Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Librarian trainings and workshops...

FAVL hosts the occasional workshop- it is a necessary part of any enterprise, and the issue is when is it taken to excess. (Many of my university colleagues know what I mean!) I found the following paragraphs from Susan Watkins and Ann Swidler particularly blunt:
(i) Training and the ‘‘Workshop Mentality”
In Malawi as elsewhere Sub-Saharan Africa, the supply of
‘‘training” has created a huge demand. In an incisive analysis
of family planning programs in Nigeria, Daniel Jordan Smith
(2003) has described the ‘‘workshop mentality,” arguing that
training and workshops provide the ideal intersection of donor
and recipient interests. Donors can believe they are doing something
self-renewing by providing training, while workshop facilitators
can build their patronage ties by providing access to the
per diems, travel allowances, and opportunities for networking
that workshops provide. But we argue that the predominance of
‘‘training” as a core donor-sponsored activity also arises from
the constraints of the sustainability doctrine. If donors are supposed
to help, but without funding substantive programs that
could breed dependency, then training and workshops are the
ideal donor-funded activity: experts will teach people skills, or
better yet teach them to teach skills, which will provide all with
the capacity to provide for their own needs.

The logic of sustainability reinforces the interstitial elites’
commitment to esoteric knowledge. If funders will not finance
substantive projects (VCT, nutrition supplements, paid healthcare
workers, paid teachers or counselors) on an on-going basis
because they would not be sustainable, then ‘‘training” is
one of the only fundable activities. And what is all that training
to consist of? Since the training is in some ways an end in
itself for both donors and those trained, the content of the
training becomes elaborate formalizations of what would
otherwise be common sense.
Swidler, A., & Watkins, S.C., ‘‘Teach a Man to Fish”: The Sustainability Doctrine and Its ..., World Development (2009), doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2008.11.002

I will add that a refrain that I hear myself repeating to a lot to potential library funders etc is, "It's not that hard to run a village library... a week working in one of our libraries is enough to get all the basic skills for administration." The harder part- storytelling, leading book discussions, imparting the love of reading, animation- is probably better imparted through one-on-one that through a formal workshop. Lots of learning by doing is needed.

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