Information plays an important part in the wider learning process - helping health workers to understand the context of their work, follow new approaches, undertake new responsibilities, improve their practice and remind them of basic concepts.
Learning takes place not only at workshops or on training courses, but also through discussions with colleagues, practical experience, and consulting newsletters, books and audiovisual materials. Resource centres can support a wide range of learning activities by making information available. By helping health workers learn, they can play a valuable part in improving the health of a nation.
A concern for equity - a key principle of primary health care - means that information, like health care, should be accessible to all. But in many developing countries, access to information is limited, especially information relevant to local conditions. Locally produced information is often unavailable, while information produced outside the local area may be inappropriate or too expensive.
Resource centres have an important part to play in improving access to information. A resource centre collects and organises materials that are useful to a particular group of people, such as health workers. Materials may be very varied, including training manuals, handbooks, reference books, directories, leaflets, posters, games, videos and samples of equipment.
However, a resource centre is much more than a collection of well organised materials. A resource centre actively seeks to share the information that it contains. Resource centre staff encourage people to use the materials. For example, they not only help people to find the materials they need, but they also disseminate information in the resource centre by producing and distributing locally adapted materials and information packs, holding training or discussion workshops, or arranging exhibitions.
A resource centre should aim to:
- create a pleasant environment for learning
- contain a relevant and accessible collection of resource materials (based on the actual needs of users)
- provide a range of information services
- encourage people to use the information in the resource centre
- help users gain access to information from other sources.
Development organisations usually prefer the term ‘resource centre’ to ‘library’ to emphasise that this is an active, attractive place where people can relax and enjoy themselves, talk to each other and take part in meetings and training activities.
A resource centre can be any size, from a trunk of books or a few shelves, to a whole room or several rooms. A resource centre may be part of an organisation or an organisation in its own right. It may serve staff within the same organisation, people from other organisations, members of the public, or a mixture. It may be staffed by a volunteer or someone for whom it is only part of their job, or by a team of professional librarians and information scientists who are responsible for different aspects of managing the collection and providing information services. A collection of materials in a hospital or health centre meeting room, a few shelves in a room at a training institution, or a room in a community centre - all these are resource centres.
The larger the resource centre, the more important it is to have systems for knowing what materials it contains and where to find them. With a small resource centre consisting of a couple of bookcases, it is easy for someone to look at all the materials and find what they need. Perhaps all that is needed is for the materials to be grouped together by subject, and the shelves to have labels showing which subjects are where. In a larger resource centre, however, it would take too long to look through all the shelves, so it becomes necessary to classify materials in more detail and list them in a catalogue (for a medium-sized resource centre) or on a computer database (for a large resource centre).
Whatever the size, all resource centres have the same aim - to meet the information needs of a particular group, or groups, of people.