Growing expertise in Africa: CERN-UNESCO's 3rd Digital Library School

The third in the series of CERN-UNESCO African Schools on Digital Libraries took place in Dakar, Senegal, in November last year. The School represents an important opportunity for CERN to contribute to a global exchange of knowledge, skills and culture.


Ludmila Marian assisting participants during a hands-on computer session. More photographs available here.

After Rwanda and Morocco, this time it was Senegal's turn to host the Digital Library School, the third of its kind, held from 21 to 25 November 2011. Participants from seven African French-speaking countries met at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar to learn about digital libraries and the importance of new technologies in the dissemination of knowledge by libraries. The School outlined the principles of digital information management and showcased the Invenio software, developed by CERN to manage digital libraries and freely available as Open Source software.

The series of Schools, which combine informative lectures with hands-on sessions where librarians and IT experts work together to install digital library software, is proving to be a success in several ways. Not only are participants putting what they've learnt into practice in their home institutions, but they are able to pass their expertise on to others. Two of the teaching staff in Dakar were graduates from previous Schools, meaning that the project creates an independent capacity for further training without outside intervention from CERN. True to the Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and he’ll live for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for the rest of his life,” real capacity building is taking place. To further enhance participants’ ability to disseminate their knowledge, a few selected students will be invited to come to CERN for several weeks to get more in-depth training.

A further benefit of the Schools is the networking possibilities. “We encourage the participants to build their own international networks so that they become more and more independent of support from CERN,” says Ludmila Marian from the Digital Library Services section of the IT Department. She is one of the four people from CERN who organised and taught at the School, led by the head of the CERN Library, Jens Vigen. The participants in the Schools are indeed active members of the Invenio mailing list, on which all users can post and reply to questions. “In fact, African participants have already been able to respond to queries from other members of the Invenio community on the mailing list and make a really positive contribution,” says Nikos Kasioumis, also from IT.

This international cooperation, at both an individual and an institutional level, is a good example of how CERN is spreading and sharing the knowledge and innovation it creates. “The Schools are an opportunity for CERN to get into contact with countries where we don’t have any cooperation right now,” says Annette Holtkamp from the CERN Library, “and then we hope that this cooperation will spread to the physics community.” The next Digital Library School will hopefully take place in Ghana, subject to obtaining the necessary funding, at the same time as a major school on fundamental physics, to create precisely this kind of synergy.

by Joannah Caborn Wengler