This plan was delivered to Prime Minister Esquivel of Belize, late 1996.


The ordinary technology plan for a library, or school media center in an advanced industrialized nation is a different sort of plan than that required for a small ex-colony, with a wide range of geography, ethnic cultures, small population and limited national budgets. For this technology plan, I have chosen the requirements and circumstances of the small nation of Belize, with a population of 200,000 people scattered around a wide geographical area. In many cases, the infra structure of roads, electricity and telephones have not yet caught up to many distant rural areas of the country. This lack provides some challenges in building a new library nationwide service and the location and type of services planned.

Belize is on the verge of a technological revolution. Indeed, it has already started and is accelerating at a rapid pace, yet many facets of the society at large still lack the infra structure to implement various government strategies for development.

Among the desires and plans are the requirement that Belize modernize itself more and become technically advanced. The distribution and expansion of modern day library services and technology is part of this revolution.

How to replace the inadequate underfunded one major library in the coastal port town of Belize City where about one third of the population live and have access, by modern facilities, and also at the same time install and replace those regional and rural community library services which for the most part only exist on paper, or in the form of three rows of dusty old books on shelves in a local school or community center, tended by some young volunteer.

Technology Library Planning for this small underpopulated third world nation is something different than what would be experienced by a school, or local small library in the USA. In the USA it would mean the upgrading of computer software, installation of internet service and some new computers for public use and joining various networks of library service bibliographic services.

In Belize, this small nation looks at Technology Planning as something completely different. It means some of those same things that would be appropriate in the USA, but far more, it means actually acquiring land, constructing libraries and deciding where to build, outfitting them with the latest materials and equipment and planning for the appropriate electrical outlets, for modern equipment and maintainance of same. It is in fact, the plan for a completely brand new library system. This technology plan is an outline for the complete growth of a new library service throughout the rural countryside of the small third world nation of Belize.

The Belize National Library Service has been a bit of a lame duck in national priorities. The major library service is found only in the port and largest town of the country, which is Belize City. Here are located a Technology Library started many years ago by a retiring USAID Director, one Mr. Eddie Astle and suplemented by donations ever since. The main library is more of a reading library for those people who desire to read, mostly for pleasure, with some books available for port town school students to do very limited research work. These library outlets are reminiscent of a small country library found in the USA of fifty years ago.

Some of the books in this library are more than seventy years old. Some current newspapers are available and a reference archive section on Belizean affairs and history for researchers. As of late, some new additions to books by donations have increased library resources, but alas, no budget worth mentioning has permitted the National Library Service to fill the needs of the port town, much less on a national scale.

That said, when requested, library services have been extended to District Towns and some rural villages. These are usually located in schools, or community centers, or even someones home and co-exist as part of school services and collections. The books supplied though, are usually not used much and reflect the taste in reading and castoff character of foreign countries. Occasionally donations have supplemented the book rural book collections, with things like supermarket encyclopedias of poor quality and content.

There is an added complication in that much of Belize, both in the major town of the port Belize City and district towns and rural villages, in that young people do not learn to appreciate and enjoy reading as a hobby and useful tool. This is a fault of the educational system and teachers lacking experience and initiative, who have no experience with the wider world and alternative methods of teaching, to teach that reading is a pleasure. Indeed, the majority of them simply repeat how they learnt to read as a child themselves and do not have the financial means or capabilities, to tap wider world donated sources of matrials that could be acquired. The result is a nation of young people to whom literacy is taught, but not comprehension, or the pleasures to be found in reading. Library services that do exist, primitive as they may be, are thus under utilized, as with a low reading comprehension level, young people shun the use of books as too difficult. Reading for pleasure is not a strong point of our national educational system and this in turn is reflected in the low usage of libraries, as the subject matter is found too difficult to comprehend with any fair rate of speed.

The 1998 starting date of the Library Technological Plan to bring the library services nationwide into a modern era, follows. It can only work if the educational system cooperates and the will to follow through also exists in Government. Belize is retarded in development in many fields and this is because of the nature of importance of political will. At the moment the country uses a divisive political party system that does not address many unique national problems due to political party strife and cyclical changes in political bias and administration. Nor does this system which is centralized, tap more than a few inputs and limited idea sources from a very small limited group of centralized elected representatives. It would seem this centralized political limitation may change soon and it is hoped such changes will bring a new breath of fresh air into the National Library Service ability to expand and upgrade to a modern facility and services, befitting of a growing developing nation.

