Getting the best out of library staff has been a problem for librarians in Sierra Leone (SL). According to Crosby (2008), librarians are information experts in the information age. Their expertise in information management has not been seen or performed, although these professionals have been around for a long time. Librarians and information professionals have not achieved the status and position they should rightly occupy in society. In most ministries, departments and government agencies (MDAs) where information management and record keeping are key functions, librarians, journalists and information professionals have not been hired to perform these jobs. Instead, other professionals are employed, mainly people with accounting and business management backgrounds. In essence, the work of librarians has not been so much marked and appreciated.
Library and information services in Sierra Leone
Information is a fundamental asset to any community that is thriving in this 21st century. It is the tool that learning takes place and decisions are made. It provides the necessary answers to people’s requests and longings from all walks of life. Therefore, providing library and information services to everyone is undeniable. Almost all types of libraries exist in SL, because no individual library can provide all the information that any potential user needs. In this context, there are various libraries that serve different users and their needs.
The Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) serves as both the national and public library in the country. There are mainly nine (9) academic libraries scattered throughout the country, all of which are found in the tertiary institutions (universities, colleges, institutes and colleges of teacher education) that offer higher education. School libraries can be found in most elementary, junior, and high schools. However, the vast majority of these are not functional. Special libraries can be found in MDAs, private companies and individual established libraries. In addition to these are research and documentation centers, such as the medical research center; Information Resource Centers, such as those created by the United States Embassy; and many small information centers in the community. These information centers are widely used by information seekers due to the fact that they provide online services almost free of charge.
SLLB serves as the central point for the provision of library and information services in the country. It is open to everyone: professionals, academics, researchers, students, students and all children. General population information needs are also available. All of these are aimed at meeting our societal needs for information, education, research, entertainment and leisure activities.
Staff in Libraries and Institutions of Information Services in Sierra Leone
There are two broad classes of staff employed in our libraries, as is the case for libraries around the world: those involved in library and information work, and those providing back-up services. Library and information professionals operate at various levels from non-professional, para-professional, professional, specialist to managerial. At the support level, there are also staff for staff / care workers, office / secretariat, technical and computer staff and specialists. These all play a role in providing the information that users want.
Library staff must function above the normal information role. Other important features are:
I. Guidance – providing physical, technical and intellectual guides to information resources in various formats;
ii. Collaboration – with other, well-known users as well as users who come after some kind of service over and over again and even external users;
iii. Priorities – Be flexible in performing new functions to incorporate new requirements into procedures, structures and directions;
iv. Empower – delegate responsibility and thus empower colleagues; and
v. Understand core functions – in the library, its environment, colleagues and most importantly users.
Training of library staff in Sierra Leone
The Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS), Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone (USL), is where librarians and information professionals are trained and equipped for the world of work. INSLICS consists of two departments that offer two different programs: the departments of mass communication and library, archive and information studies respectively. The Mass Communication Department offers academic courses in the arts and sciences in human communication and prepares students for career opportunities in public information services, print media, television media, public relations, film production, advertising, marketing, law and related fields. While the Library, Archives and Information Studies Department is addressing the professional training of librarians, archival managers, archivists and information scientists to manage libraries, resource centers, information centers and related activities.
The Department of Library, Archives and Information Studies was formally established in 1986. It aims to provide the education and training of librarians, archivists and information scientists at various levels for those employed in both professional and non-professional properties in Libraries. , archive departments and information centers. Within the USL, the special mission of the Library, Archives and Information Studies Department is to train men and women for professional careers as librarians and information specialists, and to promote research and service programs that address community library and information needs.
Its objectives are:
I. To provide students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are fundamental to professional competence and career-long professional growth in library and information services;
II. To expand the knowledge base of the profession through research; and
III. Sharing its resources by expanding services within and beyond SL.
The department currently offers the following courses:
1. Special Certificate in Library, Archives and Information Studies – this is a one-year full-time course and is ideally suited for those with some library and information experience who want to get basic library / information skills training;
2. Diploma in Library, Archives and Information Studies – a two-year full-time course for those who may have some experience with library work and who hope to hold a para-professional position in a library / information center or archive in the future;
3. Bachelor of Arts with honors in Library, Archives and Information Studies – a four-year full-time course;
4. Postgraduate Diploma in Library, Archive and Information Studies – a one-year program for graduates;
5. Master of Philosophy in Library, Archives and Information Studies – a two-year program, ie. one year taught program and one year research.
The challenge for library staff
The challenges within the library staff in SL are many. Among them, the following are worth mentioning: low wages, limited capacity, no proper networking, poor infrastructure, user ignorance and status polemics.
The challenge of user ignorance
An anonymous author once wrote that “A library is a hospital of the mind.” This means that the librarian is the trained physician or nurse to administer treatment to all sick minds. This also means that the user who needs information is the sick mind who really needs treatment from the librarian. This is the ideal case, but not the pragmatic one. For every Sierra Leonean needs information for survival and growth; but going to the library is the biggest barrier. This is due to the fact that many are not well informed that the library exists to provide the daily information they want. As such, there are libraries of information and knowledge to help people, but these people are not aware of going there for such help. It is therefore the responsibility of the library staff to make people aware that the library can meet their daily information needs. They need to find ways and means to reach the public. Two important ways for each library are through PR and marketing library and information services.
