The Internet is transforming the provision of library and information services in an unprecedented manner. With Internet connectivity, libraries across the globe have seamless access to quality controlled subscription databases and freely available resources, depending on financial means and possession of appropriate knowledge/skills, respectively. Chisenga  and Katundu  observe that African libraries were not taking full advantage of both information categories to improve services. Literature attributes the lag to a relatively severe skills shortage, inadequate infrastructure and uncertainties regarding the volume, quality, organization and accessibility of Africana and other materials on the Internet. In recent times, poor funding, especially of African university libraries , has aggravated the situation.
In order to help improve access to Internet information and knowledge, Southern African development partners have implemented projects such as the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI) , Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) , and Continuing Education: Libraries and the Internet (CELI) . Other notable initiatives include: Catholic University of Angola's E-Literacy project, (ii) United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Leland project, and (iii) the School Net project .
Except for project documentation on the web and some recent articles by Smith , Aronson , EBSCO , Taole  and Eriksson  not much is published on the totality of the experiences of these projects. With respect to CELI, Taole and Eriksson focus only on the subject-based information gateway (SBIG) component.
The purpose of this article is to contribute to the knowledge on Internet projects in Southern African university libraries, with particular reference to CELI. Specifically, the objectives of the discussion are:
- To describe the origins, objectives, methodologies and coverage of CELI.
- To discuss factors influencing the implementation of CELI.
- To assess CELI, especially with regard to best practices and lessons.
- To examine the outlook beyond the CELI project implementation phase.
The article is based on CELI, PERI and HINARI project documentation accessible on the Internet as well as on the author's participation in CELI.
The CELI Project
CELI originated from a Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA) funded conference, "The Electronic Library: Gateway to Information, Resource Sharing and User Services in the Electronic Library", held at Lund University, Sweden, June 2-6, 1998. Among the outcomes of this conference was a resolution to develop and implement a continuing education project to enhance Internet skills and applications. Subsequently, Netlab, the development department of Lund University Libraries, wrote a proposal that was approved by SIDA in 2001, giving birth to the CELI project. Essentially, CELI was conceived as a "learning-by-doing" project. With funding from SIDA, CELI was executed by Lund University Libraries in co-operation with the University of Namibia Library (UNAM). An invitation to participate in the project was posted by UNAM on the African Libraries listserv in early 2001.
The selection of participants was based on the following:
- Possession of basic information literacy skills.
- Access to a computer with Internet connection, web browser, web server and e-mail.
- Capacity of each participating library to assign two committed staff members to CELI in order to minimize the negative impact of turnover and to share the workload.
- Professional training and experience in librarianship.
On the basis of the above criteria, 15 librarians representing 10 university/college libraries from 9 Southern African countries were selected to take part in CELI. The libraries are Bunda College of Agriculture, Malawi; Malawi Polytechnic; National University of Lesotho (NUL); Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UEM), Mozambique; University of Botswana (UB); University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania; UNAM; University of Swaziland (UNISWA); University of Zambia (UNZA); and University of Zimbabwe (UZ). Lund University Libraries provided the resource persons and technical backstopping. The project commenced in October 2001 and ended in July 2003.
Web situation at CELI commencement
Of the 10 participating libraries, 6 had accessible web pages; 2 reported availability of inaccessible web pages; and, 2 did not have web pages. In general, the web situation at CELI commencement was as follows:
- Lack of updates to some web pages.
- Web pages that were not user friendly in terms of content and outlay.
- Complicated web pages.
- Inclusion of dead links.
- Lack of explanatory notes.
- Over-use of images that take long to load.
- Lack of contact details.
- Use of unfriendly colors.
- Overlapping menus in some web pages.
- Typographical errors.
Of the 17 branch libraries at UEM, only a few were connected to the Internet. The participants joined the project with differing levels of hypertext mark-up language (HTML) and Internet searching knowledge and skills. Some had no prior knowledge or experience with HTML, nor any formal training in Internet searching.
Objectives of CELI
CELI's goal was to enable participants to develop skills needed to give end-users the right resources at the right time and to find, evaluate and present Internet resources in a methodical and structured way. In particular, CELI aimed at equipping participants with skills to:
- Conduct structured Internet information searches.
- Select and evaluate Internet information.
- Create standardized descriptions of the selected information.
- Structure the information.
- Offer information about and services from their libraries on web pages.
- Develop subject-based information gateways (SBIGs).
In addition, participants were expected to share the skills they learned with colleagues in their parent libraries and to establish new web-based services in cooperation with their user communities. The project did not include the upgrading of technical infrastructure.
