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To Bangkok Conference programme

65th IFLA Council and General

Bangkok, Thailand,
August 20 - August 28, 1999

Code Number: 094-113-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Women's Issues
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 113
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

The Role of Woman Librarian in the Development of Information Strategies at the University of Havana

Barbara Susana Sánchez Vignau
Department of Scientific-Technical Information
University of Havana, Cuba
E-mail: susan@dict.uh.cu


The use of information and communication technologies in the Cuban universities is a factor of vital importance for the development of these academic institutions. However, work in the process of computerization implies great changes in the current functions of our university libraries and their personnel. New times bring into development new modes of production, processing, access and transfer of information with the help of data suitable for the functions of our organizations, and in this process the woman librarian becomes a factor of vital importance.

This paper will consider the marked preliminaries and describe the process of change which has been initiated, in the Department of Scientific-Technical Information (DSTI) of the University of Havana including the Department of Strategy, with the participation of our female professionals.


1. Information in the models of change of the universities

All the time we participate in a variety of changes in society which are all influenced by political, economic and technological currents entailing multiple effects in all organizations, including those of information. In them, however, the most important change of paradigm pertains to access. Access to information both from the qualitative and quantitative points of view implies certain social changes, as the inviduals who are best informed and have access to more information can take actions of major importance in more areas than individuals who have limitations in their access to information.

University as a social organization moves into new models, directed towards educating qualified individuals for professional functions, but it is also committed to generate useful knowledge for the development of society, thus the necessity to articulate information and knowledge in university at the end of this century and in the beginning of the next century. But how to do it? This way of thinking results in working on different administrative viewpoints than what until the present. It not only permits the incorporation in the society individuals whose education is based on a certain culture of training, but it also makes necessary to act in an articulated manner in the employment, in a rational and objective way, of information and communication technologies, in which university libraries occupy an privileged level.

Tendencies which operate in the information world in general and in organizations like universities in particular suggest the following: in a multifunctional university information and knowledge determine the basis of all processes and, in some more than in others, communication is the environment of interchange of knowledge par excellence. If information and knowledge are the key elements for the function of a university system, each thought or action related with them, their content, quality, opportunity, currentness, pertinence, way of handling, transmitting, acquiring them, etc. plays an essential role in the betterment of the quality of higher education.

Change has appeared as subject in all the discussions which have closely touched on the future. Their contents at the moment seem to include the power of information and the development achieved by the new information and communication technologies (NICT).

Universities as scientific and academic organizations have a double necessity: (a) to bring them up to date and include them in the production and diffusion of knowledge; and (b) the synthesis of the enormous quantity and variety in which information is presented, and the knowledge of current scenarios.

The modern society has become involved in one of the transformations, and the tiny driving engine of knowledge has, since a long time, had one name -- universities. It's impossible to speak of advancement without mentioning the role these institutions have in the education of professionals who present the reality and turn into concrete results the long periods of preparation and improvement.

In this advancement of universities the library is a primary actor in the use of information and new medias of information, if the following is taken into consideration:

    Education and communication are the most secure medias for transporting information.

    Technology has created environments which permit the interaction, transportation and dissemination of knowledge to the most remote places on the Earth.

    There exists truly surprising medias for maintaining, sharing and transfering knowledge.

    The modern world is a global village, where the barriers of time and distance are disappearing.

    Its possible to participate in the process of developing networks which are completely transparent and highly competitive.

    The production of knowledge is becoming a decisive factor id the competitive position of a country, an industry, a company or an individual, and

    One must learn to utilize existing knowledge for problem solving.

From the quality of the process of information management dependens the productive and creative insertion of academic communities into a society. which is advancing in an irreversible manner. From its strength and organmization will depend, in the first place, the scope of the production of knowledge. Therefore, there is need for new types of information management models in libraries which contribute to achievement of this objective, paving with it the way for an information culture, which contributes to the total quality demanded by organizations.

The library prototype has changed due to the massive entry of technology in all of its functions. The paradigmas in the environment of information management have been destroyed opening up the entrance for new forms of interaction between the technology and the individual. The popularity of computers has allowed for a great number of users to have access to a PC, and this intense relationship of the society with technology has modified the design and offering of services. The way of interacting and communicating with users of information has transformed an conformist user into a demanding client who asks for a more systematic and efficient access to information.

