Digital agricultural library project gets funding boost

The University of Namibia in Windhoek
Copyright: John Hogg / World Bank

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  • An offline digital library project aims to counter Africa’s low Internet access
  • Up to 45 institutions will be selected from six African countries to take part
  • An expert says the project will aid access to current and relevant information

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[CAPE TOWN] A project to help researchers in Africa and Asia access a searchable offline digital library on agriculture has received a US$4.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A redesigned and expanded trove, The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL), founded in the early 1990s to give scientists better access to current research, is expected to be released in March this year, according to Joy Paulson, TEEAL director and international projects librarian at the US-basedAlbert R. Mann Library, Cornell University in New York.

The new three-year project started on 1 November last year.

“The grant will support many researchers stationed in academic and research institutions where Internet connectivity is still a challenge.”

Gracian Chimwaza, Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA)

The Cornell library and the South Africa-based non-governmental organisation — Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA) — are partners in the project. ITOCA has received a significant portion of the funding to support training, outreach and implementation in Africa.

Gracian Chimwaza, ITOCA executive director, tells SciDev.Net: “The grant will support many researchers stationed in academic and research institutions where internet connectivity is still a challenge,” adding that a stand-alone hard drive only needs to be installed for accessibility to local networks.

TEEAL intends to train more than 22,000 users of agricultural information, including students, lecturers, researchers and government officials. The grant covers work in six African countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.

Chimwaza says the selection of research institutions and universities in the countries of focus has begun and six to ten institutions will be selected in each country.  Around 45 African organisations are expected to participate in the programme.

Chimwaza adds that they will select institutions that can demonstrate how they will use the research and how they will contribute to make TEEAL a self-sustaining model that expands knowledge.

“We will also be working with a partner in South Asia, still to be determined, to develop a smaller, but similar programme for outreach and training,” says Mary Ochs, the director of Mann Library, adding that the partner will be selected from Bangladesh.

Ochs explains that TEEAL currently has 55 journals from Africa and Asia and the intention is to add at least 300 journals from the two continents as well as other types of research over the next three years.

Paulson says an annual update fee of under US$750 is also required from countries that subscribe to TEEAL to add the most recent content to the digital library. 

“Libraries in our part of the world are under-financed. Consequently, their serial titles are mostly obsolete. Internet connectivity is also weak or totally non-existent,” says Dele T. Fawole, professor of nematology, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

Fawole, who has used the library for ten years, adds: “Getting current and relevant information was an uphill task until TEEAL came along”.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk