Conceptions of digital libraries: an African perspective | Emerald Insight

Abstract:  Purpose

The purpose of this paper was to explore African conceptions of digital libraries from the perspective of the historical literature. This paper argues that the concept of digital libraries is a western creation and that there was a need for developing societies to develop their own conceptions to guide their own digital library development agenda.


The paper is based on a literature review. The paper makes use of publicly-available literature on the theme of digital libraries from both the Western and African perspectives. The search terms used were “digital libraries”, “Africa digital libraries”, “electronic libraries”, “information communication technologies/libraries” and “institutional repositories”. A total of 89 publications were examined for this purpose.


The analysis revealed that most of the initial digital library initiatives in Africa emanated from the west with African countries benefiting from international initiatives to expand access to information resources to bridge the global digital divide. However, due to a number of contextual challenges such as lack of sustainable funding and inadequate capacity and strategy, the development of digital libraries was hampered. Thus, even though digital libraries enjoy considerable goodwill, there remain negative conceptions of digital libraries in Africa.

Practical implications

Information institutions in African countries must evolve a unified conception of digital libraries as this would largely drive the direction of digital library development towards achieving the developmental goals of the continent.

CASAD – C.A.S.A.D. Centre d’Accès aux Savoirs d’Afrique et de sa Diaspora

From Google’s English:  “C.AS.AD Center for Access to Knowledge of Africa and its Diaspora is a public service blog whose mission is to provide information on the knowledge of Africa and its Diaspora.

C.AS.AD aims to become a short-term Non-Governmental Organization and a long-term Research Institute. He specializes in the field of collecting and preserving academic and cultural knowledge from Africa and its diaspora. Its purpose is topromote the work of researchers from Africa and its diaspora to be accessible online on the Internet. She wants to encourage democracy, education in developing countries in Africa and her diaspora in Canada. The role of its diaspora to help access to information is a pledge that should allow people to make a judicious choice of those who should lead their state. C.AS.AD recognizes Information and Communication Technologies as privileged tools to encourage sustainable development, reduction of the digital divide in universities, schools and institutions wherever its sons live in the world. C.AS.AD acts to help and train all people wishing to organize, process in order to archive all memories of any kind.

You can access free articles, lecture videos and books….”

Digital Library of the Middle East – DLME

“The Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME) offers free and open access to the rich cultural legacy of the Middle East and North Africa by bringing together collections from a wide range of cultural heritage institutions. Developed by an engineering team from CLIR and Stanford Libraries, the platform federates and makes accessible data about collections from around the world….”

Transforming Research Excellence: New Ideas from the Global South

From Cameron Neylon’s article, pp. 110-11: “By contrast, the systems, funders, institutions and scholars of Latin America and Africa have led the world on public access to formal publications, on the building of sharing infrastructures, and in the support of research units that have a deep insight into the societal issues around them (see e.g. chapters in this volume by Barrere, and by Allen and Marincola). While the UK and the Netherlands have loudly promulgated policies and spent vast sums of money on delivering open access, Brazil has had higher levels of open access for a decade and many Latin American universities retain higher levels of open access publishing than comparators in the North. South Africa has higher levels of open access to publications on issues that are the main contributors to South African mortality than the Netherlands….”

Cracks in the knowledge system: whose knowledge is valued in a pandemic and beyond? – From Poverty to Power

“Many of the inequities which COVID-19 has exposed – and exacerbated – have been with us for a long time.  Setting aside very stark disparities in access to health services, and the ability to maintain decent livelihoods, COVID has shown us once again the processes of exclusion that are baked into the ways in which we produce, communicate and use knowledge.

These are questions of infrastructure – who can study and work and be part of the many discussions taking place? – but also of voice – whose ideas and knowledge are valued?

We often think about how knowledge is produced and used around a particular issue or problem. But if we really want to “build back better” in knowledge terms, we have to look at our systems and how we improve those.

Taking a longer term and systemic view would mean thinking not just about research (i.e. how knowledge is produced by researchers) but also systems of education, and particularly higher education, that create our professional and practitioner communities, and systems of decision-making, that determine how evidence is used in government and elsewhere.

Here are some of the things we need to think about….”

