More Than Pretty Pictures

If you’re an American, you see infographics everywhere these days— on television and websites, in magazines, even with academic articles or corporate sales reports.

Not if you live in Moldova. Many institutions in this small former Soviet state are still learning to share information with their stakeholders, much less to present it attractively to engage ther interest.

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On Tuesday, the library in Ialoveni where I work as a Peace Corps volunteer held a workshop to train more than a dozen colleagues from area libraries in using infographics. Within a few hours, they all learned the basics of producing colorful posters or web posts to highlight their activities and community outreach.

IMG_6615My library colleague, Lidia Rusu (shown left, pointing at the computer), led the training with enthusiasm and patience. By the end of the session almost all of the participants, even those with limited computer skills, were producing infographics more than nice enough to use immediately.

They used the free version of Piktochart, an online software platform popular in the United States and elsewhere. Lidia also recently began using PowToon, a platform for making simple animated videos. Even though she doesn’t speak English, she’s able to figure out software packages quickly, apply them effectively and explain them to others.

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Ialoveni’s library, Biblioteca Publică Orășenească “Petre Ștefănucă,” hosted the workshop after being selected as one of the winners of a national infographic contest organized by Novateca, a nonprofit organization working to modernize libraries across Moldova. Ialoveni’s winning infographics, which I helped produce, are the two images on the left shown above.

Artiom Maister, an impact specialist with Novateca, shown below with Lidia, assisted her at the workshop, guiding the participants in how to modify templates, use icons, insert data and transfer their work to their websites, blogs or printed posters.

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The session was just the latest way Novateca has been encouraging this country’s  libraries — still viewed by some as dusty repositories of old Russian books — to embrace a new role as modern information centers and community resources. Through its five-year program, Novateca has provided hundreds of libraries here with thousands of computers and Internet access. It’s trained librarians on everything from how to find new funding sources to organizing robotics clubs or hackathons.IMG_6593

I’ve seen Novateca’s impact not only in Ialoveni but also in Bardar, where I lived during my Peace Corps training, and in other libraries. My best description is a word I don’t use lightly: transformative. As it approaches the end of its generous funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Novateca is now working to empower both local librarians and national institutions to carry on its mission. A representative from one of those institutions, Victoria Popa from the National Library, participated actively in Tuesday’s infographic session.

This kind of training is important not only to the libraries themselves, but also to the emergence of an open civil society in Moldova.  By learning to use infographics and other modern communications techniques, libraries and other public institutions become more able to explain to citizens what they are doing and how they can serve them. Infographics here have the potential to be so much more than pretty pictures.

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