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Digital Libraries - Africa

Digital Libraries - Africa

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Published by Robert Ndlovu
eLibrary approach for Developing countries
eLibrary approach for Developing countries

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Published by: Robert Ndlovu on Nov 21, 2012
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12/04/2012

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Bridging The Digital Divide – Digital Libraries
Robert Ndlovu © 2010“If you can't visit the Web, the Web can be brought to you. “The challenges that face ICT development in Africa have to be tackled at the same levelat which they occur .The digital divide gap is set to widen even further if we don’t take itupon ourselves to come up with specific solutions for our specific challenges.Zimbabwe boasts the status of being the most literate country in Africa. But the waythings look on the ground nothing suggests our ability to sustain that status from an ICT point of view at least. The world is a global village and adoption of practical and relevantICT policies by Africans for Africa is the only way the digital gap will be addressed.African countries basically face a number of hurdles in order to roll out effectivecomputing technologies to the general population. Roll out issues and challenges doinclude ;(i)cost of computers and equipment (forex)(ii)inadequate access technologies (telephone lines & wireless)(iii)poor international bandwidth(iv)regulation(v)ICT illiteracy on decision and policy makers(vi)brain drain(vii)skilled manpoweWith this in mind it is therefore pretty obvious that lack of access technologies and costof equipment remains the greatest stumbling block for effective national ICT roll out.
Digital Library
The digital library concept discussed below must be viewed inter alia a rugged nationalICT policy. The full benefits of the concept can not realized if not viewed a national ICT perspective. It can be part of a national ICT portion of the whole game plan.It is a cost effective way of empowering ordinary people with information on their finger tips. We are no longer in the stone age. Let not the power utility (ZESA) outages distortthe reality of where we are and where we seek to go. I know some readers will naturallyask a valid question like – “
..but we have electricity outages in Zimbabwe , how will that digital library function ? “.
It is that kind of thinking that we need to eliminate from our minds. The fact that our nation is facing the worst economic trauma in history does notrelegate us to stone carving and caveman kind of life.Lack of information is one Africa’s greatest foe. Dont we have abundant fertile land andare importing food at the same time ? Do we not have thousands of farmers who don’t
 
know what to grow , how to grow it and when to grow it ? Do they have access toinformation on how to create a simple water well , powered by a mule to siphon water towater their vegetables ? Again lack of information is dangerous. This is just one exampleon why the provision of accurate information to farmers is not an option but a must , if the land is to be put into any good use. I am no agricultural expert , but I sure know howto populate a digital library with solid instructions on how to design an irrigation systemwith complete diagrams and measurements !
The concept of a digital library is NOT a new concept.
 NUST university based in Bulawayo , has already deployed the first e-library inZimbabwe using Greenstone software. On this digital library items like past examinations papers , e-books , NUST forms , Zimbabwe health issues etc have been put together bythe Nustone team .The digital library is accessible by internet.This document seeks to discuss ways in which to bring such digital libraries to placeswith NO internet connection !Here I seek to provide information on the adoption of digital libraries in Zimbabwe. Bear this in mind when going through this document that I am not discussing a newtechnology but an existing one that you probably use on a daily basis .
Why an eLibrary ?
As I have summarized above , one of the greatest challenges that face ICT progress inAfrica is lack of adequate telecommunications infrastructure to carry data especially tothe remotest parts of the country and the cost of owning a PC. So , this is a known factor that is not bound to change over night. Availability of Internet depends to a great extenton the form of telecommunications link. Communication links include technologies as adial up (telephone line) , satellite (VSAT) , broadband and wireless (3G,Wimax) just tomention a few.The cost of ownership for these links is generally prohibitive for many. For the few whocan afford these connections at times have to deal with very slow download speeds whenaccessing resources hosted across the oceans on another continent.Having deployed more than 40 internet cafes in Africa , I can confidently say that thecyber cafes have indeed gone a long way to provide basic email and internet access to people and individuals alike .But normally internet cafes operate as a business unit tomake a profit. This means that the cost of internet access at a cyber café , can be ahindrance itself to information access.So a digital library addresses some of the obstacles and challenges faced by ICT practitioners in deploying ICT solutions because digital libraries remove the last miletelco link problem by bringing relevant digital content where users are. Also , developing
 
countries are able to tailor make their information needs based on their own assessmentof their such needs.
Contents of a Digital Library
eLibraries is a concept of bringing the internet to the users. An eLibrary system can beseen as a form of the internet itself. When you download some page from a website , youare connecting to a computer (server) physically connected through a communicationslink (telephone line) to a publicly addressable resource (IP address) like website address.A digital library will also include copies of specific web pages from the WWW onto aserver that will serve those documents and pages to an end user freely and instantly.Anything that can be converted into an electronic format. An digital library is a fullycross-searchable portal containing millions of different electronically formats resourceslike web pages , acrobat documents , audio files and even videos in all diverse areas thatmay include - maps , procedures , recipes , school syllabus , anatomy , physiology ,agriculture , irrigation techniques , hiv and aids info , history , literature , applicationforms , chemical formulations , research papers and more. The list is endless. Also notethat these resources can be in document form , image form , audio form and even video !
Electronic production and distribution
If you decide to populate the library with your own content , then you must make sureyou have publishing resources like software , audio recorders and video recorders if need be. Publishing tools include popular Adobe software amongst many others. Standard publication formats include but not limited to – pdf , word doc , power point , flash andmainly html which is the web page format.This implies heavy use of digital converting hardware and software to collect and captureitems for the digital library. For example images and documents that are already availablein various archives can be stored in digital format – gif images and or pdf files. Use of open source (free) tools like Open Office could become very handy in collecting andcompiling digital info for publication in the digital libraries.The content of the digital library on a site rests with the owner or authorities of the site.By site I refer to things like a school , college or institution. In the case of a college thecollege authorities decides on what is relevant to their own curriculum. By the way thedigital library does not replace the internet and its purpose is not for instant messagingand chatting but to serve useful and usable information to the user.
Tutorials and online training
Self paced tutorials – diverse tutorials that end with user exercise and tests could be agreat way to test students for specific proficiencies in various areas. Multiple choicequestions can used to screen or grade users and the test results posted immediately after the user completes the exercise or test. This does not involve extreme programming skills

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