The development and decline of public libraries in Egypt : a shift in national development priorities

Bouri, Elizabeth Nicolas, 1947-
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This study analyses the circumstances leading to the development and current decline of public libraries in Egypt and advances a new interpretation of this phenomenon, based on a "problem context" approach. In addition to the internal dynamics that have provided the rationale for the establishment of the public libraries, Egypt, like many other developing countries, was also exposed to external influences. The convergence between the national and international forces is at the core of the proposed interpretation of development and current decline of public libraries in Egypt. After 1945 UNESCO's international discourse encouraged fundamental education and the development of public libraries as operational tools of education. The linkage between education and national development ushered in an era of "education for development" during which public libraries witnessed remarkable growth in Egypt. Public library development has come to a standstill and even declined since the early 1970s, however. In the late 1960s, the dominant international discourse about development shifted under the influence of dependency theory to emphasize the need for developing countries to develop from within. Information for development became an almost self-evident requirement. The concept grew out of the realization that information fosters endogenous development by helping countries' decision-makers make optimal use of their local resources. The new international discourse worked its way into Egyptian policymaking in the early 1970s. The emerging idealization of information as the missing element in the pursuit of national development created a new policy environment. For decision-makers the government established highly specialized information handling centers, such as the Cabinet Information Decision Support Center (IDSC), and funded them generously with encouragement from international donors. Traditionally, public library decline is attributed to local factors and issues of scarcity. In the case of Egypt, however, factors of scarcity are better interpreted as symptoms than as underlying causes of the decline of public libraries. This study maintains that the current state of decline of public libraries in Egypt is primarily a consequence of public policy choices precipitated by a shift in national and international development priorities, not of factors inherent in the country's political, social and cultural fabric