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The Dominican Republic

Basic Information

Located in the Caribbean Ocean and neighbouring Haiti to its immediate west, the Dominican Republic is an island nation with a population of approximately ten million people (United Nations, 2011). Defining “literacy” as the ability to read and write over the age of fifteen years old, the literacy rate in the Dominican Republic is  87% (indexmundi, 2011). Its urban population stands at 69% of the total population. Santo Domingo is its lively, bustling  capital city, with a population of two million people (CityPopulation, 2011). It is here, as Mendez and Montero explain in their qualitative analysis of library and librarianship development in the Dominic Republic (2007), that the bulk of the country’s services are located. With a relatively small senior population, only 6.5% of its people are over the age of 65, those between 15-64 make up 64% of its population. Its “youth”, those 0 – 14, stood in July 2011 at 29.5% (indexmundi). Having had relative economic prosperity with inflation declining sharply in 2000, its Gross Domestic Product stood in 2007 at $4202 (US) showing an 11% increase from 2006 (United Nations, 2011). In 2010 it stood at about $5000 (US) according to Bladex (2010). In the educational sphere, the country has a rising school population. Yet as shown in work by Nu’n’ez de Taveras (1997) “the quantitative growth has not been parallel to the qualitative development of the educational system’s structures” (Mendez and Montero, 2007, p.92). While primary school for example is free until age fourteen, many low-income children cannot achieve secondary school level studies.

Trajectory of the Development of Libraries and the Field of Librarianship

… but first some political context …

Despite President Leonel Fernandez’ fervent support for libraries today, library systems on the whole and the field of librarianship are significantly lacking in this country. At least some of the answers to this paradox can be explained by looking at the political climate under which free intellectual pursuit – something which libraries by their essence uphold and symbolize – was discouraged for thirty years. During the dictatorship of President Rafael Trujillo’s (pictured on the left) from 1930 – 1961, there seemed to be an attitude that free intellectual endeavours were for the elite of the country. Despite expanding public education and bringing  economic prosperity to the Dominican Republic – for example, he paid off the country’s debt, the economy grew (but poverty remained), and he expanded more public services –   Mendez and Morena say that Trujillo kept “culture [sic] limited to intellectual elites” (2007, p.96). They add that in this culture, a democratic approach towards the nation’s intellectual growth ironically stopped short when it came to libraries: “libraries and, of course, librarianship education were neglected. The first librarians were trained outside the country” (p.96). Another perception of Trujillo’s rule was that it “gave economic soundness to the country yet it did not sanction people[‘]s freedom” (colonialzone, 2011). Hence it is possible that professional library and librarianship development “has been slow” (2007, p.96) because it was systematically“put back” and “stopped short” as it were because of this president’s reluctance towards fully developing institutions aiming to instill democratic principles of access to higher learning and information for the masses. Coupled with this, the lack of librarian training programs undertaking library and information studies as a professional discipline in its own right could arguably have resulted from the same reluctance.

Regardless of one’s opinion on the impact of Trujillo’s rule on the development and progress of libraries, one has to see the irony of an expanding school system and yet a dearth of libraries and local professional librarianship education. Over time political circumstances and presidential attitudes have changed. The country’s most recent president from the late 1990s to present day, President Fernandez, encourages the building of libraries and sees their presence as vital to individual and national transformation (ALA, 2011).  Yet the country still experiences a decentralized library system and librarian training which is fragmented and weak (Mendez & Moreno, 2007; Iton, 2009; ALA, 2011).

To get a sense of the President Fernandez’s and the First Lady’s support for instilling and developing library systems, you can listen to their interview with the American Library Association (ALA) in January 2011. You can also read it here.

Library Presence and the Field of Librarianship: Its History

In 1927 the National Library and National Museum were created. A sense of the lack of priority for such institutions, and again, the effects of Trujillo’s rule can be seen in their inauguration more than thirty years later in 1971. During the dictatorship, the University Library of the Universidad Auto’noma de Santo Domingo (UASD) undertook the National Library’s functions.

