INASP infobrief 5: March 2005
Towards the Digital Library in Africa
The term digital library is used to refer to a library where
some or all of the holdings are available in electronic form,
and the services of the library are also made available electronically
- frequently over the Internet so that users can access them
remotely. Over the past fifteen years libraries worldwide have
increased their holdings of electronic information and automated
their operations, but within Africa digital development has been
uneven. The philosophy of the academic library as a passive
repository has taken longer to change, and librarians have not
had the opportunities to critically reflect on what has been
developed, and what their priorities are for the future. In
2004 INASP commissioned a survey of the current status of library
digitisation in sub-Saharan Anglophone Africa, so as to draw
conclusions on where future developments and investments might
be made, and what can be learnt from the implementation of digitisation
within the continent.
Enormous progress has been made in the past five years to ensure
that staff and students in African universities can access the
growing quantities of electronic information, but progress towards
a totally digital library environment has been uneven.
Universities are increasingly becoming focal points for infrastructure
investment and information provision with a view to improving
education through the use of ICTs - however it is difficult to
identify where development has taken place and where it is still
required. To gain an understanding of the status of development
in the adoption and use of electronic tools and resources, INASP
undertook a survey of publicly-funded university libraries in
Anglophone sub-Saharan Africa to investigate:
o progress towards digitisation;
o current priorities and plans;
o which support interventions have been most successful; and
o what support is now required.
The survey Data were gathered between September 2004 and January
2005 from questionnaires completed by libraries. These covered
all aspects of digital librarianship including library automation,
ICT facilities, electronic resources, local content, finances,
management and training, user education and future plans. The
questionnaire was sent to 107 libraries in 20 countries, and
site visits and interviews took place in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania,
Uganda and Zimbabwe. A focus group discussion also took place
in Oxford with librarians from Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Sixty-eight completed questionnaires were returned, giving an
overall response rate of 72%. Returns came from
18 of the 20 countries surveyed (Mauritius and Rwanda were absent).
Findings Library automation Although the majority of the libraries
surveyed had started using library management systems in the
early 1990s, only 15% considered that they were fully automated
and 21% have not yet commenced any automation. Twenty different
library management systems were in use, with several systems
operating in the same country and sometimes in the same university.
Some libraries that automated early have not been able to find
funds to migrate to newer and updated systems.
ICT facilities Only two libraries reported no computers available
for users, but the number of computers was generally low with
the majority of libraries reporting less than one computer per
500 FTE students.
Internet connectivity was uneven with only 35% of the libraries
reporting more than three-quarters of their computers connected
to the Internet.
Connection was usually through VSAT. Half of the libraries that
were connected said that slow speeds and reliability was a barrier
to the use of eresources. E-resources Journal support programmes
offering discounted or free access to publisher packages were
available in all countries, but provision of e-books was only
available in 28% responding libraries. Downloading was currently
a major problem, however several INASP infobrief 5: Towards the
digital library in Africa Page 2 of 4 libraries stated that they
would like to move towards using e-books in the future. The
Internet was perceived as replacing CD-ROMs, as elsewhere in
Local E-content E-indexes to local materials (e.g. theses, student
projects) were reported by 14 libraries, but only two were accessible
on the Web, and only a few on library local area networks or
Databases of theses (abstracts only) were reported by six libraries.
Four libraries submitted records to the Database of African
Theses and Dissertations (DATAD). Two universities have set
up full text institutional repositories (IRs) (Makerere and Namibia),
but several libraries expressed an interest in this area and
recognised its value in increasing the availability of local
materials and research. E-services Most libraries have a long
way to go in developing eservices to facilitate access to available
information and promote its use: 35% had library Web pages:
45% have developed online public access catalogues (only 16%
accessible on the Web - i.e.
outside the library).
Just three libraries were offering combined searching of all
five had e-bulletins,
three had started e-content delivery through virtual learning
environments (VLEs) and
two had developed online training packages.
No library offered a single search tool for all library resources
(whether physical, electronic, in-house, regional, etc.) or a
Web-based and distributed enquiry or reference service.
Finance Most libraries received their e-resources from funded
programmes or free of charge. Only four libraries relied on
institutional funds. However there was a move towards self-reliance
and away from total donor dependency: 10 libraries in three countries
entirely reliant on external funds until 2003 have now formed
library consortia and are collecting contributions towards the
cost of subscriptions.