Methodology of CELI
The CELI training methodology, equipment and tools comprised the following:
- Four workshops conducted through lectures, demonstrations, practical exercises, PowerPoint presentations and discussions at UNAM, Lund University, and UB. Workshop hosts and facilitators supplied printed handouts, references to Internet resources, Internet connectivity, computer hardware, software and digital data projectors that assisted in easing the learning processes.
- Practical follow-up tasks at the participating libraries.
- Where appropriate, task team formation to resolve specific issues.
- CELI web site with work areas for all participants.
- CELI mailing list and sub-lists for SBIG metadata, scope policy, user interface and marketing task teams.
In between the workshops, tasks were executed and progress reports and ideas shared and discussed virtually through the CELI web site and mailing lists.
The CELI coverage can be categorized by the four workshops comprising the whole CELI project.
- Workshop 1
Workshop 1 took place November 5-16, 2001, at Neudamm Agricultural College Library, UNAM. Participants learned about writing HTML; conducting structured Internet information searches (including using the Development of a European Service for Information on Research and Education (DESIRE) model  for finding and fetching quality information efficiently); evaluating and annotating Internet resources; building web sites; building link collections; using e-mail and listservs; and building SBIGs (including theories, metadata standards such as Dublin Core (DC)  and use of classification systems). Participants drew up link collection development work plans and discussed the aim, scope and subject of the SBIG envisaged in the project objectives. It was agreed to (i) develop the SBIG "Use and Application of ICT in Education and Information Provision in Africa (UAICT-Africa)", (ii) come up with a metadata structure, classification system and scope and quality criteria for UAICT-Africa, and (iii) install the ROADS software  at UNAM for running the SBIG. Also, all the participating libraries' web pages accessible at the time were evaluated and suggested improvements were noted.
Following Workshop 1 and in preparation for Workshop 2, participants and facilitators carried out the following tasks:
- Implemented the suggested improvements to their library web pages.
- Built web pages where they were not available.
- Trained colleagues in web page design and maintenance.
- Developed link collections in collaboration with user groups.
- Selected and proposed appropriate fields from the 15 DC metadata elements, including a classification system for use in developing and maintaining UAICT-Africa.
- Drafted the UAICT-Africa scope and quality criteria.
- Commenced work on installing ROADS at UNAM.
- Workshop 2
Netlab held an international conference, "Netlab and Friends" focusing on recent digital library solutions and policies, in Lund, Sweden, from April 10 to 12, 2002 . CELI participants were sponsored to attend the conference where they gained more insight into the DC metadata scheme and the role of portals in providing seamless discovery of Internet resources. Immediately after the international conference, CELI participants held Workshop 2 at Lund University, April 15-19, 2002, covering the following:
- Discussion of the UAICT-Africa metadata scheme, adoption and implementation of a slightly modified selection from the DC elements. (The selection includes title, author, summary, subject, date, Internet address, geographic coverage, relation and publisher. It was decided that title, author, summary, geographic coverage and publisher would be searchable elements. In addition, it was agreed that title, summary, and Internet address would be mandatory elements. The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) thesaurus was adapted to provide for the education, libraries and information browsing structures.)
- Discussion and adoption of the UAICT-Africa scope and quality criteria .
- Demonstrations on how to work with ROADS in building UAICT-Africa.
- Practical exercises in searching, evaluating and adding resources to UAICT-Africa.
- Presentations and reviews of ongoing work on web page and link collection development.
In between Workshops 2 and 3 participants performed the following tasks:
- Searched and added resources to UAICT-Africa.
- Edited new resources for quality.
- Continued building link collections.
- Identified colleagues to train in building UAICT-Africa.
- Drafted a UAICT-Africa user interface and search functionalities proposal.
- Drafted a UAICT-Africa marketing proposal.
- Workshop 3
Held at UNAM, November 11-15, 2002, Workshop 3 covered:
- Revision of the scope of UAICT-Africa to achieve greater clarity in the interpretation of subjects, resources to include, and geographic coverage. It was decided that ICT infrastructure development, project sites and the whole of Africa (not just Sub-Saharan Africa as previously envisaged at workshops 1 and 2) should be included.
- Modification of the UAICT-Africa browsing structure to include the terms: Open learning; Resource sharing; ICT projects; Copyright; Interactive learning and Online courses.
- Practice in alternative Internet search approaches for UAICT-Africa resources.
- Discussion and adoption of user interface and search functionalities  to provide for simple searches and advanced searches.
- Discussion and adoption of a marketing plan for UAICT-Africa, identifying potential sponsors and partners.