The challenge of polemics of status
Wilson (1982) stated that librarians have long exhibited a curious, and intense, state of anxiety reflected in the endless polemics of professional status (or lack thereof) among them. Library should be one of the professions seeking an eye-catching status in the market. As Harris (1995) mentioned, since the beginning of the idea of a ‘library’ in the United States, and more significantly, since the mid-19th century, librarians and friends of libraries have been discussing the proper role of library science. Library is one of the professions that affects the very survival of society. The librarian has a unique status in parallel with traditional professions in SL. If we can accept the saying that “knowledge itself is a form of power”, the librarian is the controller of that power. He is the manager of the country’s knowledge base.
A redefinition of the library profession and librarian in developing countries is urgently needed. Like how Huttemann (1985) mentioned that “self-sustaining and self-reliant pan-African economic growth must develop its natural and human resources.” So the work and role of librarians are keys for SL to realize her much-thought-out economic growth and prosperity. As Huttemann further stated, the promotion of socio-economic and cultural development can only be properly implemented if it is supported by sound information and documentation services necessary for sectors such as education, healthcare, agriculture, industry and trade. Basically, it is a matter of must that librarians should be in the process of accessing, organizing, storing and disseminating information where and when needed.
It is also crystal clear that librarians must question the definition they have accepted. A thorough understanding of their role is a prerequisite for a clearer vision. They need to come up with the goal of helping the community understand that they exist to provide information for survival and growth. This goal, as insisted by Bundy and Wasserman (1968) and Harris, Hannah and Harris (1998), must be to create a new professional identity.
According to Taylor (1980), librarianship is the profession that deals with the systematic organization of knowledge in all its various formats and its dissemination, with the aim of preserving the cultural heritage of society, promoting science and generating new knowledge. However, this definition is far fetched for the common understanding of many Sierra Leoneans. The general view is of some people sitting behind many books in large stacks of shelves waiting for patrons to come and ask for help. For a long time, librarians in SL have been labeled as “bookkeepers” and jobs for those teachers who are noticeably absent from the school curriculum. The profession itself has long struggled with PR (PR). As Mchombu (1985) put it, “In most developing countries, the percentage of active library users is still very low … so it is important to encourage many more people from all walks of life to increase their use of Libraries, allowing existing information resources to be fully utilized ”(p.115). When Mchombu further argues that library staff can no longer afford to sit and wait for a few enlightened readers to come to them, they must be more aggressive, be prepared to go out and search and encourage all potential readers to come to library because it has information that can be used for what they do to improve the final results.
To this end, librarians must ensure that they attach importance to creating value based on know-how and expertise. Bell (1973) has long made this call for clarity that the central figure in the post-industrial society will be information technician. Because when Bell insisted, what counts is not raw muscle power or energy, but information. The central person is the professional, for he is equipped with his education and training to provide the kind of skills that are increasingly in demand in the post-industrial society.
Getting the best out of library staff
The library profession must be able to overcome its challenges. One sure way to do this is to motivate all library staff. When the library staff is properly motivated, the best of them can be realized. Library managers should, as a matter of must, make staff motivation a topic of importance. Motivating staff in any organization is probably the manager’s most difficult task. Not only do people respond differently to the same stimuli, but the motivation process is quite complicated. These are the factors that stimulate human behavior, how behavior is controlled and how it can be maintained. The staff may at times appear to be illogical, perverse and unpredictable. Contrary to what some believe, good management of staff is not just a matter of common sense. Managing staff requires a formal effort to understand these influences, so that our individual attitudes can be guided and developed to meet day-to-day staff in a way that common sense will have difficulties (Shimmon, 1976).
It is especially important that the head of a service organization such as a library / information unit make this effort for two reasons: First, his product, being service closely linked to the attitudes of the serving staff, is not possible through inspection disclosing a defective service in the easy way that defective materials can be detected; and secondly, labor costs are likely to continue to increase at a greater rate than the manager’s other main tools, machines, and materials, and he must therefore use the staff he really needs to the best advantage (Webb, 1985). Some of the employees may be motivated by money and what it will buy, others by gaining ever-increasing services year after year, and others by the “thrill of change.” Therefore, the manager must have to address motivation in some depth by studying speculation such as organizational theory and behavior.
The challenge of getting the best out of it
Someone has said unofficially that the Sierra Leoneans are obviously not hard to please. Sierra Leoneans are generally motivated when the two lowest layers of Maslow’s pyramid are satisfied. One of the fundamental problems in this community is a good remuneration package that can take care of the basic needs of people. In this part of the world, five basic needs are clear: food, shelter, clothing, transportation and medical. Taking these needs into consideration for all library staff, we have solved many of the issues that concern them, and we are on the verge of making the most of them.
So a good package should include base salary and allowances that cover rent, transportation and medical. The government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) announced the minimum wage is Five Hundred Thousand Leones (SLL 500,000.00), placing it at Eighty United Dollars ($ 80 US) at the current exchange rate (2016). This does not provide the good salary that librarians will work for. The rising cost of basic necessities, especially food due to inflation in the country, means that this minimum wage is not encouraging. Therefore, libraries must ensure that they go beyond this minimum wage twice to meet the basic needs of their staff.
In addition, staff must be sent to the library school for education and development. Longer-serving staff without qualifications can be encouraged to implement certificate programs. Reference and other professional librarians are sent for refresher courses and capacity development exchanges.
Conclusion, the best of the library staff can be improved if the challenges they face and if they are properly motivated. Among the various challenges, librarians must overcome user knowledge and status queries. Furthermore, they must be quite motivated to assume their proper roles. In this way, their remuneration packages as well as encouragement for career development and training must be observed. The library school should help in this direction.