There is a wide range of geographical needs nationwide throughout the six districts. In the past, the National Library Service has not been able to address any of these. For the present the situation remains the same. The hope for the future is bright and we do have faith that the National Library Service can expand and provide those diverse localized needs for a growing nation and economy.

The Toledo District for instance, requires many picture type books, as the reading comprehension level among rural villagers is very low. Also specific magazines and catalogues dealing with subject matter and development ideas compatible with the environment and level of expertise in the district. Many "How to" books also need to be offered to this district. Much of the needs of this area of the nation require magazine subscriptions and computer educational CD-ROMs and video tapes. There is a problem that many communities are not yet part of the rural electrification grid, nor do they have telephone services. Until the infra structure catches up, library services in this district are going to continue to lag behind developmental needs.

The Stann Creek District probably needs more than one regional center library located in the small port of Dangriga. Population growth has not yet caught up with the possibilities of development for this area, but it is rapidly coming. Most of this is in the tourism and the agricultural field. For the forseeable next five years, library services in this district need to concentrate on the needs of schools, general education and agriculture.

The Cayo District is already well developed and enjoys fairly large populations. Due to the healthy nature of hill country life, a large foreign born immigrant influx is bringing new ideas, modern ways and more needs for more sophisticated library services. The regional library service in this area, probably to be located east of San Ignacio, or part way between Belmopan and San Ignacio, should be modern and much larger than perhaps other regional centers to the south of the country. There is a need to make this regional library center a source of agricultural experiment and knowledge. Central Farm the old colonial agricultural station, in the past has had much experience and information to impart to the nation's researchers and farmers, but has failed to supply this service. Indeed, much of the research, experience and information has been lost. It should be the job of this Cayo District Regional Library to collect and compile all the subjects, information and technological data pertinent to the Agricultural development of this nation, throughout the history of the nation and to keep an ongoing updated archive of what has been tried in the past, the results and other data, to stop the repeat experiments and loss of knowledge from past efforts,being fruitlessly repeated by new generations.

The Belize District requires a good regional modern library service at the port, in the latest best examples of this field, as found in industrialized nations. Within this district, two locations, Caye Caulker and San Pedro have sophisticated populations with skills and abilities to rival the best of the industrialized world. The new libraries of these communities should be about three times larger than the present existing community centers and of the latest most modern equipped style and technological resources and magazines. This to encourage these spots of Belizean entrepeneurial experience, to expand their activities even more for the larger economic growth of the nation.

The Orange Walk District is a very advanced district with a population accustomed to the latest technology, money to spare and a population willing to learn and try anything of an entrepeneurial nature. This district needs a modern regional library center with all the latest possible facilities.

The Corozal District needs a regional library in Corozal and it also should be an up to date modern facility with all the expanded resources to rival any regional library to be found in the USA.

The Belmopan Federal District also requires a sophisticated modern library and here collections on government, business, financial planning, and subjects covering all facets of running a complex country need to be available as resource material for civil servants, politicians, foreign contractors and visitors.

All these new libraries are going to need to be designed with sufficient electrical outlets, work stations for computers, telephone lines and other accoutrements of the modern library to satisfy the needs of national growth and development. Such modern technology can provide fast and comprehensive information services. Laser-disc and CD-ROM's offer a wealth of resources, such as electronic encyclopedia. Nationwide networked computer library services can provide access to the database available throughout the nation as well as communication with other libraries around the world. Library student media centers can provide taped educational programs taken from satellite television and rebroadcast to rural communities. A master teacher at one library site can team teach students in scattered communities in different locations and multiple sites. Printers can print out all necessary information and research, for business people as well as schools. Overhead projectors, cassette recorders, LCD Panel projections are all some of things needed around the nation.

In the case of Belize, this is not upgrading of an existing outmoded system, but the building and installation of a complete brand new system where it does not presently exist at all. In this regard, technology planning and technology transfer have completely different meanings than that of a school, or existing library in the USA.

It is important to remember here, that in the case of the nation of Belize, technology planning does not mean just technology acquisition, but rather the successful implementation of technology to enhance learning, development and teaching.

