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Libraries See Decrease In Foot Traffic, Increase In Internet Usage

Published:Wednesday | September 16, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Kingston and St Andrew Parish Library.

AS JAMAICA continues to increase its digital footprint, the relevance and usage of public libraries is being considered.

The Jamaica Library Service (JLS), as an agency of the Ministry of Education, with its network of 118 fixed libraries, has been shedding its more traditional image and embracing technology. This has resulted in a decrease in the number of persons visiting libraries.

For 2013/14, libraries across Jamaica recorded foot traffic of 3,102,164. According to data received from the JLS that figure decreased to 2,548,639 for 2014/15.

While the number of persons visiting libraries has decreased, the usage of Information Communication Technology (ICT) has seen an increase. Computer usage for the year 2014-2015 totalling 1,127,190 reflected an increase of 2.3 per cent when compared to the 2013-2014 figure of 1,101,655.

The JLS has boasted that it is the single largest provider of free access to computer and the internet.

Budgetary subventions to the JLS have however not kept apace with the public demand for the service.

"Despite all efforts made for the prudent management of limited resources, a number of activities could not be supported/accomplished due to inadequate subvention support. Several projects/activities were deferred and others remain incomplete," the JLS said in response to queries from The Gleaner.

The decrease in funding has resulted in a decline in acquisition of reading materials, a halt on plans to upgrade physical facilities of libraries in response to user's needs and the expansion of mobile library service.

According to the JLS, "the organization has experienced a decline in the acquisition of new material specifically due to the absence of funding to support the portfolio. The variance between the proposed budget and what was actually approved impacted several critical areas of operation and in particular the acquisition of new material."

Turning to the mobile library service, the JLS has noted that the fleet of mobile units is aged with varying degrees of mechanical problems and some units have been permanently withdrawn from service.

"Although this impacts service delivery the mobile service has remained relevant as evidenced by the number of persons who continue to access the service islandwide and some communities have complained about its absence," the JLS said.

Despite the constraints it faces the JLS has continued its transformation to a technology driven organization. This it has done through funding secured from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Libraries Initiative to support ICT development in public libraries. The funding is being used to increase access to ICT services in public libraries.