L L E T I N
Note: This paper was submitted to the ASIS&T SIG/III
International Paper Competition in 2003.
Role of a
Wessel J. Smit is with the Resource Center of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Private Bag 13306, Windhoek, Namibia; phone: +264-61-249015; fax: +264-61-240339; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Matter of Priority
Traditionally, a library has been seen as a central point for the storage of information in hard copy, where students and researchers, among others, go to find relevant information in their respective subjects. Since the dawning of the digital age, however, the importance of a library has been transformed in its utility and role due to the Internet and Internet products accessible to staff. In some institutions the library has simply become a place where archives are stored. In extreme cases, you will find books and old documents just lying there, gathering dust, while the library and information retrieval facility enjoys less and less priority. Although such cases of neglect are partly the fault of staff not willing to make a commitment, a whole institution gives rise to this situation through the allocation of inadequate space, funds and attention, especially if there are quicker ways of obtaining required information. Institutional staff members slowly build personal collections of relevant literature, stacked on pine and oak shelves in their offices, that further reduce the chances of their visiting the library. In addition, some individuals subscribe to online journals and document delivery systems that ensure they can spend eight hours a day in their offices with all needed information virtually at their fingertips.
In order for our center to transform – to adapt and lead
again in information management and allocation within an
institution – it must offer a service not accessible via the
Internet, be a leading agency in information management and
create awareness among students, visiting researchers and the
general public about environmental issues in
A Public Domain Information and Data Access Point
mission of the MET
the ideal scenario you would be consulting a resource center
wanting to find out what this minister or expert is
to say one year from now – proactive participation
in policy creation, in what is being decided by the leaders of a
country. If you ask my opinion, such a service is exactly what a
ministerial resource center is there to provide. By using the
center’s knowledge and the tools, you act like a spider,
creating a web with numerous links to different institutions
that handle the same or related topics and making it all connect
in the middle. The center point in this case is the MET
It is important to draw on resources from other information institutions (both nationally and internationally), from the media, from research stations and mining corporations countrywide, and from the Internet. It is also critical to have good relationships with various experts such as scientists and researchers as well as with leaders in government institutions and worldwide organizations. These sources and contacts will give you an edge in information provision and will keep researchers and policy-makers coming back to your institution for research. In the ideal situation you, as the ministerial information officer, will have an active hand in what is being decided at workshops, conferences and even by the Cabinet. Reliable information from different sources thrown together by a creative mind can develop a forecast for the future and allow policies to be shaped in the right direction. What is eventually written in books and made into law will be information coming out of your resource center, and people will keep coming back for more.
is not ambition; instead, it is the reality of the MET
Five Pillars of Excellence
In reviving the resource center, we have identified five pillars of excellence: amalgamation, communication, dependence, tangible results and networking.
The resource center is part of the Environmental Information
Systems (EIS) Unit of the MET, which functions as a national
environmental information hub by acquiring and processing
environmental data and disseminating the information products.
It is a collection of thousands of book, document and journal
titles in hard copy. At the moment the center consists of three
separate entities spread over three directorates between
Communication. In terms of interaction, a resource center functions much like a radio station, relaying and extending the information it receives from the experts to the public at large. It is a loudspeaker that receives knowledge from the source, and then broadcasts it out to the whole public. As a body the center is in constant contact with over 100 people and institutions nationally and internationally. Interaction with institutions and experts in various fields occurs on a daily basis via email, fax, phone or ordinary post in a mutual give-and-take scenario. Relevant information to our trade is then circulated throughout the ministry in the form of chain emails. Everyone is kept updated on the latest journal and book issues received, current affairs and even social events. Newsletters are circulated on a weekly basis, and a poll is held annually to enable MET employees to choose which journals and books the resource center should buy, thereby ensuring quality and reliability of resource materials as well as staff satisfaction. Communication between other subject-related resource centers around the country and abroad is vital and leads to networking and interlibrary loan agreements.
Finally, efforts are being made to reach those who live far from the capital city and other major towns and who do not possess privileges like the Internet, television or even telephones. Across the country, educational and other human development institutions exist for the main purpose of providing communities with guidance in matters like health, agricultural practices and commerce, as well as community-based natural resource management. We make contact with the people running those institutions, offer our assistance in providing relevant learning materials, and correspond with them on a regular basis. In this way we act not only as a library for reference, but also as a distribution center. They trust our center’s services and call in advance with requests that usually include ministerial publications, reports and discussion papers, booklets, brochures and posters. We readily supply these and hope in this way to make up for a lack of proper infrastructure that may exist in certain areas, which in the past, kept people from developing further.
Dependence. We have grown up in a Hollywood-oriented society where we look at icons like John Wayne and James Bond, who are displayed as heroes – hard men who never need anyone else and can do everything on their own. However, in reality, people, and therefore all institutions, desperately need each other to function maximally. A human body will be dysfunctional if the leg decides to quit working. The same rule applies to us. The government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), farmers and scientists, as well as resource centers, need each other in order to produce a high quality output. Information needs to flow, and it will only flow freely through the building of confidence and better working relationships. Putting your trust in someone else does make you vulnerable, but thousands of years of human civilization’s trial and error has proven that trust is the only way we move forward and improve conditions.
Tangible Results. The goal
of every institution is always results, and we have plenty to
offer. The MET
Networking. Networking here refers to physical and digital communication, as well as data, expertise and resource sharing. Ranging from the researcher and farmer in the field to the cabinet, the resource centers in a country must have good links and relations with all these bodies at once and with each other. Networking involves wide-ranging communication, a common goal and a great willingness to share resources, knowledge and expertise in order to build something much bigger than one institution alone can accomplish.
Environmental Information Databank and the Namibian interlibrary
loan system are two initiatives that are direct developments
stemming from networking efforts by the MET
The Environmental Information Databank is a MET
Each of the participating centers uses the library computer
program called CDS/ISIS, which allows the creation of huge
databases that take up a surprisingly small amount of
cyberspace. The MET
This search engine will be accessible by navigating to the MET Resource Center Web page on the MET website. The two tables below give a good indication of the functionality and efficiency that this service will offer:
With the wide range of subjects being covered and the advanced search capabilities of the databank, we will be able to effectively provide the information needs of environmental scientists, nature conservationists, politicians, economists and students in Namibia and internationally.
Within the databank, each resource center still retains its identity, which will make reference very easy and convenient. The databank is still being developed and relationships and trust among participants are still being established, but it is expected to be fully functional by the middle of 2004.
A national interlibrary loan system, being developed by the Namibian Library Information Service (NLIS),
answers a call first issued at Namibia`s independence in
1990. This action stems from the creation of the Environmental
Information Databank and the neccessity of cooperating with an
international audience. Over 30 participating resource centers
Along with nationwide functionality, this system will connect with the Southern African Interlibrary Loan System. Through the National Library of Namibia, which acts as a gateway for Namibian libraries to the rest of the world, we will be able to access material from outside our borders. A committee nominated by the NLIS is investigating and researching this concept, and once their findings are reviewed, an official interlibrary loan system will come into being.
The ultimate long-term plan of the MET
conclusion do we draw after all is said and done? It can be
brought down to a question of what we want to do with data. The
national vision for
New projects and programs will be formed from the needs identified in resource center resources and documentation. This knowledge will in turn be applied in the field, completing a circle of interdependence and cooperation among individuals and institutions on all levels of society, raising the standards of productivity and living. This is the aim of environmental monitoring, the measuring of indicators and the continuous, active role the resource center plays in it through the process of data management and interaction.
Copyright © 2005, American Society for Information Science and Technology