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Decolonizing Our Library System: The Living Librarians (Baansi) of Dagbon, Northern Ghana

Reviewed By: Estefani Bowline, Diego Coaguila, Solia Martinez-Jacobs, Angelina Moiso, Yesenia Navarrete, Nicole Norman

Link to article: digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3754&context=libphilprac

Synopsis and article representation of international perspective
Decolonizing Our Library System: The Living Librarians (Baansi) of Dagbon, Northern Ghana explores the knowledge production and transmission of the baansi, who are “termed living librarians”, while drawing a contrast to Western systems and ideas. Plockey and Ahamed (2016) introduce the concept of “library” in indigenous cultures as one not established through books or computers, but instead through music and performance as information. This article introduces us to the baansi of Dagbon, who are indigenous court musicians in northern Ghana. As such, they have historically sang praises to royals in this region Through their songs and instruments, they carry on important cultural knowledge, history, and traditions, which is thus passed down to generations. This study uses interviews, group discussion and other qualitative techniques to gather information from baansi on aspects such as the role and categories of baansi. The study concludes by asserting that the baansi, as living librarians, hold the history of Dagbon in their memory. This study offers an international perspective by focusing their exploration on indigenous musicians of Ghana. At the same time, the researchers, who are Ghanaian themselves, draw a contrast with traditional Western views of libraries and knowledge production, asserting oral traditions and indigenous people as living libraries.

Core research question(s)
Plockey and Ahamed (2016) point to previous research regarding information existing in other forms besides our modern understanding of libraries. Indigenous cultures, in particular, are exemplary of these models of information sharing, due to long-standing structured oral tradition, where individuals themselves stand in for documentation and repositories. The term “living librarian” is explored to a degree in this paper, with examples outlined through the explicit exploration of the categorization of the baansi. Other research questions explored through the article include, “the categories of the baansi ; the role of the baansi and Knowledge acquisition process of the baansi” (p. 3). The article also examines the way in which the baansi produce knowledge and disseminate it amongst others within the community. Plockey and Ahamed further elaborate on the baansi by seeking out their origins, the relationships between these information keepers and the ways in which their specified tools – the instruments – organize and categorize the information being shared. The article also challenges preconceived notions of information literacy and organization, ultimately considering whether or not the baansi should be considered librarians.
Methods used to answer the research question(s).
The researchers used a mixed-methods approach, including ethnography, historical analysis, and community focus groups, to their study of the baansi of Dagbon. Their results are discussed thematically around the three “most recognized and important” categories of baansi (p. 4). This limited the study population to the Lunsi, the Akarima and the Goonje in the Yensi Municipal District in Ghana.
Each category of baansi is studied in-depth using “focus group discussions, observations, storytelling, phased assertion, documents’ analysis, field notes, historical profiling, and acoustic appreciation” (Plockey & Ahamed, 2016). Information was collected over a one-year period to build an understanding of the baansi’s role in the community, their historical origins, how their knowledge was acquired, and how they provide access to the information to their community through music. The study also noted the differences in types of musical instruments used by each category of the baansi, and how some instruments are gendered as male or female by their pitch. It is important to note that this portion of the study only encompasses the categories of the baansi and their classifications, and does not analyze the information retained by the baansi, however
Findings and conclusions.
Plockey and Ahamed (2016) sought to disprove the Western idea that African tribal communities do not create and store information by highlighting the rich oral traditions of these communities. The authors found that the drumming class they examined, the baansi, actually held all of the tribe’s historical information and traditions, and disseminated that information through particular drumming patterns. As individuals who have and share knowledge, the baansi are unquestionably the “living librarians” of their communities. The authors also found that the baansi comprise several different subgroups of drummers, and that all of those subgroups perform a slightly different function. They discussed their finding that the lunsi, one of the baansi subgroups, communicate the most detailed history of the Dagbon people, and as such, are regarded as the most knowledgeable drumming group. This study supports the idea that information professionals need not be trained at a university or work in a library or office. Knowledge passed down through the ancestors and stored in the memories of those who share the past with present community members is just as important as any information stored in a book or database. Oral historians and disseminators of knowledge fill the role of librarian in Dagbon tribal communities.
What American libraries can learn from global practice about designing services for diverse populations?
Libraries have the power to allow access of information to patrons that can allow them to not only better educate themselves, but to also create a better community for themselves. This power can be increased by providing library workers with support in implementing programs and resources that can then be offered to the community. The concept of “living librarians” and understanding orally-based cultures and societies are elements that American libraries could benefit from incorporating into their services. As cities continue to become more multicultural, libraries should make concerted efforts to meet patrons from diverse backgrounds in a way that shows care for the variety of modes in which information is shared around the world. American libraries could hold programming within the community utilizing the living library model. Organizations such as The Human Library utilize an oral history approach, by allowing people to ‘check-out’ individuals by having a conversation with them and listening to their stories. This valuable approach allows people to experience different viewpoints on issues, and could easily be adapted for libraries in American communities.

Plockey, F., & Ahamed, B. (2016). Decolonizing Our Library System: The Living Librarians (Baansi) of Dagbon, Northern Ghana. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3754&context=libphilprac

Unjudge someone. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://humanlibrary.org/