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Role Of Public Libraries In Society

Introduction A public library is a non-profit library, which is maintained for public use and funded by the government or the public sources. Unlike other libraries, public library satisfies general public information needs by providing all kinds of knowledge and information available to all segments of the community regardless of race, nationality, age, gender, religion, language, disability, economic and employment status. It may also provide other services to their communities such as, storytelling for children, after-school programs, language learning, seminars, workshops and other community services.
Public libraries were initiated back in ancient times. They were known and used by Greeks, Romans, North Africa and Middle East. However they did not arise in Europe and America until 18th and 19th century.
In USA and Europe, public libraries started with a donation from many private philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and Benjamin Franklin. Like other philanthropist, both Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Carnegie realized that books, and the knowledge they provide, should not be for just richness but for serving the public and for anyone who wanted to learn. Because of this belief, they made books and money available to the general public through their philanthropy.
Throughout the history, the library collections have been changed and developed. Nowadays, beside printed books and traditional materials, public libraries offer wide range of other media and modern technologies like, videos, audio books, e-books, DVD’s and others. Similarly, the roles and missions of public library have been shifted from recreational reading to acting as active educational, economic and social agents.
This paper seeks to offer a literature review on the role of public libraries in society.
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1.Role of public libraries
Public library plays an important role in people’s lives as a source of accessing information and a place for knowledge creation. It has shown that public libraries are important informational, educational, cultural, and social institutions.
Public library and Education
One of the public libraries’ significant and fundamental roles is education. Public libraries provide books and other materials for people to read and use. These materials are educational and lead to self-improvement and develop basic literacy skills.
Public Libraries have always seen as an educational resource for all people. The educative role of public libraries has expanded to include supporting both formal and informal education.
A. Public library and literacy
Literacy is the ability to read and write. In libraries culture, this concept is expanded to include the knowledge or education in one or several fields required to develop individual and communities’ skills.
Learning today is not a luxury limited only to selected group, but it is essential for survival. Expansion of literacy needs reading and writing material. (Wijentunge, 2000)
The public library is the local center for providing a wealth of information through learning facilities and materials to support literacy to the general public. Literacy is also achieved by providing literacy programs and activities for different groups and ages.
Public libraries continue to play a major role in fostering literacy in communities and societies, particularly among those groups of the populations that need special assistance in developing literacy skills, such as preschool and elementary school children.
Children literacy is one of the educative roles of public libraries. Public libraries concern in providing children and exposing them to high-quality reading materials and rich language experiences during the crucial preschool and elementary school years. (Celano, 2001)
Pennsylvania public libraries are among the libraries, which keen in enhancing the children literacy skills by proving them high quality materials and involving them in summer reading programs, story hours, arts and crafts activities.
A study was done in Pennsylvania public libraries using qualitative and quantitative methods to examine how library preschool and summer reading programs contribute to children’s reading skills.
Surveys were sent to every third library outlet listed in the directory of Pennsylvania libraries (227 surveys).
The study reveals that children who participate in summer reading programs gain more literacy skills. They also found that preschool and summer reading programs encourage children to spend more time with books. Moreover, Observations and interviews show that library programs encourage parents to play greater roles in their children’s literacy development ( Celano, 2001).
B. Public library and Non-formal Education
Non-formal education is an unsystematic form of learning and educational activity that occurs outside of traditional organization or institution. Unlike the formal education, non-formal education is non-structured educational system. Examples of non-formal education include after-school programs, community-based organizations, museums, libraries, or at home. The aims of both formal and non-formal education are similar but they are different in approach. (Abraham, 2010). Both learning focus on gaining knowledge and skills however, the way of gaining learning is different.
Non-formal educational practices are reinforced due to the challenges of modern information society.
Abraham (2010) states that rural people suffer from lack of proper education. He points out that formal education is time bound, rigid and difficult to such people therefore, non-formal education is much suitable to rural people in order to satisfy their needs and fit their environmental conditions.
He describes the public library as “welfare center, which provides useful services to the community by fostering education, promoting culture, recreation and dissemination of information to all sections of the society”. Abraham (2010) looked at the public libraries as the most appropriate centers through which non-formal education can be achieved. He found that some public libraries in rural areas in India (Kerala) play an important role in supporting non-formal education by organizing night schools, constructive discussions, seminars and symposia to fight illiteracy and proliferation reading habit.
