NetDiploma: Network for Digital Public Library of Modern Africa

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Engineering and Environment

Abstract

The rapidly growing population of Africa calls for:
1. Education and training vis-à-vis employment of an exploding African youth population; and
2. Sustainable management of human (cultural integration and peaceful coexistence) and natural resources.

UNESCO's actions for Flagship programmes 5 and 6 (http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002244/224489e.pdf) propose:
- "Improve universal access to information and knowledge as well as build capacity in the field of ICT use in Africa" (p.11)
- "Promoting universal access and preservation of information and knowledge" (p.13)
- "Culture (heritage in all its forms and contemporary creativity) is mainstreamed into public development policies" (p.13)
- "Young people made aware of the values of the heritage and mobilized to protect and safeguard it." (p.13)

Analysis of the key UN resolutions and policy documents shows the importance of access and sharing of information for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Chowdhury & Koya, In Press). However, information services in Africa face a number of challenges:
- common information delivery channels, viz. mass media; information services (libraries); education and training programmes including conferences, workshops etc., benefit only a small section of society (educated and city/urban dwellers) while the majority of the population who live in rural areas cannot reach or use these information services (Uzuegbu, 2016)
- libraries in Africa suffer from lack of funds to build an ICT infrastructure, to subscribe to online information resources, and to train personnel (Chisenga, 2015)
- management of digital content remains a huge challenge in the public sector as there is no technological infrastructure to manage and provide access to digital information properly; hence millions of digitised archival documents remain inaccessible.

Research also shows that mobile access to cultural heritage information services is rapidly increasing in Europe (Nicholas et al, 2013;Liew, 2014). Use of mobile phones is contributing to development in Africa, especially in the rural areas, through internet banking, micro-loans, micro-enterprises, market integration, social mobility, health etc (Cibangu, 2016). Indeed mobile banking has brought a revolution in Africa, and an IMF report (https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/reo/2016/afr/eng/sreo0416.htm) recommends that "there is significant potential to replicate the Kenyan experience in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa" [p. 74]. We intend to explore whether this approach can be applied to the delivery of digital information, including cultural heritage information.

Bringing together a consortium of academics, researchers and professionals, key local partners such as the national libraries, national archives and universities in three African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi), and international organizations including IFLA, UNESCO, UNECA and the African Union, we will seek to understand the historical, cultural, linguistic, technological and transregional challenges to inform the research and development agenda for building a Digital Public Library of Africa (DPLAf). A bottom-up approach will be taken to explore and prioritise various user needs to complement the ongoing activities in Africa, like the Access to Scientific and Socioeconomic Knowledge in Africa project (http://askia.uneca.org), in order to match the demand and supply of information while preparing a blueprint for the DPLAf for achieveing SDGs in Africa.

The network will provide a collaborative vehicle to communicate development needs to the multiple disciplines required to undertake the research and design. It will inform policy and strategy development for providing digital, and wherever possible mobile, access to information for African populations to facilitate education and sustainable development in any sector. Hence it will facilitate the achievement of UN SDG 16.10 (public access to information).

Planned Impact

National libraries and archives in the African countries have in recent years digitised millions of records and information objects; e.g. in a recent personal email communication, Richard Wato, Assistant Director KNADS, and a Co-I of this project, stated that although they have digitised over 15 million pages of archival documents, these are not accessible online because of the lack of appropriate and sustainable ICT infrastructure, policies, human resources and user training.

The large volume and variety of records and information resources that are dispersed in various libraries and institutions outside Africa also remain inaccessible for similar reasons. The long term beneficiaries of a DPLAf, providing easy access to these resources, are the potentially millions of African citizens, i.e farmers, artists, artisans, and businesses such as tourism, students, teachers and independent researchers, policy and decisions-makers. The more immediate users and beneficiaries of NetDiploma in Africa will include those engaged in information management professionals, national/international organisations); the information creators (e.g. governments, communities); and organisational users (e.g. policy-makers, decision makers, business) including memory institutions and national/international institutions such as the African Union (AU), UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and UNESCO. Support letters and communications with these organisations confirm how this project will contribute to their information access activities e.g. public/community library development in AU's Agenda 2063; UNECA's AVLIN public information outreach programme. Additional beneficiaries will be others globally with an interest in or need for information about Africa, including those developing international policy and/or practice.

For information professionals (e.g. librarians, archivists, records and information managers, systems developers) in the African countries the benefits will be a greater understanding of information needs and the enablers/challenges to public access to information. National and international information bodies/associations (e.g. IFLA, ESARBICA - Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives, OCLC and publishers) will benefit by developing a shared understanding of the information access and use needs of stakeholder/ user communities, together with the enablers and challenges, in Africa. National/international non-governmental bodies (UNESCO, the AU etc) who promote information access, will benefit by collaborating with those who can help to develop solutions to information access challenges. Information creators, such as governments, other bodies and community groups, will benefit by contributing to shaping solutions. Diverse organisational users and communities will benefit from articulating their information needs and shaping solutions to meet them. Together they will shape the creation of a 'blueprint' for a DPLAf which, ultimately, will enable and empower African citizens to play their part in addressing the global challenges and contributing to SDGs including the economic development of their country and their own welfare.

To facilitate these impacts members of the various beneficiary groups will be engaged in the network. Academics will collaborate with practitioners in a broad range of disciplines and professions; with organisations in the public, private and third sectors who create or manage information, records and/or archives; and with other creators and (current/potential) users of this information in Africa and beyond. They will be tasked with connecting to others in designated knowledge domains and communities. This will snowball the network to the multidisciplinary experts needed to solve the conceptual and practical challenges (e.g. media, communications and publishing, lawyers, regulators), and to the diverse stakeholders in the problem and ultimate solution.

Publications


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