update on the electronic gate

One of the head dude’s here at the Central Library left a few weeks ago to go finish his master’s in Italy.  He e-mailled me and asked how things were going… so I casually mentioned that I was in the process of helping the director write a grant proposal to buy an electronic gate.  Well.  That sparked quite a debate/upset over the whole thing, in which he wrote me several e-mails urging me to try to convince the director not to ask for money to buy the gate, and saying that my job “isn’t just to follow whatever the director telles me to do, but to be an adviser as well”.  I explained that I had initially tried to tell him we didn’t need it, but his mind was set, and at least I had successfully convinced him to go with the least-expensive model.

Then I got this response:

“Hi Nicole,

I am really very concerned about Asia Foundation project. As I side I do not agree with the idea of purchasing electronic gate.
The reasons are:
1. What is the percentage of book lost very year?
2. How much does the library pay for lost books and hire staff to do the check out every year?
3. What is our library mission? To serve the users’ need or to equipe with modern technology? Or to protect books from the thefts?
4. What will the users benefit from that gate?
5. If we use that money (19,000 $) to hire someone to do the checkout, it will last for 20 years.
6. Why not use this money to develop our automated system to make it more standardised.
7. If we have that gate what other additional works do we have to do? We have to take out all the books from the shelves to put the tape in.
8. What about if we have new building? Why not include this in the proposal for new building?

I don’t have any objection with purchasing books, computer and electronic resources. Or even staff development.

Nicole you can print out this mail for Mr. Somephone, so he can share te idea. Maybe you can talk to Mr. Somexay about this.
Is it possible to send me the draft of your proposal?

Cheers,
Sithong ”

So, I got myself in the middle of a big Library-Management argument.  Anyway, the director had already submitted the proposal so there is little I can do at this point.  Yes, I think $20,000 for an electronic gate is a lot of money that could be better spent on other things… but who cares what I think? I’m just somebody who has a piece of paper saying I showed up for class most of the time and turned in a few papers about libraries at some school in Canada.  All they really want me to do here is correct their English documents and make their website “more attractive”.

One of my favorite library ladies, Mrs. Bounsalong, just told me today that she only makes 80,000 Kip per month.  This is roughly equivalent to $9.  I  am not sure if this is a mistake or the truth.  In which case, I think $20,000 could certainly be used for giving the staff raises.  But, this has nothing to do with library politics, all of the staff salaries are determined by the University’s President… who gets his limited budget from the Ministry of Education, and some from student fees.  Basically the University, and therefore the library, as no money.  They can hardly pay their staff.  They certainly can’t buy books or computers.  I just don’t understand why so many Lao people want to be in academia considering how shit it pays in this country.  These are really smart people.  They could be earning loads some place else.

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boring work-related post

Well, I guess I am settling into things here and getting used to the idea of living in Laos, now, after 3 months.  The reason I know this is because I feel like I don’t really have any exciting news to post about.

I am still working on the library website.  I created this list of academic electronic resources for the library.  I think it could actually be quite useful in any context, not just the National University of Laos.  I am working on trying to organize it better, and also to organize it by subject, and title of the resource, and possibly make it search-able.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the computer technical skills at this point to do that sort of thing.

I have also been helping the director write a proposal to The Asia Foundation to purchase a electronic-gate for the library.  I thought that an electronic gate was a little unnecessary, in my experiences the Lao don’t seem like potential library-book thieves.  But, according to the director, and other people I have spoken to, this I am incorrect.  Since books are quite rare in Laos, and the library has a lot of unique materials, and materials from the USA and Thailand and other countries, people are very tempted to steal them.  The director also showed me some kind of list of “missing items” that were checked out and never returned, and we can’t get a hold of the borrowers.

So, for the time being, I am drafting a fax to send to 3M Thailand to solicit quotations for library detection systems.  They are surprisingly expensive.  Like $20,000 for the lowest-end model.  Damn!