budget at http://jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/budget2013-2014/pdf/ministry-of-education/ and 2014-15 Budget at http://digjamaica.com/budget_2014_2015.

“Over the years, we have seen declines in budget allocation for education and in particular, libraries, and this does not augur well for the JLS realizing its vision by 2016. More so, we are seeing continued declines in library membership and circulation; only computer usage increased slightly this year, after being on the decline for the past three years,” says Chairman of Cool Corp, Joe Issa.

Issa, a philanthropist who has contributed greatly to the education of Jamaican children, says in addition, with the 2015-16 budget not expected to favour increased expenditure by the government, the JLS will be hard-pressed to find the resources needed to become ‘well-resourced, well-managed and technology-enhanced, with well-trained, competent and satisfied staff providing universal access to information and knowledge’, all of which are conditions that must be in place in order to realize its 2016 vision.

In addressing these conditions, Issa says, “You only have to go in one of its libraries, look around and ask some questions and you’ll realize how poorly staffed they are and the limited access they offer the public across the island to digitized materials, e-books and computers.”

In terms of ‘providing universal access to information and knowledge’, Issa says not enough people are members of libraries across the island, noting, “We are far from delivering a literate and impactful society if all we are reaching is half a million people out of a population of over 2.7 million,” as the JLS data suggest.

Director General of the JLS, Karen Barton, confirms by email, the worrying downward trend in library membership, which she says fell to 499,597 in 2014, from 525,264 in 2013 and 548,899 in 2012. The information also shows that circulation of materials has been falling since 2012, as well as computer usage, which picked up slightly in 2014.

In explaining the decline in membership, Barton says “it is mainly due to the periodic withdrawal of inactive members from the membership register,” noting that “a significant number of library users are not registered members due to the fact that users are able to access the services provided, without being registered members.”

She informs however, that “new efforts are being made to capture the data on unregistered users and to encourage these persons to become members,” and that a project now under early implementation entitled ‘JLS: Using Technology to Empower Individuals and Communities for Development’, will seek to, among other things, attract new members to the library through the use of technology.
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But Issa, whose charities have provided books and computers to school libraries from as far back as 1987 while he was a student of the London School of Economics in the UK, and is published at http://joeyissaphilanthropy.wordpress.com/, is not convinced that this latest thrust, launched on November 8, 2014 to bring information to the masses for development, even with a US$2-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US$1.1 million counterpart funding from the government of Jamaica, will have the required impact by 2016.

Issa says, “With the vision’s target date of 2016 fast approaching, time is not on the side of the JLS. It does not have the resources to meet the conditions necessary to realize it, as I anticipate that the 2015-16 national, education and the JLS budgets will be even tighter, as the government maintains the lid on spending in order to reduce the debt, under the IMF (International Monetary Fund) programme.”

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