« previous adventure: Thailand


Greetings colleagues,

December is now concluded, and with it, my country visit to Myanmar (formerly Burma).

The library situation in Myanmar is more challenging than in neighboring countries. Myanmar’s economy is smaller; consequently, funding for universities and libraries is lower.

Although there are universities dispersed throughout Myanmar, I focused on the two largest urban areas: Yangon and Mandalay. In Yangon, I visited the Yangon University Central Library. This library is internationally recognized for its archives of Buddhist palm-leaf texts, dating back centuries. They recently purchased new large scanning machines and are in the process of digitally preserving all these old texts. Quite a feat! I had the privilege of actually handling one of these old texts — dated 1492 — with my own hands. Wow. Later, I was invited to speak to the library staff here on innovations in the library profession.

In Mandalay, besides seeing university libraries, I visited some school and public libraries. A Buddhist monastery school I visited had a very good collection built from donations from abroad. While there, I gave the library staff some training on promoting library education to the children. I also visited a “public” library of sorts. Instead of city-funded public libraries that we are used to in the U.S., small non-governmental organization libraries — which are run by volunteers and open to the public — are more common.

Myanmar definitely has some challenges for libraries. These include:

a) Small budgets. Given the expense of international books and unfavorable exchange rates, libraries are unable to purchase the volume of new books wanted;

b) Automation still in-progress. Efforts are currently being made at entering books into online catalogs; but for now, manual card catalogs are still common. Additionally, computers in libraries are still in the process of being added;

c) Little opportunity for user education. With tight student schedules (undergraduate curriculum is compacted into three years) and limited library hours, providing user education is a challenge.
However, Myanmar librarians I spoke with were eager to make progress. The University of Yangon has a long-established library and information science program, producing new librarians every year.

I hope December was well for you all, and I’ll be back in touch again at then end of January with my next country report (Laos and Cambodia).

Regards from the field,