At the very minimum, all regional library centers and those mentioned as entrepeneurial centers should have access to programs and services of the most modern nature. Some of these would be; computers, internet access for research, films, videos, CD-Rom's, laser discs, good quality encylopedias like World Book, be networked to all other regional libraries, particularly those with specialist archived collections and inter-library loan services. These regional library centers should be able to provide distant learning courses and capability to rural communities in their districts via computers, monitors and telephone lines.

The current system of card catalogues is sadly ancient and outdated. New software for computer cataloguing and accessing from any rural community library computer should be accessible to any other library to be found nationwide. They should be on one system.

In the past this has been a mostly learned on the job experience. Since the library services have been minimal this has been adequate, but in our new technological age for the future, this no longer can be adequate. Staying up with the technical changes and improvements on a world wide scale is imperative if the nation of Belize is to compete in the world arena.

Some steps have already been taken and distant learning via the internet is proposed with a Librarian Training Course out of Scotland for ten staff members. Future staffing should seek candidates with minimum Bachelor degree qualifications, though technicians could have only High School Degrees. The ability to communicate in English and reading comprehension are of utmost importance as also computer literacy.

Due to the scarce nature of funding in the nation of Belize and competition for these funds, the process of training future library staff at this stage and for the next five years can be adequately met by using existing staff with High School Degrees and demonstrated competency in both computers and English, doing what would be a Masters Degree Course in Library Science, doing organized distant learning via the internet. This would in some cases, skip the Bachelor of Arts ,or equivelent degrees found in such people in other countries, but nevertheless some equivalent accreditation for this training should be given to such successfully trained staff in the nation of Belize. As we are primarily concerned with the development of the nation of Belize and not the training of people with suitable accreditation for overseas employment and standards, this accomodation meets our home based needs admirably.

Over the next five years, land must be found in every village, town and community for government to build upon it an adequate library building. These buildings should be built for future expansion in mind and at the very minimum be at least five times the current size of village community centers, sometimes doubling as health clinics. At the very least, four to five good size rooms are required for a future adequate district library service, enough electrical outlets for computers, phone line jacks, bookshelves, storage and office space, toilets, childrens rooms separate from the main library room, young adult space for school students to do research and homework, a reference section separated from the whole and an up to date reading room and magazine racks with modern day subscription type technological magazines.

Due to the long process of acquiring land and construction of buildings, this part of the process will probably consume three of the five years. By this time, the first ten library staff that are taking the distant learning Library Education Degree program should be ready to be sent out to the regional centers.

The last two years will be occupied with seeking the funding and resources, for equipping the regional district libraries with the equipment they need to function properly. To make it work, the Education Department have to make a concerted effort with their teacher training program, to emphasize an increase of reading comprehension not just literacy, the next generation must acquire the hobby of reading for pleasure. Typing on a keyboard should also be a compulsory subject in Elementary Schools. There are typing computer programs for self teaching assignments for school students. Regional libraries can enhance and speed up this process by having comic books, pictorial books, like Dr. Suess books and other similar things for the very young childrens room and collection. Class assignments and weekend reading programs to village children groups, via volunteers, or trained library media staff who emphasize the fun of reading are a prerequisite. These sort of programs are standard in industrialized nations and must be for Belize to compete in the future. Funding of this program will be discussed later.

While technical magazines will be needed as subscriptions in each district, catalogues and informative books on subject matter for tropical agriculture, international trading and export and marketing materials. A lot of this can be found via the internet. Computers and internet access, and classes on how to use search engines and other criteria will have to be library staff public conducted classes, not only for the general public, on a one on one basis, but also for school groups brought in by teachers. Library staff are going to have to become media specialists, web researcher guides and teachers, as well as looking after the traditional library materials of the bygone era.

A lot of questions have to be answered by the implementation of a brand new library nationwide service and planning of the technology to be used. Will the computers be networked? What size computers are you going to get? How many computers would you have in a regional library, versus the port city main library, or that of the agricultural research library near Belmopan and Central Farm? How will you replace these computers and upgrade every couple of years? How will you budget for maintenance, service, replacement, provide security for theft and acquire insurance for loss?