University libraries must go, for the purpose of completing the tasks and demands of the scientific community, from the traditional model of management to a model of electronic library, in which a cooperative leadership will prevail having focus on client-user. There will exist also an interdependent structure and will stand out information resources managed basically in a working group and formed in such a way that the development of its components and quality are its foundational basis.

Library is a social enterprise whose mission it is to offer specialized services to students, professors, researchers and managerial staff in order to satisfy their educational and information needs by means of human and technological resources, which contribute to improvement of plans and programs for instruction -- at pre- and postgraduate levels -- and for research. This shows the peculiarity of spending money for producing something and then giving it away and, on the other hand, information is the only product which is used without paying for it: it is born to be shared. Without commercializing the subject, we would like to say that information with an added value will become the most important material of the most important products in the next millennium.

Our universities need to promote and support these new types of work projections relying for this purpose on their information tools or libraries, but there exists also need, in both cases, to implement and harmonize horizontal structures with the support from the new information and communication technologies (NICT).

For the new millenium, the university library is committed to centralize services to users, flatten its hierarchical structure and offer novel and better services just in time to satisfy the changing needs of the user-client. For all these reasons it is important prepare leaders to plan for initiating and carrying out the library's mission, in which nothing should be as certain as the satisfaction of the individual for whom we're working, because it is the leaders who determine the mission of an organization and the guidelines of a process.

In order to achieve efficient management, the university libraries must:

  1. To guarantee their leadership role.
  2. To become the principal consultant or advisor in matters regarding information or, in the same way, the principal constituent of the decision-making system.
  3. To use adequately the technologies of information and communication (TIC).
  4. To transform the information systems.
  5. To contribute to the immediate requalification of human resources to enable the required role in "the era of information."
  6. To prepare information products of high added value in order to guarantee excellent services.
In this context important tasks are open for our libraries, which inevitably should abandon their historically passive role and assume a transformer's role; because on the one hand it is the universities where information is highly valued as a resource of resources, a product of developing the actual process for knowledge production. On the other hand, it is the universities which own to a great extent the potential energy for proactive transformation which, in turn, the society should realize in order to meet the current and future challenges. The model library of the next millennium also needs to achieve new leadership positions where each generated process needs a coordinator and the library alltogether a special leader qho understand the past but doesn't let himself become limited by it.

For the next few years, it is not so important to take care of naming our organizations whereas the importance lies in not losing on the mission of their role while developing new paradigms. Libraries could continue as libraries although not as places where collections of books and other documents are kept and where dominates as well an organizational structure in support of the collection but as an organization which satisfies its clients knowledge, information and documental needs and has a goal a service culture. Use of technologies should amplify the client's options by offering new services, previously out of reach, and in this way to bring about the desired transformation.

There exist a direct link between the tendencies to employ the NICT and to apply new management models, in which can be identified as protagonists the human resources which facilitate the leadership of our organizations. This position has been traditionally occupied by woman who, due to the characteristics of the activities in librarianship, became from the beginning chosen their fulfillment.

Whenever we recall libraries, we see a sweet woman appearing to guide and orient us to a book or a particular theme, and although times have changed with the appeareance of the Internet, electronic mail or magnetic disks, woman continues to present the information activity of organizations, now with new preparation and new knowledge.

On the treshold of a new millennium, woman is getting involved in new activities in the computerization of libraries, combining in a balanced manner the execution of traditional activities with those which guarantee transition to the new model of an electronic library.

2. Occupations of information professional and technician in the Information Department of the University of Havana

The Department of Scientific-Technical Information (DSTI) is a member of the University Council of the University of Havana and is in charge of the methodological direction of the 20 libraries of the Faculties and Research Centers. It is responsible for acquiring, processing and distributing the information from the departments: techncal services, information services, publications and printing and automation.

The university library and the network of libraries in the faculties and centers have been developed to the level which corresponds with the information needs required by the level of education achieved by the country and and they make available traditionalservices as well as services assisted with information and communication technologies. Since the 1980s has been achieved a research plan in library and information science, programs for users, teaching information technology as a subject within the project on information culture which has been developed in the University of Havana for the preparation of professors and researchers of different faculties and research centers of the Institute of Advanced Studies.

There exists a plan for (self)improvement for information professionals which covers the whole network of university libraries in the country and in which the Department of Information works as the leading organ of the information network of the Ministry of Higher Education, having the most experience in organizing periodically courses, seminars and consultancies for different Centers of Continuing Education and Centers of Higher Education. In addition, it is charged with a budget for purchasing documents, a collection for reference work, and tools for research by means of the Internet.

