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Magazines > Information Today > May 2023

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Information Today
Vol. 40 No. 4 — May 2023
Modern Liberian Public Library Takes Shape

by John Charlton

Liberia is set to have its first modern public library. Work has begun on the Liberian Learning Center, a complex of three facilities in Paynesville, which is close to Liberian capital city Monrovia. It is a collaborative project led by a Canadian charity called Empowerment Squared and other bodies such as the Rotary Clubs of Monrovia and Hamilton, Ontario.

The Liberian Learning Center will be built in three phases. The first is the current construction of a library and learning center building, which will house books, digital facilities, a small business incubation center, and co-working facilities. The second phase will include a recreation center, and the third will focus on renovating an existing town hall and conference center.

A driving force behind the project is Empowerment Squared executive director Leo Nupolu Johnson, a former refugee from the Liberian civil wars, which ended in 2003. He came to Canada in 2006. “The Liberian Learning Center is … focused on transforming the educational landscape in [Paynesville] and providing a diverse set of resources to a catchment of over 100,000 community members,” he says via email. It “will indeed house Liberia’s only public library. … Paynesville is a densely populated area with ambitious residents who are challenged by a lack of opportunities and investment.”

The main building, the one currently under construction, will cost about $1 million. Its planned completion is in 2024. The whole project should cost about $2 million total, and Empowerment Squared is currently fundraising for it. Funders so far include Rotary International and Rotary Clubs worldwide. Johnson says the project’s partners include Paynesville City Corporation, Hamilton Public Library in Ontario, and architecture firm mcCallumSather, which designed the center. Hamilton Public Library is advising on what the 10,000-square-foot library will provide to users.

Johnson says, “The significance of this project cannot be overstated for the children and people of Liberia. Anyone under the age of 35 in Liberia [has] never seen what a public library looks like. In a country where there is one textbook for every 27 students, this will be a gateway for not only accessing scarce educational materials, but it will also be a catalyst for innovation and a safe space for thousands of young people—something that is rare in Liberia.”


In Great Britain’s libraries, overall funding has decreased, while user visits are rising. CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) released its annual survey for 2021−2022, which finds that total expenditure on British public libraries fell 17% from £11,970 (about $14,600) per 1,000 people in 2020−2021 to £9,982 (about $12,200) in 2021−2022. In 2018−2019, it was £12,646 (about $15,500).

In-person visits to libraries have increased 68% since 2020−2021, when there were 915 visits per 1,000 people. This number rose to 1,536 per 1,000 in 2021−2022. It’s no surprise then that the number of books borrowed has risen to 1,767 books per 1,000 people in 2021−2022, up from 1,119 in 2020−2021, which is an increase of 58%. Library staff numbers have held steady, but volunteer numbers have fallen significantly, from 0.39 per 1,000 people in 2020−2021 to 0.23% in 2021−2022, a 41% decrease.

Joanne Pitt, acting head of policy and technical at CIPFA, says via email that the survey did not ask directly about the impact of rising energy costs on library visits but that the increase in visits may relate to “a [COVID] bounce back or the changing use of libraries as warm spaces.” Pitt elaborates, “The rising cost of energy prices has had a negative impact across the whole of the UK public sector, and libraries will likely be feeling this pressure as well. The decline in library income and rise in energy costs will likely mean that libraries’ budgets are stretched even further.”


A school for blind children near Poznań, Poland, has developed a library of smells to help them gain a better understanding of the world around them. The Aromatorium Library of Fragrances is located at the Special Education Centre for Blind Children in Owińska, 7 miles north of Poznań. It’s designed to resemble an old-style apothecary and has about 6,000 aromas—such as those from perfumes, essential oils, herbal extracts, and amber dust—held in containers and vials. Smells include those of foods, fragrances, perfumes, and animals. There is even the scent of elephant excrement from Poznań’s zoo. Donations of scents have come from students, Poznań locals, others in Poland, and even people abroad.

Magdalena Ciura, one of the creators of the Aromatorium, says via email, “Blind children can learn about the world thanks to smells. … [They] learn how to navigate through space by recognizing scent cues, for example, [on] the way to school is a bakery, a fishmonger’s and a hairdresser’s.” This helps them gauge where they are on the road, she notes. “Children also learn to recognize the smells of vegetables, fruits, spices and flowers. They learn to react to a dangerous smell, such as smoke. They get to know other countries through smells. Provence smells of lavender and Japan of cherry blossoms.” In the Aromatorium, children can create their own perfumes, soaps, and body lotions. Ciura hopes this will lead students to the aromatherapy profession in the future.

Co-creator Marek Jakubowski says on Pozna ń ’s website (translated to English via Google Translate), “When the children were in remote education for a year, we came up with the idea that we would send them various types of materials from our garden for recognition, fun, but also education. Students started sending us scents from their homes. And such a strange game at the beginning turned into the idea of creating an educational place.”

On a related note, in 2022, eight more countries joined the Marrakesh Treaty, which commits signatory nations to providing better access to printed materials for the blind and visually impaired. EIFL shares that 117 countries are now part of it.

Construction progress on the learning center building of Liberia’s only public library


Liberian Learning Center

Press Release: Library Expenditure in Great Britain Falls 17%

The Aromatorium Is Open! (translation required)

2022: Another Good Year for the Marrakesh Treaty

Photos by Leo Nupolu Johnson

John CharltonDuring a long journalistic career, John Charlton has covered fields such as technology, law, business, and publishing for publications as diverse as Computer Weekly and The Guardian. Send your comments about this article to or tweet us (@ITINewsBreaks).