A study was conducted in one of the Kerala districts (Abraham, 2010) to gather an overview of the role of public libraries in promoting non-formal education. Questioners were distributed among 20 women laborers. It was found that 30% of them could continue their education and are attempting to achieve minimum qualification through utilizing rural libraries in their own home areas. 60% could read and write and 10% stopped their education due to various personnel reasons.
C. Public library and Life long learning
Lifelong learning is the process of continues and on going learning throughout person life in order to enhance continuous development and improvement of the individual’s’ knowledge and skills. Life long learning cannot be achieved without literacy because reading and writing is essential for learning.
Due to the complex and rapid change environment, people need to acquire a variety of skills and knowledge irrespective of their age, social, political or economic status.
Wijetunge (2000) states that public libraries contribute to the lifelong learning by supporting the learners to identify and locate the reading materials relevant to the needs of the community.
Karunawathie (1998) gave an example of how the Negombo Public Library has contributed to the community in which it exists. The public library has assisted the fishing community in Negombo in changing the process of their fishing technology by providing the community with good and rich materials related to finishing industry.
2. Public library and Economic development
Public libraries do not only have educational roles and functions but also contribute to nations’ economies.
There is a significant shift in the role of libraries; from recreational reading and educational institutions to active economic development agents.”
Due to economic development and globalization, public libraries started to concern in supporting business and economic development through providing effective business services, resources and literacy programs to their business communities.
Economic and education researchers have been studying how educational levels are related to countries’ economic growth and economic productivity. They believe that more educated and skilled workers are more productive. (Liu, 2004 )
A research study (Liu, 2004) was done to examine the relationship between public libraries and school libraries and how they are related to nations’ literacy levels, which in turn contribute to nations’ overall economic productivity. This empirical study developed a path analysis model. Cross- country statistics were gathered from a number of sources including the Statistical Abstract of the World and Unesco’s Statistical Yearbook. It is demonstrated from this study that public libraries have a significant impact on economic productivity through providing various business resources and literacy programs.
Other studies done confirming the same indication. A research done by the institute for public and Business Research on behalf of the Kansas State Library (Glass etc., 2000). The purpose of the study was to determine how Kansas public libraries could play a more active roll in supporting business and economic development in their communities. The research applied three main tools:
(1) Focus groups with librarians and businesses,
(2) Case studies of four local libraries,
(3) Surveys of public libraries, businesses, Chambers of Commerce, and Small Business Development Centers.
The study shows that nearly a third of successful businesses and economic organizations in all parts of the state use public libraries as a resource.
3.Public libraries and democratic governance
Public libraries are one of the most successful information centers for increasing the quality of life and democratic chances for citizens by providing free and equal access to high-quality information.
Information is important to civic participation and its development, which become one of the basic functions of public libraries. (Arko-Cobbah, 2005)
According to Arko-Cobbah (2005), Public libraries can assist civil society to implement democratic culture through the following:
Free and fair elections Public libraries provide civic societies with education programs and necessary information to develop an informed electorate. Through an open access Internet facilities, public libraries can help with voter registration and even serve as polling stations in some areas. They also can be used to reach out to politically unmotivated citizens and publicize party positions, solicit feedback, new ideas and new members (Drake, 2001).
Citizen participation in decision-making Through the provision of Internet facilities, public libraries provide and exchange the information needed for dialogue that the public needs to make decisions about common concerns and ensure accountability from the government.
Human rights In accordance with the principle of human rights, public libraries play significant role in ensuring that materials and resources are available to meet the needs and interests of all segments of the community including national minorities.
Information Access Free access to information is a vital element of the human rights issue that promotes the concept of democracy. Intellectual freedom is a basic human right. Deprivation of this right leads to autocratic governance. Public libraries play an important role in providing free access to information, which is a necessary condition for good governance.
Conclusion According to the literature review, public libraries play fundamental roles in the society. They are educational institutions. They provide educational programs, such as children’s and adult literacy programs, to improve the literacy levels of users. They also support life long learning education. Public libraries also play a role in providing business resources and collections in their institutions in order to respond to the world economic challenges. They are also essential to the functioning of a democratic society by providing free and equal access to high-quality information.
