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Using the Internet: 'Travelling' workshops for African University Librarians

The Internet is now recognized as an important source of information. Developments in computer technologies have irrevocably altered library operations. Librarians, for their part, must have a knowledge of available electronic resources and evaluate, acquire and disseminate them as a part of their services.

Although online access to the Internet has recently been introduced in many African universities, librarians in those universities often feel inadequately trained in its use. INASP, with funding from Danida, has offered a programme of 'travelling' workshops on Internet use to staff in nine university libraries in Africa, over 1999 to 2001. The objectives of the programme are to:

  • provide librarians with a knowledge of the wealth of information and communication resources available on the Internet and with the skills to effectively locate and use these resources;
  • provide librarians with the knowledge and skills to train academic staff and students to effectively use these resources;
  • provide librarians with the knowledge and skills to use the Internet to disseminate locally produced information;
  • enhance the capacity of librarians to provide training in information and communication technologies.

Workshop content and course materials were initially developed by the Institute for Learning and Research Technology (ILRT) of the University of Bristol, in collaboration with INASP and African university librarians. The materials were piloted at the first workshop in the series and subsequently modified. After each workshop, the course materials continue to be updated, according to the recommendations and experiences of that workshop. It is these 'common' course materials that 'travel' from university to university.

A feature of the workshop programme is that, subsequent to the first workshop , course direction and course organization are in the hands of local librarians. Local counterpart facilitators are recruited from each host library. Such a person attends the previous workshop as a participant, co-teaches the workshop taking place in his/her own library and acts as the lead facilitator in the next workshop in the series. Apart from contributing to capacity building, this ensures that each workshop takes into account local information needs and any limitations of the local IT infrastructure.

Another feature of the programme is that each workshop concentrates on training `a significant mass' of librarians in one institution. Participants are predominantly drawn from the library of the host institution.

Workshops last five days, with a maximum of 20 participants. Presentations are followed by online exercises and group work. Content includes:

  • introduction to the Internet
  • browsers and browsing the Web
  • search engines and searching the Web
  • information gateways
  • resources for teaching, learning and research
  • evaluating quality of Internet information
  • web page design, usability and evaluation
  • free and low cost software available on the Web
  • copyright and IPR
  • e-mail as a communication tool
  • costing the use of the Internet
  • Internet training for library users and developing a training plan

The first workshop, which was directed by Martin Belcher from ILRT, was held in July 1999 at University of Dar es Salaam. Further workshops have been held, as follows:

University of Botswana in October 1999 directed by Mary Materu-Behitsa
University of Zambia in March 2000 directed by Babakisi Fidzani
University of Ghana, Legon in June 2000 directed by Francina Makondo
University of Nairobi in September 2000 directed by A. K. Martey
Makerere University in December 2000 directed by Jacinta Were
Addis Ababa University in February 2001 directed by Jacinta Were and Bernard Bazirake Bamuhiiga
University of Zimbabwe in April 2001 directed by Nigussie Tadesse
University of Malawi in May 2001 directed by Blessing Murahwi.

To date the workshops have been very highly rated by participants.

The course materials consist of presentations (in PowerPoint), exercises (in Word) and handouts (in Word) and can be downloaded from the INASP site. Guidance notes for facilitators are not included. However the notes page for each presentation slide suggests how points may be explained and expanded.

Plans are underway to extend the current workshop series to further libraries in anglophone Africa; requests have also been received from libraries in Francophone and Lusophone Africa. 

In October 2001, local facilitators from the nine universities which have hosted workshops, together with representatives from Mozambique and Senegal, met at the University of Dar es Salaam to evaluate the past workshops and decide the nature and content of a follow-on programme.

Contact: Martin Belcher