In regards to public libraries, Nun’n’ez de Taveras (2006) reports that such services were provided by a few private libraries established in the 1960s and 1970s. As of 2007 there was no up-to-date data on the number of such libraries in the country. Nonetheless we do know that there are public library services maintained by the state and private educational libraries. The exact nature of such services is difficult to ascertain (Mendez and Moreno, 2007).

President Fernandez’s call for more libraries in the country draws on the impact a Manhattan public library had on him while living in the United States. Speaking of an inadequate presence of public libraries in the Dominican Republic, he says there is a need for professionally built, maintained and delivered library services; in his ALA interview for example, he says the Dominican Republic needs a library system that “can be effective, that can be running on a standard international recognized standard basis” (ALA, 2011).

The lack of school libraries in present times is also a recurring problem. Currently, the delivery of such services resides more in international partnerships with non-profit organizations than with a systematic, national system or with intra-provincial partnerships for the country’s many provinces. Commenting on the lack of school libraries in her country, a young child Yomeiry Ramirez said her school did not have a library and that “it’s the same situation in almost all the schools” (Unicef, n.d.). Partnerships with non-profit organizations such as Children of the Nations (COTN), a Christian charity are a large driving force in the provision of library services for children. In April of this year, through donations with businesses in the United States, this organization transformed a spare classroom in Don Bosco into a school library and raised $700 in funds from KPMG to buy 300 children’s books, many of them in Spanish. For children like eleven year old Walquidea and her classmates who had never had such a library either at school or in their community, this was reason for much excitement. Team member Janessa Buttaro says the children were “storming the doors to get in” (COTN, 2011).

The country’s first librarians, in the 1960s to the 1970s were sent for foreign training as there was no appropriate schooling for them in the Dominican Republic.  The Dominican established its own library school in 1979 yet it closed in 1983. Its 39 graduates initiated other professional programs but with minimal results. This was largely due to a prevailing societal perception that librarianship is a “hands on” field rather than one requiring theoretical understanding.  Unfortunately this stance is reflected also today; one of the Mendez and Montero’s colleagues commented that “in this country, someone who knows how to read or write could be a librarian” (2007, p.100). From 1970 to 1990 only 8 librarians had graduated with professional qualifications. Many in the field were already working in libraries and formal training was motivated mainly by salary or by an official title (2007). For the majority in the field, skills and knowledge at least previously was thought to be gained “by everyday practical experience” (2007, p.99) rather than through academics.

Library Presence and the Field of Librarianship: Recent Times 

As already mentioned, the country is experiencing growth, though limited, in its public and school libraries. According to Nunez de Taveras (1997), as of 1997 there were 43 public libraries, 413 school libraries, 1 national library and 13 university libraries. In regards to public and school libraries, most actualizing of these libraries is coming from partnerships with foreign organizations such as UNICEF and COTN and calls for partnering with the ALA. Further, as Mendez and Montero explain, a lack of recently updated inventories makes it difficult to know exactly how many libraries exist. Comments from Yomeiry Ramirez’s and President Fernandez’s also challenge the idea that public and school libraries are a norm in Dominican society.

On the other hand we know more decisively that the country is experiencing much more growth in the field of information technologies. This trend started in 1995 (Mendez and Montero, 2007). Growing numbers of people acquired access to the Internet; from 1995 – 2000 the Dominican Republic provided dial-up Internet services through its national companies (INDOTEL, 2004) and in 1998 the Telecommunications General Act (No.153-98) guaranteed that access to ICTs for the people of the country was a right. Also in 1998, a cultural and technology policy implemented by the government was to be inclusive of the  development of libraries and information systems (Mendez and Montero, 2007).

