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‘We had to get creative’: Digi-tales from Africa’s resourceful librarians

Beyond Access image_Masiphumelele library
The Masiphumelele library, South Africa. Image by Beyond Access.

Andrew Carnegie once said, “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” Today, libraries are just as important as they were in Carnegie’s time, serving as ‘e-hubs,’ where citizens can access scholarly research from around the world.

By Steven Blum

Digital resources have revolutionised access to information. Now the question is: how can more libraries connect to the Internet to enrich the communities in which they’re located?

Bobana Badisang, a speaker at eLearning Africa 2015, is a librarian at the Institute of Development Management in Botswana. There, a growing student body and scant resources served as catalysts for change. “With 1,600 students and just 240 e-resource workstations, the library had to get creative,” she told eLearning Africa.

With Badisang at the helm, library staff created free Internet hotspots, communicated with students through social media, and shared information with students via smartphones.

Part of the challenge for Badisang was to bring awareness of these digital resources and teach students how to access information in the quickest and easiest ways possible. In doing so, her hope was that students would “sharpen their online searching skills.”

“I believe that for learning and research to occur, learner-centred library and information services should place the learners in the knowledge driving seat,” Bobana Badisang said via email. “My task has been to find innovative ways of providing service beyond physical infrastructural space. E-Resources have become one of the answers.”

Thanks to various initiatives, many African institutions now have access to free or low-cost e-Resources. One of them is the Essential Electronic Agricultural Library, a full-text and searchable database of articles from 300 high-quality research journals in agriculture and related sciences, all accessible via an external hard drive that doesn’t require access to the Internet.

Likewise, the Research4Life programme gives Africans free or low cost access to more than 44,000 peer-reviewed international scientific journals, books and databases provided by the world’s leading science publishers.

As the African continent becomes more and more connected, the hope is that libraries will serve a vital function for academic and cultural growth.

“Libraries are where the greatest amount of information is provided to the most people at the least cost,” according to the American start-up Librii. The company hopes to create a network of physical libraries “along the expanding fiber-optic network in the developing world.”

Library development and digital education have not been a priority for many governments in Africa, especially those struggling to provide citizens with food, water, health, electricity and sanitation.

However, with more investment, trained employees and greater digital literacy amongst the general population, libraries are poised to become the centre of knowledge sharing on the African continent.

At eLearning Africa 2015, Badisang will speak at a panel on the new eLibraries and how they’re changing the role of the librarian as information manager.

Image by Beyond Access

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