- Presentations and reviews of ongoing link collection development work.
Participants' and facilitators' homework after Workshop 3 included:
- Implementation of search functionalities and user interface.
- Addition of resources to UAICT-Africa.
- Preparation of project documents in respect of UAICT-Africa sustenance.
- Preparation of a marketing brochure for UAICT-Africa.
- Design of a logo for UAICT-Africa.
- Workshop 4
Workshop 4 took place at UB, Gaborone, June 25-27, 2003. The workshop covered:
- Verbal evaluation of the CELI project.
- Adoption of a UAICT-Africa logo.
- Revision and adoption of a UAICT-Africa marketing brochure.
- Discussion and adoption of project documents for the continuation of UAICT-Africa. The documents are: a project proposal with a budget; job description for the UAICT-Africa coordinator; and a draft UAICT-Africa consortium agreement that envisages the joining of additional partners over and above the libraries that took part in the CELI project.
- Plans for the launching of UAICT-Africa at the 16th Standing Conference of Eastern, Central and Southern African Librarians (SCECSAL) to be held in Kampala, Uganda in mid-2004.
- Designation of a participant from UB, Babakisi Fidzani, as interim project coordinator.
In order to transform UAICT-Africa from a SIDA-funded project to a self-sustaining service, it was agreed that:
- The project proposal should be submitted to potential sponsors.
- The draft consortium agreement should be circulated to participating libraries for comments and signature.
- UAICT-Africa should be marketed to participating libraries and all other interested parties.
- The addition of resources to UAICT-Africa should continue.
CELI did not cover the electronic commercial scientific information market to avoid duplication and, at the same time, to complement the work in progress under PERI. CELI's thrust was to enhance skills to optimize the exploitation of freely available quality Internet resources.
Institutional responses to CELI
Among the documented management responses to the implementation of CELI at the participating libraries are the following three examples:
- A team comprising the web coordinator, serials librarian and the CELI participant was tasked to design and issue a training programme for implementation by the end of June 2002. The program and training materials were circulated under the signature of the University Librarian.
- The CELI team was allocated a space on the university server to publish their work.
- The project was well received by library management.
In general, there were no reported cases of rejection. Primarily, this was because participating libraries were aware of their skills needs. CELI was a timely and welcome intervention. Nonetheless, harmonizing the goals and work programs of the multiple CELI partners in the context of their unique institutional, organizational and cultural settings posed challenges.
The challenges for the CELI project included: local administrative hurdles, human factors, an inadequate technology backbone and limited availability of UAICT-Africa resources.
- Local administrative hurdles
Unforeseen local administrative hurdles that threatened the project included: end of semester examinations, vacations, and, student and staff strikes (at three institutions) shifted time lines for link collection user requirements studies and skills dissemination; at one institution, bureaucratic systems and lengthy discussions to achieve an understanding of the concept of gateways and link collections threw time lines out of synchrony; one institution delayed link collection development to build web pages from scratch; overall, CELI deadlines were difficult to meet due to pressing institutional demands on participants' time; because of revised time frames, a group used to conduct the user requirements study graduated before they could fully use and evaluate the link collection at one of the institutions; and, the target biennial SCECSAL forum at which UAICT-Africa was initially supposed to be launched lay outside the CELI time table.
- Human factors
The human relations challenges included the following: in the early phases of the project, as the CELI team got to know each other, task team chairpersons were not easy to select, and, in some cases, selected chairpersons were hesitant to assume the required leadership role; five members from the original CELI team left the project, and, except for one, they were replaced by new members who required time to get acquainted with the project and the team; at one library, management changed and the new leadership did not fully appreciate the CELI objectives; one CELI participant assumed a senior management position with increased responsibilities that cut into the time available for CELI tasks; in a number of cases, the full participation of user communities was not readily forthcoming due to lack of familiarity with the concepts, which created some sense of vulnerability among users; colleagues trained in link collection development and SBIG-building were re-deployed leaving little time for them to apply their skills; lack of Portuguese Internet resources dampened interest in the link collection development component at UEM; at times, workshop debates went astray; and requests for comments through the mailing lists did not always elicit sufficient responses.
- Inadequate technology backbone
Slow and unstable Internet connections (including inaccessible servers, a faulty modem, an unusually large number of prolonged power cuts and a lack of search terminals) frustrated the development and use of link collections and UAICT-Africa. The UZ's plans to use ROADS to develop a broader SBIG were stillborn because the software failed to run smoothly on the university platform. More importantly, the installation of ROADS at UNAM was postponed due to understaffing.