African Makers Against COVID-19: Exploring Open Source Responses to a Global Crisis | Zenodo

“The COVID-19 pandemic has become one of the most pressing global health, security, economic and political issues of 2020, and responding to this novel challenge has put significant financial, technical and logistical constraints on governments and their partners. A number of responses are being developed by grassroots makers to enable personal protection, sanitation, and medical services, using Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Do-It-Together (DIT) approaches – demonstrating an open, rapid and bottom-up response to the crisis. Initiated by Africa Open Science & Hardware, the Berlin University of the Arts (Weizenbaum Institute), the Technische Universität Berlin (Einstein Center Digital Future), and in dialogue with the GIZ Togo and GIZ Ghana, the inaugural ‘African Makers Against COVID-19’ digital roundtable on 29 May 2020 brought together makers responding to the pandemic across the African continent to discuss approaches, opportunities and challenges. By identifying and connecting makers, researchers and development professionals, we sought to highlight:

1. the processes and mechanisms underlying making in response to COVID-19

2. how devices and technologies are implemented at health facilities and in communities

3. opportunities and challenges influencing further development and scale-up of innovations

4. interventions that could enable sustainability of grassroots African initiatives against COVID-19…”


Open Book: Swimming against the Tide | Research Information

“How have Nigerian libraries worked to support the university system under such difficult conditions? Many libraries have reduced the size of their journal subscriptions drastically, and encouraged their research community to make optimal use of open access resources. While accessing free resources online is a god-send to the research community, there is always the fear that uninformed researchers may not be able to differentiate between predatory journals and the ‘unreliable’ science they peddle, and other freely available but more reputable resources. Libraries have also embraced consortium arrangements, which has given them some negotiating edge with the big vendors, publishers and aggregators who market subscription journals. However, these arrangements if poorly managed, come with their own share of problems. 

To redress the years of neglect, academic libraries require a massive infusion of capital. Knowledge is a global good, and knowledge products as it concerns our institutions may not be locally sourced and might require hard currency. The implication of this is that the Nigerian Government should strategically intervene to support academic libraries by reviewing the existing funding model. To ensure intellectual vibrancy in Nigerian universities, a robust and supportive library system is non-negotiable.”

On a knife edge? South Africa’s new copyright law | EIFL

“The Copyright Amendment Bill [B13B – 2017] had been sitting on the desk of President Cyril Ramaphosa for over a year waiting to be signed into law. In June 2020, when Blind South Africa issued a legal challenge over the delay, the President acted. But instead of signing the Bill that had been approved by the legislature, the President used his prerogative to return it to parliament citing constitutional concerns with certain aspects, including new exceptions for libraries, education and persons with disabilities.

The President’s rejection of the Bill is widely seen as the result of pressure by copyright industries, and the threat of trade sanctions and reduced future investment from the United States and the European Union. …

In advance of the briefing, EIFL wrote to the Speaker of the National Assembly and to the Portfolio Committee to pledge support for the Bill. EIFL’s letter sets out how libraries and educational institutions in South Africa, and the millions of South Africans citizens they serve, will benefit greatly from new exceptions designed for non-commercial uses. They will help to re-calibrate the existing copyright system in South Africa which forces resource-deprived institutions to pay high licence fees to largely European and US companies. (For example, the 2011 Copyright Review Commission Report, known as the Farlam Review, confirmed that 70% of copying fees paid by higher education institutions in the previous year were distributed to foreign rightsholders). While this is a windfall for these companies, it is in our view, bad public policy for South Africa.

EIFL’s letter also notes that the exceptions in the Bill are modelled on provisions in the copyright laws of developed countries including Australia, Canada, Israel, Singapore, the UK and the US, that the Bill seeks merely to ensure that libraries and educational institutions in South Africa have the same rights than their counterparts in these countries, and any concerns that they may be inconsistent with South Africa’s obligations under international copyright treaties are misplaced….”

Building an Open Access repository in Eritrea with limited resources – Open Repositories 2021

“A huge part of Eritrean Archival collections date back to the colonial time and armed struggle. All research outputs, records, reports, theses and other work is still not automated and captured. Instead, a huge amount is produced in  physical paper and forgotten in shelves far from the reach for scholars. Hence, this poster is expected to share the know-hows on how such complex data production can become a reality as an Open Repository and contribute to the democratization of knowledge to the citizens of the country.”

Crafting an OER network in Ghana using IndieWeb building blocks – Open Repositories 2021

“Many students are unable to finish their first degrees due to the high cost of higher education in Ghana. Many universities in Ghana lacks access to rich online educational materials to provide an alternative learning module for students who can not afford the standard university education.

This poster focuses on how we are using IndieWeb building blocks to help students and educators to create Open Educational resources. Our program provides free personal websites to students and educators to curate and create OERs on their own websites, the community then write or remix these resources to develop collections of community-approved OER….”