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Women in Tech: Rebuilding the link between librarians and farmers

Open data may not just be figures or indicators, but metadata describing documents. Jacinta Were describes how African libraries should not be sidelined in the efforts to make more open data available and that open access documents are an important resource in the data revolution for agriculture.

African libraries are goldmines in output. Nevertheless, in an effort to revolutionize methods of managing and disseminating knowledge, libraries, in recent years, have been mistakenly re-defined and viewed in terms of physical structures and books. This unfortunate development has attempted to distance libraries from knowledge resource centre initiatives in the agricultural sector. Librarians who should take the lead in knowledge management are getting sidelined in the current open data revolution. Professional librarians are greatly to blame for shying away from the challenge. Hopefully, the current revolution by open data systems and large information projects, like the University of Nairobi Digital Repository (UoNDR) are steps towards narrowing the gap. Rebuilding the link between farmers and librarians will be key to revolutionise agricultural information.

Libraries do not deal with books only, rather they are custodians of Access to knowledge in different formats and librarians are best trained to manage this knowledge. Efforts in data revolution for agriculture should take advantage of what is on the ground and build on it. Globally, libraries play a leading role in advocating for freedom of access to information. Academic libraries do this through advocating for open access. As traditional focal points for provision of information, libraries continue to encourage free dissemination of information to support development agendas worldwide. Farmers can greatly benefit from libraries and from the professional skills of librarians in dissemination of information.

University of Nairobi Digital Repository: A commendable milestone in the Data Revolution

Academic libraries are rich in indigenous research output that could be used to improve data revolution initiatives in agriculture. At the moment, this information is not accessible due to poor visibility and traditional retrieval methods still being used in many African academic institutions. However, universities are aggressively advocating for open access to enhance the visibility of this valuable output. The initiative on open access is bearing fruits in African universities. Through open source software, a lot of African universities are now uploading their indigenous research output online to be shared globally.

The University of Nairobi is the largest and oldest university in Kenya and hence has rich information. The University of Nairobi Digital Repository is a good example of the open access initiatives in Africa. Launched in December 2013, it is one of the most successful library repository projects in Africa, thanks to the commendable and rare support from the top management team. Lack of support from top management is a major contribution to the poor visibility of indigenous research output in most universities in Africa. However, the University of Nairobi Digital Repository collects, preserves, and disseminates scholarly output of the University of Nairobi. The main aim is to share this output at the national and global level free of charge. It currently has over 75,000 entries of theses, dissertations, research projects, journal articles, conference papers, speeches, videos and other media.All the six colleges of the University are participating in the project. The College of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences (CAVS) of the university is one of the largest agricultural information centres in Kenya and hence one of the highest contributors. Anybody who is looking for information on agriculture can benefit from it. A lot of people are using the information at the national and global level.

Library collaboration in provision of information in Kenya

A commendable revolution in libraries is the establishment of consortia to facilitate collaboration in the provision of information. A major challenge to libraries over the years has been the escalating cost of accessing information resources. The current development in establishment of consortia has helped libraries to address the challenge of cost. The Kenya Library and Information Services Consortium (KLISC), established in 2004 is a success story in the collaboration of libraries in Africa. The consortium membership currently stands at 100 institutional members consisting of universities, research institutions, government libraries, national museum, national archives and large government tertiary colleges. The main objective of KLISC is to facilitate cost sharing for accessing electronic information resources. This has made access to information affordable for member institutions. Through their efforts other university libraries are taking the challenge of availing their research output through digital repositories.

Development of library consortia in Africa have been instrumental in establishment of university digital repositories to enhance visibility of indigenous research output. The author, Jacinta Were, has participated as a facilitator in workshops in several African countries to strengthen library consortia and encourage establishment of digital repositories.

One major mistake the world continues to make is to view farmers in Africa in terms of low literacy levels. This definition is no longer the case in Africa. A greater percentage of the current farmer in Africa consists of high school leavers who have the capacity to repackage information for themselves. Given the opportunity, they can tap on the information in the academic libraries and retrieve what is useful to them.

The challenge of access

Nevertheless, access to information is still a tricky area in Africa. Traditional methods of storing information hamper efforts in accessing the information particularly in libraries. Poor ICT infrastructure on the ground is another challenge. There is need to focus on strengthening ICT infrastructure to revolutionise dissemination of information to the farmer. Repackaging of information to suit the needs of the farmer has been discussed in several global forums over the last couple of years yet very little has been done about it. This is an area that requires urgent attention to facilitate access to indigenous research output in universities in Africa. A lot of attempts have been made in the past by different organizations like FAO to increase visibility of research out in universities. The Imarc project of FAO created a platform for universities in Africa to upload their agricultural research output. These efforts should be re-evaluated to identify impact and improve on strategies where needed.

Bridging the gap

There is need to bring librarians on board and encourage close collaboration between libraries and agricultural knowledge management resource centres to enhance dissemination of information to the farmer. A lot more can be achieved through this collaboration. Strategies should be identified to assist agricultural knowledge management centres to access the rich quality information held in university libraries and other academic institutions to benefit the farmer. Librarians could be re-trained to strengthen this collaboration. Professional librarians have very special and unique skills in classifying documents for easy and effective retrieval. This knowledge should be tapped to enhance dissemination of relevant information to the farmer.

The public library network is key in the provision of information at the grassroots. In Kenya for example the National Library Service has penetrated almost every county. People in rural area can go to the nearest library station to get the information they want. These library stations can be used to get relevant information to the farmer. They need to be sensitized on what is relevant to the farmer and can be stocked with this information to assist the farmer. Librarians in public libraries can be re-trained to assist the farmer more effectively. The National Library Service is a member of KLISC and provides access to both print and electronic sources which can be accessed at the grass roots. Attention should be paid to taking advantage of public library stations wherethey exist.

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