Transforming Libraries in Myanmar: Challenges and New Directions

July 18, 2017 Roxanne Missingham


A Trip Back in Time

Imagine you are sitting in the library of a leading university in your country. You are a history postgraduate wishing to review material on the early twentieth century. You sit with your pen and paper-there is no wifi-the collection is only print and your search for resources is through a print card catalogue. There is little space and there is a dearth of material from other countries. In fact, collection building has been interrupted by recent closures of other universities.

Perhaps you are thinking that this is a description of sixteenth century Europe, or university libraries at a time when books and periodicals had to travel by ship.

uyangon.jpgDr Hlaing Hlaing Gyi, Librarian, University of Yangon Library, in the stack area. Note the shelves are part of the building structure – ingenious design.

This situation described above is, instead, the reality faced in Myanmar (which many of you may know better under its previous name Burma) only a few years ago. Myat Sann Nyein notes that:

The years before 2011 were very dark, with all information cut off. Librarians in Myanmar worked in what felt like an enclosed society, and libraries in Myanmar were lacking new and updated materials and facilities in those days.

Acquisition budgets were small, and resources could not be ordered directly from international suppliers.


Newspaper collection at the Yangon Universities Central Library – from left Dr Ohn Mar Oo, Lecturer, Department of Library and Information Studies, University of Yangon, Professor Ni Win Zaw, Head, Department of Library and Information Science, University of Yangon, and Ms Ni Ni Naing, Librarian, Universities Central Library, University of Yangon Campus

Building Capabilities

Fortunately, a flowering of higher education has fostered some projects in recent years that are beginning to bring to universities through their libraries the resources and capabilities that will assist in building capabilities of the academic community to both use online scholarly resources and connect to an international research community.

Libraries play a critical role in universities. They curate and make accessible collections that foster education and research. As one of the few research services available to the entire academic community, they communicate knowledge and build capabilities for researchers to harness the power of global research.

Dr Hlaing Hlaing Gyi, Librarian, University of Yangon Library and, one of the passionate advocates for development of library services has said “Connecting to the world is vital for universities to thrive. While small in number, university library staff must welcome the opportunities and meet the challenges without being afraid of current technological limitations.”

In a land where Internet bandwidth is limited, access to the Internet is primarily through mobile phones, and university libraries have few computers, we see vision and resilience.

The Open Societies Foundation has funded the EIFL eLibrary Myanmar project . Through this project four universities now have access to e-resources including over 10,000 full-text scholarly journals as well as over 130,000 full-text academic e-books and other materials. The initiative has also provided information literacy training for libraries in participating institutions.

The Challenges Ahead

Such a great development must now be underpinned by initiatives that will make online access and digital capabilities sustainable and a feature of higher education across the country. Two major sets of challenges exist. The first is to develop a financial investment that will underpin access to the resources in the future. Although many publishers, such as Wiley, very generously support access to high quality scholarly resources, the investment needs to include the underpinning technologies and user training programs.

Secondly the coming generations of library staff need to have strong digital capabilities to be able to sustain and develop services and collections in the future.

Library and information sciences now need to make a major transition. There are three universities offering programs in library and information science, the University of Yangon being the longest established and most research oriented. The University of East Yangon is also keen to make the transformation – and is seeking to work closely on developing a project to move to future oriented skills

Images Credit: Roxanne Missingham


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