Despite of all these critical roles for public libraries in society, these roles are not recognized in Kuwait society. Public libraries in Kuwait focus only on supporting formal education. The library still remains visited by students who perform research on assignments and projects.
It is recommended that public libraries expand their roles to more significant one as discussed in the literature review. That required more efforts in providing and diversity in the resources, collections, technology facilities, activities and educational programs in the libraries, which can support different roles. Also it is recommended increasing the awareness of public library roles among users. Media also could have a significant role in pointing out the importance of public libraries in Kuwait.

Saudi Education System

Given that this work was undertaken in Saudi Arabia, it is pertinent to provide an over view of the Saudi education system particularly its general characteristics, structure, curriculum being used in it. This chapter provides general background regarding the basic objectives of the Saudi education system. The strategies it employs for its on going development and advancement.
The Saudi Education System: A brief preview Education in all parts of Saudi Arabia was traditional until the late nineteenth century, the education was mainly restricted to reading, writing and recitation of the Qur’an. Higher education in religious studies existed only in the main cities of Saudi Arabia. The beginning of the “Modern Education” took place towards the end of the nineteenth century in the then Ottoman provinces of Hijaz and Al-Ahsa. By 1920’s a few private schools began offering non-religious subjects in some major cities and larger towns. In the beginning of 1951 a network of secondary schools was set up. The ministry of Education was established in 1954 and prince Fahd Bin Abd al-Aziz became the first minister. The first non wholly religious university was opened up in 1957. In spite of the strong opposition of the conservatives of the Saudi clan the public education for girls began in 1964. The Ministry of Higher Education was established in 1975, and the development plans of 1970’s and 1980’s characterized remarkable development in the Education setup, improving Saudi Education system considerably.
The literacy rate in Saudi Arabia in 1970 was 15% for men and 2% for women. By 1990 it was 73% for men and 48% for women , and, in 2002 it reached 90.9% and 70.2%, respectively . According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook 2002, the literacy rate in 2002 was estimated at 84.2% for males and 69.5% for females and according to the latest facts it stands at 86.6% overall, with male literacy rate at 90.4% and female literacy rate at 81.3%.
The reason for the positive results in combating illiteracy can be attributed to government support and encouragement. Private education institutions and Qur’an schools proved successful in increasing the literacy rate. The very first syllabus to educate adults, especially in terms of reading, was laid down in 1956. Initially, the period of education was reduced to three years, and then after some experimentation, four years. After this four year timeframe, the student attended a follow-up programme after which a he or she was then eligible for a primary school certificate.
Around the mid 1950’s, Saudis quickly started to realise that education, and reading in particular, were absolutely vital for the future of their country. Today, they look on in pride at a well-educated and successful nation. Saudi business is booming, and the rate of attendance at schools has reached 98.7 percent. Meanwhile, rectification work is continuing on educating elderly people who may have missed out on previous reading programmes.
Characteristics of Saudi education System Education in Saudi Arabia has four special characteristics: an emphasis on Islam, a centralized educational system, separate education for men and women, and state financial support. Islam is the core of each Muslim’s curriculum, with time each week devoted to the study of the Muslim sacred text, the Qur’an, Islamic tradition, jurisprudence, and theology from primary through higher education. Religion is not separate from but is a part of the disciplines of education, economics, sociology, psychology, medicine, and law. It is expected that the Qur’an will be memorized, interpreted, and applied to all aspects of daily life.
The centralized educational system for men is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education; and for women, under the General Presidency of Girls’ Education. All schools at all levels utilize the same methods of instruction, textbooks, evaluation techniques, curricula, and educational policy. As stated in Article 155 of the Educational Policy of Saudi Arabia, there is strict separation of the sexes at all levels of education with the exception of kindergarten, nursery, and some private elementary schools, and in some medical schools. The separation of the sexes is related to the respected social status of women accorded to them by Islam. With the exceptions of physical education and home economics, the curricula are the same. The Saudi government is committed to the development of education at all costs and maintains exclusive control. Education is free but not compulsory beyond the elementary level. The government provides free tuition, stipends, subsidies, and bonuses to students entering certain fields of study and to those continuing their education outside the country. Free transportation is provided for female students.
