Knowledge transfer to Africa

For the second year running, a team from CERN comprising experts in the design and running of digital libraries has taken part in a workshop in Africa. The aim of the workshop, which was held in Morocco from 22 to 26 November 2010, was to pass on their expertise and help train librarians and IT engineers from five African countries.


Participants of the training workshop at the National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research in Rabat (Morocco). 

Although digital libraries are rapidly expanding across the Globe, a large proportion of the professionals working in the field have not followed relevant training, which poses a real challenge. To help to remedy the situation and encourage the development of digital libraries in Africa, CERN and UNESCO organised a training workshop at the National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research in Rabat (Morocco) in November. "The success of the first CERN-UNESCO digital library school, which took place in Rwanda in 2009, encouraged us to repeat the exercise, this time in a French-speaking country," says Jens-Vigen, head of CERN's Scientific Information Service and one of the workshop's organisers. "The decision to hold the school in Morocco, which has great potential in the digital domain, was taken jointly by CERN and UNESCO. This collaboration with UNESCO offers an excellent opportunity for CERN to establish contacts in countries that are not currently very active in particle physics. UNESCO is able to provide funding in the framework of its International Basic Sciences Programme (IBSP), while CERN has experience in organising this type of workshop."

In Africa it often happens that documents are inaccessible or cannot be found due to a lack of appropriate infrastructures. "These workshops are an opportunity for the participants to analyse and compare their situation and to acquire knowledge that can help to offset these shortcomings," explains Jérôme Caffaro, an IT engineer at CERN and another of the workshop's organisers. Practical exercises on the Invenio platform (the digital library system developed at CERN) helped the instructors to illustrate the concepts they were presenting during the training and enabled the participants to get to grips with installing and maintaining library management software and the various processes for which it can be used. "The participants also learned that there are various solutions that can meet their needs and help them manage their documents more efficiently and autonomously," continues Jérôme. "Invenio is able to manage large quantities of documents, and the number of documents to be handled can only increase in Africa, as in the rest of the world," says Peter Amoako-Yirenkyi, a former student and currently professor of mathematics at the KNUST University of Science and Technology in Ghana. Peter was on hand at the Morocco workshop to set up the software in conjunction with the team of specialists.

Thirty librarians and IT specialists from five different African countries took part in the workshop. Fifteen of them came from various institutions in the host country, Morocco, and the other fifteen came from Benin, Cameroon, Senegal and Tunisia. These workshops offer a unique opportunity for IT engineers and librarians to work together. "It has become clear that what is obvious to an engineer is not obvious to a librarian, and vice versa," emphasises Annette Holtkamp, a physicist librarian working at CERN who was an instructor at the workshop. "To optimise the way in which digital libraries are run and to establish a common understanding of the associated programmes, it is important to have a common basis between librarians and IT engineers," agrees Ludmila Marian, an IT engineer working in CERN's IT Department, who also took part in the workshop.

In June, some of the participants will come to CERN to follow a one-month intensive training programme on the Organization's digital libraries.

by Laëtitia Pedroso