It was more likely for an institution to meet (or contribute
to) the cost of ICT facilities (network, computers, etc.) than
pay the subscription costs of eresources.
There was a dependence on external funding everywhere. Only
ten libraries reported purchasing 100% of ICT facilities and
only two purchased all of their e-resources: 42% of libraries
purchased less than 10% of their ICT facilities and 61% less
than 10% of their e-resources.
Libraries indicated that future sustainability was an issue.
Fourteen libraries preferred to rely on institutional budgets;
a further three said that they intended to lobby for more money
from this source.
Libraries were divided as to whether charging fees for Internet
access provided money essential for the maintenance of the service
or discouraged use. The establishment of consortia was mentioned
as key to any sustainability strategy.
Management Librarians had different views as to the most effective
staffing structure for the management of eresources.
In 58% of the libraries, e-resources and services were managed
within existing departments: in 32%, separate sections had been
set up with new e-posts. In the former, computers were usually
scattered throughout the library, in the latter they were kept
in separate laboratories. There was no evidence as to which
worked best, as no libraries had yet developed any measures with
which to evaluate usage. Training in e-resource management was
not widespread although each library had at least one member
of staff who had attended an ICT-related workshop. Many librarians
raised the issue of professional training: library school curricula
were felt to be out of date and did not take into account what
was needed in the field, so that new recruits did not have the
necessary ICT-related knowledge and skills.
User education Training of academic staff and researchers was
offered by 66% of libraries - usually as one-off workshops.
However many thought it had not been effective, and new approaches
were needed in addition to building librarians' training skills.
Only 16% of the libraries supported integrated information literacy
programmes for undergraduates. No training was offered by 21%
There was a consensus that the key achievements of libraries
had been the provision of e-resources, the raising of Internet
awareness and provision of training, followed by the provision
of ICT facilities and connectivity.
Lack of funds for the purchase and maintenance of hardware and
e-resources together with lack of, or retention of, trained library
staff were identified as the main challenges, followed by the
low levels of ICT literacy and e-resource use among users.
Plans for the future and support required Most librarians stated
that their plans for the next three years were to consolidate
existing digitisation before moving into new areas. These included
maintaining subscriptions and acquiring more eresources (47%),
training of library staff (45%), acquiring more computers (42%),
improving Internet connection (37%), and improving user training
programmes (31%). Many (34%) included completing or upgrading
library automation and extending this to branch libraries. New
areas included digitising local publications and establishing
an IR (26%), and enhancing and extending e-services (15%).
All the libraries stressed the need for enhanced support from
their institutions and continued support INASP infobrief 5: Towards
the digital library in Africa Page 3 of 4 from funding agencies,
both financial and in the provision of expertise.
Additional funds were identified for the purchase of computers
and e-resources (73%),
for training library staff (65%),
for library automation (21%) and
for improved Internet connectivity (15%).
Libraries were very clear on how this support should be delivered
- directly to the library concerned or through library consortia.
A preference to deal with one funding agency rather than many
was also expressed.
A variety of training approaches were also requested, for example,
workshops, attachments to other libraries, exchanges between
libraries, link programmes, on-site visits by consultants and
experts, and distance education.
Up-country and newer university libraries, together with branch
libraries felt that they had suffered by not being given the
same opportunities for development and training as main or major
Conclusions External support programmes The provision of computers
and purchase of eresources has been heavily dependent on external
funding. Libraries considered that this situation would continue,
with a continued lack of institutional funds. However, libraries
are at different stages of digital development, with very different
needs. It is up-country or newer university libraries and (in
multisite libraries) branch libraries that lag behind.
Programmes that assume all libraries within a region or country
have the same needs and aspirations are unlikely to be successful.
The needs of different libraries must be taken into account
and support delivered directly to that library or through a country
consortia/network, where each library has a voice. Funders were
urged to give fair attention to the needs of all libraries rather
than concentrate on a few; and coordination through one major
funder was identified as preferable to many within one library.
Minimum ICT levels for all Full and effective use of e-resources
and e-services (and subsequent institutional contribution to
their shared cost) depends on all university libraries in a country
and all libraries within a university library network acquiring
and maintaining the basic building blocks of a digital library
- automation of library systems, sufficient ICT facilities (computers,
networks) and adequate connectivity. At the present time, most
public university libraries in Africa have not attained these
basic levels and others are struggling to maintain them. Libraries
that have fully automated systems are also those that have the
best levels of ICT facilities, trained staff, user education
programmes and eservices.
