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Southern African Greenstone Support Network
“As hubs for Greenstone activities, the National Centres are doing a great job raising awareness of the role of digital libraries both locally and across borders. This will result in more visible collections and the development of skills, especially as the scope of the network broadens beyond Greenstone to the African Digital Library Support Network."
A digital library is a library whose collections are available in digital format. The content can be born-digital, or converted from a physical medium, and may be distributed on CD-ROM or online. Examples include Europeana, a gateway to the combined resources of Europe’s cultural institutions - currently about 13 million digitised objects - specialist collections, such as the Digital Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences, or locally generated material, such as that of HealthNet Nepal. Regardless of the size or subject, the result is to extend library collections and services to end-users through the use of information technologies.
Digital libraries and the developing world
Digital libraries have been described as the “killer app” for the developing world because they help to disseminate knowledge - critical for development - and they nurture a capability for creating local information collections, an effective strategy for long-term development .
In this context, EIFL teamed up with the Koha Foundation in 2007 to run a pilot project in southern Africa to develop expertise and to grow the network for Greenstone, a suite of software for building and distributing digital library collections. Developed at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, Greenstone is an open source, multi-lingual, multi-platform package that aims to empower users, particularly in universities, libraries, and other public service institutions, to build their own digital libraries. Greenstone accepts documents in a wide range of formats, and supports numerous standards for document and metadata exchange.
In 2009, the EIFL-Koha Foundation project was extended to involve sixteen countries. Amos Kujenga from Zimbabwe is responsible for regional coordination, while Repke de Vries undertakes project management from The Netherlands. Designated National Centres in Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe have been established and play a key role organising training events and supporting trainees who are undertaking digitisation projects or building Greenstone digital library applications.
An important tenet is the cascade principle, whereby National Centres draw trainees from neighbouring countries including Botswana, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritius, Seychelles, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia who are in turn candidates to start their own National Centres. At their 2010 Annual Meeting in Nairobi, the National Centres agreed upon a name change to the network - the African Digital Library Support Network – in recognition of the value of digital libraries and signifying a desire to promote the development of digital collections across all of Africa.
Reports from the participating institutions are promising. National Centres are providing follow-up support to trainees leading to increased awareness of the new opportunities that digitised collections can offer, and initial signs that Greenstone applications are benefiting end-users.
Over 65 collections have been created containing approximately 20,000 items of all types, including conference and seminar papers, research reports, student projects and theses, past examination papers, archival materials and multimedia. Some are aimed at local policy needs, such as the comprehensive collection of digital documents relating to health research at the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) in Tanzania, whose mission is to generate new knowledge and relevant information for public health policy.
The signing of an MoU between Gender Links, a southern African NGO, and the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Zimbabwe led to the creation of a collection on gender issues for the 4,000 strong staff and student population. Some collections meet a practical need – “e-maktaba: the digital library” at Kabarak University in Kenya contains library manuals and guides, as well as university policies. Others unlock unique resources such as the rare Malawiana collection at Bunda College Library, featuring material about Malawi or written by Malawians.
The Inter-State School of Veterinary Sciences and Medicine (EISMV) in Senegal has made available over 800 scientific papers produced by their students, benefiting not only students in Africa but also researchers in animal production and animal health all over the globe.
Looking to the future
Lack of technical infrastructure and computer skills to customise applications, copyright and preservation issues pose challenges. However, the sharing of experiences and knowledge through a strong support network helps to overcome such problems. For example, the National Centre in Senegal is creating a directory of local expertise, which they will share with the rest of francophone Africa. In February 2010, Greenstone Digital Library Software became part of the curriculum at the School of Library, Archives and Documentation Studies (SLADS) in Tanzania. “SLADS has over 200 students, so the Greenstone community will increase by hundreds each year. This is great news, and I hope it will mean many more online collections available for sharing in the future,” said Africa J. Bwamkuu, National Centre Tanzania.