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Digital library implementation and roll out - Case for Zimbabwe

05 May 2020 at 08:14hrs | Views
There are basically 2 routes to do this. Do it your self or hire a pro. Which ever way you opt for a few things remain the same;

(1.) If you choose to implement your own library, the first step towards creating an electronic library will be to do some research on content that you want to include. This content can be packaged as modules just like content of a website is created. You will need to use authentic sources and authorities in specific subject matters that you will publish. This will also involve dealing with copyright issues and publisher's right and content re-use etcetera.

If you decide to order a pre configured Digital Library which already contains content collected from various sources with more than a million ( 1,000,000) documents and articles and merely plug and play your appliance .You can then add more content to your digital as you create it using publish tools like Adobe , Frontpage , Word just to mention a few. The process of adding content to your digital library is as simple as highlighting and dragging a file from one PC to the specific folder on the server running your library. Of course you have to be extremely organized and plan carefully on how you will lay out your modules and pages. You can hire an expert to do the electronic publishing for you. Since this is mainly for educational and training purposes there will hardly be an instance when you will need to remove documents.

(2.) Installation of the hardware on site and setup of the user computers is a pretty smooth and straight forward process since it does NOT involve any thing new technologically. By simple I mean simple. You connect the server to a power supply, key board, mouse and monitor. Then connect an Ethernet cable from the server (digital library) network card to the Gigabit switch .Connect all PCs by running cables from each PC to the Gigabit switch  ports. Connect the switch to a power supply. Connect all PCs the same way and power up (ZESA) your equipment and start pointing all your PCs to use the wireless card to connect to the digital library. And you are done. PC users simply use Internet Explorer or Firefox to access the resources (documents).The user is  brought to the main homepage by simply typing  http://home .A welcome page will come up  containing all the links to pages and documents that are available on the digital library. Easy no re-invention of the wheel is necessary.

(3.) Other routine and maintenance issues will involve clearing local PC cache , cleaning keyboards and monitors. Naturally the user PCs will log in as regular users with no admin rights to install or format the hard drive.

(4.) The great news is that you don't have to worry about licensing issues as you can run all your PCs on FREE highly rated Linux desktop software called - Ubuntu. Yes huge companies like Google use Ubuntu for their desktops although its called Goobuntu ! Software alone can cost up to 40 % of the project costs if you decide to use licensed software like Windows XP or Vista.

Training and support

An important aspect of digital library roll out is training of key technical personal in the areas of system implementation, maintenance, troubleshooting, publishing and sustenance. Once librarians , systems administrator , and faculty heads are trained , in house training can then be possible to junior staff. Technology transfer must be made as easy as possible. Such information must be made publicly available to inquisitive and thirsty minds. Such education does not need rocket science to strategize. Local print and electronic media should be used to educate Zimbabwe about the need to take that digital leap of faith.

This should begin with the education of the decision makers. Only then will they embrace its importance. Many a time good projects fail to take off because the decision makers do not understand the objectives of projects.Once key people within an institute have been trained , a support mechanism has to be put together. Support costs money. Support can be in the form of e-mail , phone and on site support. Needless to emphasize at this point is that , if implementers are thoroughly trained in the digitalization projects , less and less support will be needed from the system architects.

Cost - Benefit Analysis

Deploying an eLibrary is not expensive considering that the ROI is calculated over a period of 5 year in which x number of students will have accessed the digital library for hours for a total of y hours. Let me give a typical example from a teachers college in Nairobi Kenya where this was implemented years back. Look at the costs from the point of view indicated below.

Number of computers - 40
Total available computer hours per day - 12
Academic days per year - 210
Student  population -  300
Digital Library Average. Life Span - 5 years

Metrics - ROI (Return On Investment)

Total available computer hours per year      =    40  x 12 x 210   =  100,800

Total available hours for 5 years            =    100,800  x 5     =  504,400

Average possible hours per student per year  =    504,400/300      =    1,680

Allow 10 % error correction for natural incidents like down time  due to maintenance  , lighting strikes , tsunamis etc interrupting the service. I have deliberately  excluded man made dilemmas like power outage due to ZESA. The later is purely man made and can be corrected.Typical Cost - High Grade Robust - Digital Library With 10 computers can be in the region of $ 10 k to $ 15k.The most important aspect of these numbers is to show that a $ 10,000 investment on 400 students over 5 years will translate to more than $ 12 from per student to access a digital library.

Getting funds to fund such project is not an insurmountable issue. Most potential investors or funders would want to seen some ground action on part of the project owners in doing what they can .

Needless to mention top level commitment is a core prerequisite to the realization of the digital dream. Hundreds of computers have been donated to various schools by organizations and individuals alike. But it important that the national government implicitly supports such efforts by walking the talk. Digitalization becomes elusive if those entrusted to make decisions don not play their part. Else Africa in general will remain digitally compromised in its quest to bridge the divide. There are no lack of skills and willingness on part of the project initiators.


The concept of a digital library provides a working , tested , reliable , proven methodology of implementing an effective ICT policy which is embraced by many developing economies in the form of e-Government. The use of this form of technology does not exist in isolation but can be considered to be an effective building block towards sustainable e-policy. The digital library as described above is deployed with open standards which will become handy when the need to inter-connect such systems so arises. Houses are built on bricks , and digital libraries provides such bricks in a coordinated e-policy.

If I remember well , a detailed e-readiness survey was published by a team of experts led by Dr.B Mangena from NUST .The survey detailed Zimbabwe's e-readiness in various categories as e-tourism , e-manufacturing , e-mining , e-health , e-agriculture , e-education and others. I am not sure if this UNDP supported project is still functional and or operational.

Also as mentioned earlier on NUST has already deployed the first online digital library in Zimbabwe available via

General Conclusion

In times of serious economic challenges like the one Zimbabwe is going through , people tend to relegate such technological issues as lower priority. We can not sideline such technological projects and progress in order to address what we "deem" as pressing at the time. Projects like these , mainly in Africa , suffer from one or more obstacles that include lack of seriousness on part of the decision makers (politicians) , lack of clear cut time lines , lack of specific and measurable benchmarks , lack of accountability , lack of continuity , dubious political appointment of individuals who have NO basic knowledge of the project that they are supposed to lead and generally lack of funding .

Hence the need to roll out such programs at micro levels where of project constraints are dealt with at that level minimal and self contained .Each institution or organization is totally responsible for rolling out the digital library in compliance with the content approval that is at the discretion of the curriculum makers. Most educational and technical materials do not face many obstacles as the contents are absolute unlike say political or economic content that may vary depending on the opinion of the project owners.

In context of the political reality that Zimbabwe is going through right now, it is natural that if turning around our fortunes is to become a living reality, everyone must play her or his part in making it happen. I cant stop wondering where ICT Zimbabwe is in all this ? Ministry of technology and information ? Hello !

Surely we can not blame sanctions for our failure to leverage on the open information society wave that amongst other things provides free software to help lower the digitalization costs.

The days of the blame game are over.

Its time to do what we can with what we have in all areas including agriculture , health , education , mining , manufacturing etc .Otherwise we will go down in history as the most forgettable generation in living memory.

"Be the change that you want to see by converting ideas to action."

Questions, comments and requests on digital library specifications and costs - most welcome.

Robert Ndlovu © 2008
New York , USA .

Source - Robert Ndlovu
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