Objectives of Saudi Education Policy The objectives of the Saudi educational policy are to ensure that education becomes more efficient, to meet the religious, economic and social needs of the country and to eradicate illiteracy among Saudi adults. The main educational purpose of Saudi education system is a continuation of its Islamic Educational heritage. To prepare highly qualified individuals, scientifically and intellectually, so that they can perform their best in order to benefit their country and the development of their Nation. To play a positive role in the field of scientific research in order to contribute to the global progress in arts, science and inventions. To translate the scientific knowledge to the language of Qur’an (Arabic) and the development of the wealth of the Arabic language, to meet the needs of Arabization, by making knowledge accessible to the largest number of people.
There are several government agencies involved with planning, administrating and implementing the overall governmental educational policy in Saudi Arabia.
The Ministry of Education sets overall standards for the country’s educational system (public and private) and also oversees special education for the handicapped. Early in 2003 the General Presidency for Girls’ Education was dissolved and its functions were taken over by the Ministry, to administer the girls’ schools and colleges, supervise kindergartens and nursery schools and sponsor literacy programs for females.
Structure and Curriculum of Saudi Public Education The Public education in Saudi Arabia, for boys and girls, is divided into three levels: elementary, intermediate, and secondary. Also, there is optional kindergarten level. The school year at all three levels consists of two semesters, which are fifteen weeks long. Classes per week vary from 28 to 33 class. The length of each class is 45 minutes. Passing the exam at the end of the school year is essential for moving to next grade or level. Students who fail need to take another test in the subject that was failed. Before the new school year starts, if the student fails again, he needs to repeat the grade.
Elementary Education: Elementary education consists of six grades. Students start at the age of six. (May accept 3 months – or 4 in Gregorian calendar- less than 6). Elementary education focuses mainly on Islamic religion and the Arabic language; mathematics, history, geography, and science.
Intermediate Education: Passing the sixth grade examinations is required to enter the intermediate level. The age of the intermediate student is between 12 and 15 years old. Students in the intermediate level study, besides Islamic and Arabic language courses, more general education courses. Completion of the third year of the intermediate level and passing the examination, students can select one of three options: (1) regular secondary school, (2) vocational education, (3) Qur’anic schools.
Secondary Education Before 1937, there was no secondary-level education in Saudi Arabia. The first high school was the Saudi Institution opened in 1926. The real beginning of secondary education coincides with the development of the Foreign Mission preparatory school in 1937. The initial purpose of this school was to prepare Saudi students for higher education in Egyptian universities. The curricula were similar to the Egyptian curricula and most of the teachers were from Egypt. Secondary education is three-year program. The economic development in the oil sector in 1950s and 1960s led to dramatic industrial and commercial growth in Saudi Arabia. The need for an immediate reform of the secondary education system and more secondary schools became clear. The Saudi Supreme Committee of Education embarked on a large-scale expansion of the Saudi education system, which was influenced by the American education system. There are now three types of secondary education available in Saudi Arabia:
Qur’anic school, (2) general (academic) school, and (3) vocational (professional) school.
The first Qur’anic high school opened in 1977. General high school follows a general curriculum in the first year. Then, each student specializes in either liberal arts or science for the next two years. The general high school curriculum has been changed several times, as educational policymakers and curriculum planners have determined that the curriculum did not meet individuals’ and national needs. The Ministry of Education established the first comprehensive secondary school in 1975, as an experimental modern high school in the city of Riyadh. In 1977 and 1978, they opened three more schools in other cities round the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The intent in establishing these schools was:
To prepare students for real life by affording them with the knowledge and skills they need for employment,
To meet the needs of both individuals and groups in society,
To allow students to select the courses and activities that they need,
To offer students access to an academic adviser to guide and help them during their studies.
Because of the need to expand secondary education and include additional academic programs and areas of study, the comprehensive secondary education program was replaced by “developed” secondary education in 1983. This school allowed students to choose the courses that correspond to their interests, as well as developing a high school structure which allows students to experience different activities. Saudi educational policymakers phased the “developed” high school plan out in 1993 because of the negative social consequences for both students and the society.