Starting in 1987, the first computers were acquired for processing in order to generate the first data bases of the library with the introduction of CDS/ISIS. The collapse of the socialist system caused a deep economic crisis which had impact on the whole Cuban society; the country lost more than 75% of the import from socialist countries which affected purchase of petroil, food products, consumer products, raw materials, medicines, etc. Also it tightened the blockage of our country preventing in many occasions negotiations with other countries. Nevertheless the state directed all its efforts in keeping the educational centers and universities open and, in order to minimize the impact on medical services, some actions were taken in economic terms. However, this situation affected the libraries so that information centers of some enterprises had to be closed or they had to reoriented their services.

In spite of the mentioned situations, in 1992 there was acquired a minimal equipment for creating the first local network of the university library: two computers, one server and one modem; this network was connected with the XTs in the departments. The Ministry of Higher Education began to acquire the series of the Current Contents as one way to provide up to date documents for the whole system of higher education. This service was started in the library in a centralized manner for that segment of users who were in charge of the most prioritized research in the uUniversity of Havana, due to the fact that the faculty libraries neither had the necessary equipment nor the services available, and the reference personnel could not attend to all the needs of the university. The reference specialists began to realize interest profiles for 12 research groups for which were provided a search service and the entry of documents of personal character to date.

During these years was also started the introduction of other concepts in the library and information field's activities which, although they did exist, were not part of the vocabulary of Cuban librarians; for example, information management, strategic planning, management by objectives, marketing, mission, vision, added value products, reengineering, and others. When facing this new wave of terms it became essential to prepare specialists in new conditions imposed by globalization. Offering courses on strategic planning of information services, marketing, accounting, new technologies, and guidelines for information policies was initiated. Courses were started on planning strategies for information services, marketing, management, new technologies, and guidelines on information policies. This new culture was slowly incorporated into the language used by specialists and technicians, because in 1994 NICT began to establish bases for necessary change and prepared a development program for the University Library's network. This network included alleviating the library's problems and drawing up a legal document, which is being revised and outlines strategies needed to carry out the plan in new conditions.

2.1. Management Strategies at DSTI of the University of Havana

The definition of our mission -- "To provide specialized information services to students, professors, researchers and administrative personnel in order to satisfy their professional and informational needs via those human and technological resources which contribute to the improvement of the plans and programs for instruction and research in the University of Havana" -- together with management by objectives and establishment of criterias for measurement identify objectives for reaching agreement with the university's objectives. The proposed objectives aim: to achieve a situation in which by year 2000 eighty percent of users evaluate good the information services and information resources; to lead to an optimal use of the Current Contents service for professors, students and researchers; to provide academic journals in a current form and for work with their electronic versions. In addition, to guarantee for students, professors and researchers access to the services on Internet and electronic mail; to ensure that thirty percent of workers will be prepared through courses for diplomas, master's or doctorates; to facilitate the university library network's moving from traditional libraries to electronic libraries by offering to each library the necessary equipment and methodological attention, courses and advice. To realize projects for financing some activities and providing personalized service to those reseachers who are engaging in the priority investigation at the University.

All these details have evolved from revival of the mode of action, because although the current changes in the libraries have a lot to do with new technologies, also the change in people's minds is decisive.

On the strategic planning of information systems CEPAL explains that "betterment of information units is focused in terms of:

Earmarking greater financial resources, personnel, physical space, etc.

Modernization of operations, in the main by means of automatization of technical processes, services and communications.

Cooperation among the information systems units.

Although these aspects contribute to the betterment of the current situation, in many cases it has favored the patron of existing services without pointing our any change in the patron himself or herself. The use of microcomputers has been used to do the same things instead of doing them in a more efficient way and not for making the final outcome more flexible according to the need.

The concept of change covers modifications, foundations, and eliminations so that sometimes problems can be operational, political, institutional or related with performance. The idea of change consists of going from the current situation to a future situation, which supposes changes in processes, management styles, products and services. In this change environment has great importance.

The NICT-UH has to change its institutional paradigm due to being conscientious of the need to better its organization. For this end there are at work together number of activities which have as their purpose to make better its participation as well in the top level of the university as within the system of scientific-technological information of the country's universities.