The trained library staff will be needed of course. But also volunteers to carry on story reading and entertainment classes on Saturdays in particular in the young childrens room. Opening up the young minds, filling them with the excitement of stories, fantasy, imagination and possibilites will create the entrepeneurial generation of the future. This does not take long, only about twenty years. Volunteers, whether school teachers, foreigners, entertainers of any kind, who can and will participate to encourage the very young children in an active weekend program are necessary for building the nation of Belize. The library must be an exciting place to visit. Lectures by businessmen on their specialty, be it logging, shrimp farming, fish farming, use of organic fertilizer, all these subjects should and could be provided by regional district libraries with an active Library Director. Music, poetry and story writing groups add to the fair of such services. Most of this will be volunteer and is usually dependent on an active Library staff to solicit and organize. Such organization training for library staff is necessary in most cases in Belize.

Since Belize is a poor nation with limited resources, much funding will have to be found from donations and grant writing. Training courses for library staff in writing of letters, seeking donator sources, continuing a correspondence with donators, compiling lists, keeping records, grant writing courses, grant sources and possibilities for overseas funding should be taught to all library staff and in particular for each regional library director. Such regional directors should by their training, be able to solicit donated books from abroad, usually from overflows or sample copies from other libraries, arrange the shipping and government exemptions out of Belmopan for customs duties and such, establish partnership arrangements with numerous libraries in other countries who have excess copy discards normally given away, or trashed. Computers, programs and other equipment can also be found in this way. Funds for upkeep, maintainance and even expansion can be solicited by donation or grants, if the Regional Library Directors are taught the necessary skills and methods. This will alleviate the necessity on the limited skills of central government for find unlimited funds to keep up with the demands of such an expanded library service. None of this is impossible or even hard. It simply requires some new skills and an enthusiastic person. Belize is unique, in that it is a very small impoverished third world nation. There are many tens of thousands of people out their in industrialized nations willing and eager to help, if only they were asked. Surprisingly enough, sending photo's, thankyou letters and other such warm personality skills at which Belizeans excel, will bring more equipment and materials than can be absorbed if past experiences are valid.

The regional libraries will probably cost in the neighborhood of $100,000 Belize for building, and initial equipment. Rural community libraries will probably cost about $50,000 BZ outside of the cost of land and building. Afer the initial installation the bills of electricity, salaries and other maintainance must be met. It should be hoped though, that careful selection of Regional Library Directors and appropriate training in seeking of donations, importation procedures, and research in grant sources and grant writing courses will equip these regional directors with the ability to keep their regional library centers updated and relatively well equipped and modern thereafter, at no further cost to the central budget of the nation of Belize. Funding for regional library budgets is going to be high. We have to consider the insurance coverage for theft, damage and loss, phone lines, expendable materials, maintainence of equipment like printers, paper, ink, personnnel costs, staff training and ongoing development, seminars, consultant fees, registration fees for courses. Losses due to theft will probably be the major problem, as due to the example and nature of the robber baron colonial political system inherited and centralized political police force, endemic thievery is rampant throughout Belize and uncontrollable by local population officials.

Technology is changing at a rapid pace, tight budgets are common in all fields, so specialized training in alternative funding resources is necessary. What are some of these alternative sources open to a small third world nation and who would do it? How do you tackle the negative influence of community members and teachers who now enjoy a aecure environment in the status quo and will fight any change in technology that challenges them in ways for which they are not prepared? Local requirements may differ throughout Belize, so how do you alter your priorities and shift your goals and plans rapidly. Population changes and external effects to the country may effect the economic base of your communities, so how do you readust your services and plans?

- National Libary Technology Plan variation started implementation in 1996. The NATIONAL LIBRARIES ACT legislation was made in 1997.- (This catalyst report was successful!)


Ray Auxillou and Silvia Pinzon
Copyright by Silvia Pinzon. Quotes, or copying is authorized, if the credit is given to the author.

Useful Reference: Library Technology Planning for Pakistan of 1996.
https://ambergriscaye.com/BzLibrary (Belize Electronic Development Library)

Belize Development Trust (NGO)
Dangriga, Belize, Central America

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Maintained by Ray Auxillou, Silvia Pinzon, MLS, and Marty Casado. Please email with suggestions or additions for this Electronic Library of Belize.