One can argue that precisely this new influx of technological capacity for the Republic’s peoples is cause for self-reflection for the library profession in the country. Mendez and Montero mirror this point in saying:

“the development of libraries and digital technologies and the emergence and ubiquity of information in the country prompts us to ask whether individuals and institutions are able to absorb this cultural growth and create real development for the country” (2007, p.95)

Hence, a key issue facing the development of libraries in the Dominican Republic is the nature of librarianship as a profession. Examining four post-secondary institutions’ library training programs, Mendez and Montero conclude that,  particularly given the technologies the Republic’s libraries can today utilize to democratize literacy and information flow, library education is “insufficient” (p.97) and “out-of-date for 21st century professionals” (p.99). They thus question whether the country’s librarians can actually keep pace with and lead a country which slowly but steadily is becoming an information society. In one sense the introduction of ICTs demands that the Dominican Republic make leaps to “catch up” with information delivery mediums; all the while the country is historically suffering from a place of neglect both regarding library development for all spectrums of society  and for accredited librarianship education. ICTs have thus propelled the county’s libraries towards a new forum of “doing” librarianship.  The introduction of ICTs in libraries requires more intellectual demands of library personnel: a reference interaction moves beyond “wh” questions for example to more sophisticated queries. These queries require librarians to in effect be information literacy teachers and facilitators who help patrons not only locate information but also analyze and synthesize it so as to expand patrons’ knowledge base regardless the query is for leisure or academic pursuits (Iton, 2009).

Conclusion

In order to rectify the weaknesses of librarianship education in the Dominican Republic, partnering with organizations such as the ALA, FUNGLODE (a Dominican Republic think tank), and firmly established Latin American library networks could assist in providing improved library services.  Subsidizing library education, promoting librarianship as a meaningful career, and lobbying for accreditation standards in LIS programs across all of the Dominican Republic’s post-secondary institution can also help eradicate the current disconnect between growingly sophisticated mediums for delivering library services through ICTs in this country and its weak development overall of library networks and professional librarian education .

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References

American Library Association. (2011, January 25). Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez on libraries. Retrieved from http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/columns/newsmaker/dominican-republic-president-leonel-fernandez-libraries.

AmLibrary Association. (2010, October 4). Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez on libraries. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZjidpZr8Vs

Bladex. (2010). Dominican Republic. Retrieved from https://562folks.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=15&action=edit

CityPopulation. (2011, March 11). Dominican Republic. Retrieved from http://www.citypopulation.de/DomRep.html.

Colonial Zone – Dominican Republic (DR). (2011). Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. Retrieved from http://www.colonialzone-dr.com/people_history-Trujillo.html

Indexmundi. (2011, July 12). Dominican Republic Demographics Profile 2011. Retrieved from http://www.indexmundi.com/dominican_republic/demographics_profile.html

Iton, I. (2009). The Unopened Door: Virtual Reference and the Carribean Academic Library. The Reference Librarian, 50(4), 356-370 doi:10.1080/02763870903114303

Latin American Studies. (n.d.) El Jefe. Retrieved from http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/dominican/trujillo-12.gif

Mendez, E.M. &  Montero, A.E. (2007). Assessing information professionals in Dominican Republic: Are they prepared to deal with the new democratic libraries?, International Information and Library Review 39, 89-102

Mike_maron. (2006, August 22). Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikel_maron/222154163/

Newton Free Library. (2010, September 9). New look in the Information Technology Training Center (ITTC). Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/newtonfreelibrary/5001971906/

Nicola. (2005, May 10). Map of the Dominican Republic. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicola/13316543/

Nu´n˜ez de Taveras, Dulce M. (1997). Informe Nacional- Repu´blica Dominicana. In Tools for Library Development: Proceedings of the workshop, Martinique, March 10–13, 1997. IFLA (ALP, RSCLAC and ROLAC). Uppsala University Library.

Unicef. (n.d.) Real Lives: Yomeiry, the youngest mayor-elect in the Youth and Children’s Municipalities. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/republicadominicana/english/reallives_20997.htm

United Nations Statistics Division. (2009, September). Environment Statistics Country Snapshot: Dominican Republic. Retrieved from http://unstats.un.org/unsd/environment/envpdf/Country_Snapshots_Sep%202009/Dominican%20Republic.pdf

 

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