Ear to the ground

A go-around is one way to keep you awake at the end of a long journey*. Listening to the radio on the way from the airport is another. Development workers like to make a lot of asking taxi drivers about politics, whether commending or scoffing at the idea. On field visits, environmental knowledge picked up through newspapers, informal conversations on the way from one meeting to another, and the radio can fill in a lot that might be difficult to glean from formal meetings alone. You learn a lot about which issues are on the agenda, personal dynamics, and politics.

I remember very clearly my first reference class at library school. We were instructed to go out and observe the conversations around us for an hour and make notes on interaction, body language, and dynamics. It proved very helpful in the years I worked reference, and now when there’s so much more to what a person is saying than the words they speak.

This evening, Yaoundé radio was broadcasting news about university graduates, education modernisation, foreign investment, natural resource exploitation, and most prominently, activities leading up to World Press Freedom Day. A lot of issues that make the news here (or at least, the press releases. The Internet at least is free from censorship) are issues many of us would like to see more of in the news in our own countries: literacy, information, education. Compared to other countries, many developing countries have little difficulty getting library news in the media. The challenge is putting together a compelling message and evidence.

Yaoundé has all that we expect from a modern African city: small enterprises, roadside stalls, endless bars which provide a social space, telecentres and mobile phone stalls – callboxes where you can buy credit. The continent has led the way with mobile services, and I do hope mlibs and other movements take more of their lead from some of the initiatives that started here. LIASA’s use of SMS to communicate with members is a great example.

* On landing into DLA. Completely routine, but go-arounds are one of my least favourite things. Those who know me well know I have a long long list of “things that happen when I travel”. I still think not being able to land in Kathmandu due to a cracked runway and being sent back to Abu Dhabi (via New Delhi) is pretty much the strangest one.

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