Higher Education Higher education became the focus of Saudi Education system when country embarked on its development ascent in 1970’s. The oldest university in Saudi Arabia was opened in 1957 as Riyadh university which was renamed as King Saud university in 1982. In the academic year 2007-2008 the university had 42,312 students (Albaikan, 2010). There were only two universities in Riyadh, King Saud university (KSU) and Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic university until 2004 when the first women university was established by combining women colleges. The ministry of Higher Education was established in Saudi Arabia in 1975 to supervise and regulate the higher education in the country. The ministry’s major objective was to establish new higher education institutions throughout the country and expand the existing ones and to commence and renew the undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in most disciplines in these universities and colleges. Saudi universities and higher education institutions offer Diplomas, Bachelors, Masters and PHD degrees in various humanities and scientific specializations. A Bachelor degree requires four years study programme in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences and five to six years in the field of Engineering, Medicine and Pharmacy. The medium of instruction in science and technological fields is English, while the other subjects are taught in Arabic.
Saudi universities have been increased in number from eight public universities to twenty one since 2004 (Ministry of Higher Education, 2008) Most of these universities were pre-established colleges, which were later upgraded to the status of universities. A large number of vocational institutes and private colleges have been established more recently, such as The Prince Sultan University and Arabic Open University. A considerable amount of annual budget is allocated for these higher Education institutions by the Saudi Government to ensure their smooth working and continuous advancement, For instance the budget in 2010 spent $36.7 billion on education and training out of $146 billion total budget. The Higher Education budget of 2010 covered funding for establishing new universities across Saudi Arabia and the expansion of the existing ones and increasing the students enrollment in Higher Education and scholarship programmes abroad. There are approximately more than 80.000 Saudi students studying at Higher education universities around the world with Government scholarships. Moreover, The world’s largest Women University, The Princess Nora Bint AbdulRahman University, was inaugurated in the first quarter of the year 2011 by the then King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, at the outskirts of the capital city Riyadh. The university has the capacity of accommodating 50.000 students and aims to improve women’s access to courses such as Business and Science. The university has its own teaching Hospital , state of the art laboratories and libraries.
The Movement to transform the Saudi society into a Knowledge Society was emphasized by the Minister of Higher Education in a speech, during the First Higher Education Symposium held in March 2010:
The premises of Higher Education development adopted by the Ministry are based on specified fundamentals, most important of them is supporting Saudi society be transformed into a knowledge society. One of the most important means to achieve this transformation is to develop and employ a view of knowledge economy where knowledge is produced, disseminated and ultimately consumed at various community products and service works. Toward this there was collaboration with universities to build real and realistic partnerships with production and services sector, both governmental and private whether local or international. Such move is justified in a view of a university or educational institution role as a manifestation of a balance stroked between producing knowledge and utilization of this produced knowledge, education output that is fit for national development needs and those needs of labour market. Such balancing highlights the real role and the positive reflection of universities and Higher Education organizations at serving their communities, not forgetting too their pioneering role at educating and conducting research. (Ministry of Higher Education Portal, 2010): (para. 7)
The Use of Internet In Saudi Education System Saudi Arabian citizens were enabled to access Internet in the year 1999 for the first time. According to the Communications and Information Technology Commission (2007) There were approximately 200.000 Internet users in Saudi Arabia in December 2000, the number which rose to 2.54 million users by the year 2005 and by 2007 it jumped up to 6.4 million users, making it nearly one third of the Saudi population which is approximately 24 million (Albaikan, 2010) The major reason for this rapid growth is that around 60% of Saudi population comprises of young people who are in their twenties or even younger (ArRiyadh Development authority, 2007) and they are adapting to the latest technologies faster than expected (Albaikan,2010). It is expected that Internet use will continue to grow In Saudi Arabia at the same pace, hence, raising the issue of incorporating methodologies to provide new learning strategies that include use of technology.
In the major cities of Saudi Arabia, the residential, business and metropolitan areas including universities have been provided with the Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) recently.
Asynchronous virtual learning is used in the country due to the limitation in the bandwidth. The manager of Al-Dawalij company (Saudi Educational Software Producing Company) said supporting his view that his company has stopped producing online educational material for schools because of the network connection problems that prevented schools accessing that material (Albaikan, 2010). Therefore their soft wares and products are only available on CDs and DVDs (Abu-Hassana

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