Support for the instigation and completion of library automation
projects should therefore be given high priority.
Continuing education for library staff Upgrading skills and retraining
library staff is a priority, particularly in the areas of e-resources
management, e-services development and teaching skills. Some
training areas are already being addressed (such as bandwidth
optimisation). There are immediate needs for support in full
text digitisation and in training of library staff in educational
theory and practice. Training given at the institutional level
and tailored to the needs of a specific library was preferred.
There was a call for training methods to be diversified, so
that the method was appropriate for the subject area.
In particular, attachments to libraries where the required expertise
was being practised or visits to libraries by experts were demanded,
both of which incorporate "learning by doing". Library schools
The future quality of university libraries relies on the quality
of new library staff. Library school curricula have not kept
up with the needs of the new eenvironment and those responsible
require opportunities to upgrade their knowledge and skills prior
to designing and teaching the new courses. User education It
was also emphasised that users need the competencies to make
good use of e-resources and e-services - and this helps to persuade
the authorities of the value of including associated costs in
institutional budgets. Most libraries undertake some sort of
training at the undergraduate level, but few support integrated
information literacy programmes. This is an area that is beginning
to be addressed by the Standing Conference of National and University
Libraries in East, Central and Southern Africa (SCANUL-ECS).
A volume of case studies from libraries in the region is due
for publication in April 2005 and it is hoped that a proposal
for further action will result.
Training of academic staff and researchers is acknowledged as
a continuing challenge that requires new and more innovative
approaches. Guidance and inspiration Libraries lack advice as
to where to go next: those wishing to automate lack guidance
on how to choose the best system. The libraries that have established
adequate infrastructures are failing to develop holistic e-services
and find it hard to convince IT experts of their particular needs.
Mechanisms for sharing in-country experiences are not widely
available, and there is a need for country-level bodies which
understand the requirements of libraries and can drive forward
digital development - this could be within government or become
a role of country consortia.
One way of encouraging the development of extravalue e-services
might be to grant fund a series of projects in individual libraries
which are ready and eager to move forward into areas like digitisation
of local collections, course content delivery through VLEs, and
e-reference services. In addition funding for projects to investigate
areas like standards, performance indicators, staffing structures,
library redesign would also be valuable.
Proposed areas for action o The survey covered Anglophone Africa
well, but to gain a more complete picture it is suggested that
a similar survey is undertaken o in Francophone/ Lusophone Africa
o in private universities and other academic and research environments.
o The findings should be validated through meetings/workshops
to identify library, country and/or region-specific needs and
o Working with funders, ensure that programmes aimed at supporting
digital library development are sufficiently inclusive and flexible
to directly support the differing needs and levels of expertise
of each university library.
o Encourage and support institutions and countries to formulate
plans and actions for all university libraries to obtain the
basic building blocks of a digital library.
o Support a number of small 'research and demonstration' projects
in e-services and eresource management and disseminate the experiences
o Support curriculum improvements in library schools to prepare
new professionals for the digital environment.
o Best practice in user education for the digital environment
should be summarised and disseminated to ensure efficient use
of digital library services.
o Working with partners, develop and support continuing education
and training programmes for librarians using a variety of approaches
o Support consortia to build strong networks and expertise within
their countries/regions, so enabling them to take on wider coordination
and advisory roles and to foster collaboration among libraries
involved in digital developments.
Further information This investigation was undertaken by Diana
Rosenberg, and this infobrief is a summary of the findings of
the full report Towards the Digital Library in Africa: an investigation
to establish the current status of university libraries, which
can be found on the INASP website: www.inasp.info/pubs.
About INASP Enabling worldwide access to information and knowledge
The mission of INASP is to enable worldwide access to information
and knowledge with particular emphasis on the needs of developing
and transitional countries. Established in 1992, we work with
partners around the world to encourage the creation and production
of information, to promote sustainable and equitable access to
information, to foster collaboration and networking and to strengthen
local capacities to manage and use information and knowledge.
We act as an enabler, connecting worldwide information and expertise.
Working through networks of partners, we aim to strengthen the
ability of people in developing and transitional countries to
access and contribute information, ideas and knowledge. In particular
we seek to:
+ improve access to scientific and scholarly information
+ catalyse and support local publication and information exchange
+ strengthen local capacities to manage and use information
+ foster in-country, regional and international cooperation
+ advise local organisations and agencies on ways to utilise
information and publishing to achieve development goals.
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