However, the work to measure anew the role of university library activities now does not cause reengineering of all the processes. It is not sufficient to know only the unavoidable need to reconfigure the library but to know those factors which are leading to this change. Help from some circumstances is important even although they're not completely developed in the institution, because they assist advancement in this sense. They are as follows:

  1. Existence of an information culture inside and outside of the library which permits efficient handling of services and products.
  2. Development of information managers.
  3. Making possible awareness of information products as part of the result from the fundamental processes of institutions in higher education (research, teaching and extension work) .
  4. Inclusion of pre- and post-graduate academic programs which will lead to the development of management of information.
The strategic management process in the NICT, thus, will result in a beginning of a phase of changes given the existing conditions. In the same way can be employed a strategy that within the organization allows to obtain relevant results, for which it's necessary to develop it together with strategic functions. These functions determine those areas in NICT-UH which will become pioneers in the change process and, therefore, become susceptible to new levels of development.

Development activities affect four big areas which are: (a) organizational structure and linking system; (b) management of human resources; (c) Use and management of NICT; and (d) production of new products and services. The results of the change process have been mediated by the following strategies:

  1. Development of the library's organizational structure with a vision directed towards implementing horizontal structures which permit harmonizing diverse processes as part of the informative library activity.
  2. Work for strengthening the network of faculty and research center libraries at the UH.
  3. . Establish a linked system with the Faculty of Communication, especially with the area of Library Science and Information Science.
  4. Prepare a local network to guarantee the availability of and access to scientific, technical, corporate and electronic support, including the use of Internet.
  5. Develop products and services of a new kind in manual or automated form, which will ensure satisfaction of the user community's educational and informational needs.
  6. Establish cooperation and exchange programs with university libraries in Latin America and the Caribian.
  7. Accelerate the education and development of the area specialists, as well as the strategic and applied research activity in this field.
  8. Improve work on publication, printing and commercialization of the scientific jperiodicals at UH. All the strategies listed above are in accordance with the mission of DICT and the operational objectives of UH and the Ministry of Higher Education in terms of the computerization of our universities.
  9. To what extent have women influenced the results of the strategic project at DICT-UH?
The Department of information of the University of Havana employs the total of 60 personnel of whom 80 per cent are women. They are quoalified professionals and technical staff with ample experience which has made it possible for them to participate in the process of change with good quality work and excellent capacities in their functions. The process of change in the Information Society has prepared way for redesigning work in our libraries with a new meaning which is special to those who work in universities. This has influenced the work realized by our institution by ensuring that specialists and technicians change into knowledge managers par excellance and make adequate use of new information and communication technologies in order to retrieve valuable and important results. The excellent work in information management performed by women in our department has guaranteed a good academic and research management of our university.

With the participation of our professionals and technicians and working towards the desired move, our organization could show the following results:

  1. The first CD-ROM was developed including Proceedings of the IV Seminar on Latin America and the Caribbean.
  2. Electronic mail service was provided as well as access to CD-ROM databases.
  3. Manual catalogue was converted into an automatised catalogue with the possibility of immediate access via library network.
  4. It was made possible to offer new information services to priviledged research groups through connection to the Internet.
  5. Work was started on reengineering of the syntetic analytical processing of information, with the help of NICT.
  6. There was enhancement in research and development in different areas of library work.
  7. A program on information culture was iniciated both within and outside of the organization for advancing quality in library management and for academic research activity of UH.
  8. Information professionals have acquired new levels of specialization for inclusion into managing their work.
An additional element in all this activity which involves women in the process of computerization of UH, can be identified their participation in a permanent manner in the Department of Women's Studies (Catedra de la Mujer), which is developed in the university environment, where have been developed varied services on the theme of women, and thereof, elaboration of informative products on the special subject, especially on a data base with approximately 1000 entries.

The Central Library as a member of the Department on Women's Studies contributes to the information assessment of investigation that is being developed not only by the UH but also by other organizations involved in women's studies in our country.


As it has happened in other areas of knowledge, woman in the library activity has occupied an important position. Librarian's professional image has moved from formal entering of document to participation as concultant and assistant in every organization. The introduction of new computer technologies has allowed the her better quality of management and thus greater excellence in her contacts with her clients. This reality has been a necessary paradigm for the woman in our Department on Information of the University of Havana, where without her participation and action it were impossible to perform the work realixed through computerization in our Institute of Advanced Studies.


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