- Limited availability of electronic resources
All participants experienced difficulties in finding information resources to add to UAICT-Africa.
By and large, it appears that some form of disharmony between CELI and institutional targets almost always lurked in the background. Arguably, this did not detract from the ultimate goal of enhancing Internet skills among participants.
Did CELI meet its objectives?
Eriksson  ably addresses the question of whether or not CELI met its objectives. It is, however, important to shed more light on the outputs of the skills and knowledge honed by CELI, especially the extent to which the project delivered on the creation of link collections, UAICT-Africa, enhanced library web pages, and skills cascading programs at the participating libraries. Below is an indicative measure of CELI's reach in this regard.
- Link collections
Overall, participants were familiar with the development of link collections by the end of CELI. Of the 10 participating institutions, 5 developed link collections that are accessible from their library home pages. One institution has its link collection accessible from the main university home page because the library web pages were in prototype form and were not yet publicly available.
UAICT-Africa is accessible on the web . However, its relevance remains to be seen. Due to the tightness of the CELI time frame, an SBIG user-needs assessment was not conducted. Instead, UAICT Africa was born out of assumptions held by CELI partners regarding what might be relevant to users.
By the end of the CELI project, UAICT-Africa had only about 200 resources, and locating new resources continued to be a challenge. Whether or not this number is enough for an SBIG worth its salt is moot. At the same time, it could be argued that this is further reinforcement of previously reported propositions regarding the continued scarcity of Africana resources on the Internet. Between July 2003, when CELI ended, and November 2003, only one of the participating institutions had linked UAICT-Africa to its web site. In the final analysis, however, UAICT-Africa was a successful learning experience in SBIG creation and maintenance for CELI participants.
- Library web pages
Of the 10 participating institutions, 5 reported updating their library web pages following the CELI evaluations; 1 institution that did not have web pages at CELI commencement developed a web site; 1 institution updated its previously inaccessible web pages and mounted a prototype on the Netlab server; 2 institutions had not up dated their web pages; and 1 institution did not build a web site.
The CELI evaluations were comprehensive. Introducing wholesale improvements to existing web designs was potentially disruptive, as it could be misinterpreted as an outside imposition. It was necessary to judiciously temper CELI suggestions with considerations that governed previous designs. It is perhaps in this light that by the end of CELI, only one library could confidently report a major overhaul in their web pages.
- Skills cascading programs
In nine institutions, Internet searching and evaluation skills were cascaded to colleagues within the CELI time frame. The tenth institution shared in the training experience after the CELI project. The target audience was generally users and other librarians. With respect to HTML, only two institutions reported cascading these skills to colleagues including production of online manuals. One institution circulated a print HTML manual but was unable to hold a training session. Only two institutions reported sharing of the SBIG creation and maintenance skills.
Overall, the one major skill component that seems to have been widely shared is structured Internet searching and evaluation. In spite of this imbalance, CELI played a major role in raising the level of Internet awareness in the participating libraries.
The foregoing analysis is incomplete without addressing the overarching question of lessons arising from the CELI project implementation experience, which in all probability may have wider relevance to similar projects in Southern Africa and the developing world at large. Broadly, a major project of CELI's magnitude requires comprehensive planning based on wide consultation and sharing of information and knowledge between sponsors, executing agencies, beneficiaries and interested development partners, in the following areas:
- Level of ICT infrastructure development
While the simultaneous development of a robust ICT infrastructure is essential, it lay outside the CELI ambit, thereby exerting a negative influence on the attainment of project objectives. A coordinated holistic approach covering both infrastructure and skills development, in which interested development partners share responsibilities, delivers the required synergy.
- Internet knowledge, skills and attitudes
Due to insufficient Internet knowledge and skills, users at most institutions and, in some cases, colleagues were reported to exhibit negative attitudes. In order to circumvent the delay arising from poor user participation, one institution went ahead with a prototype link collection while another created prototype web pages.
CELI surveyed only the competencies of the course participants and did not have enough information on user communities (i.e., faculty and students) and participants' colleagues. An understanding of the competencies of the whole universe of the Internet information service community is important in setting realistic project parameters. Where conditions do not support the development of the ultimate product, prototypes should substitute in order to promote new concepts and create an appetite for new services.
Indigenous resources for UAICT-Africa and for some link collections were scarce. Evidently, it is not advisable to implement single Internet project components in isolation. A collaborative approach among multiple development partners in addressing an integrated suite of components comprising Africana e-publishing initiatives, skills augmentation, infrastructure upgrading, etc. is critical to the success of sustainable Internet projects.
- Local commitment
From the onset the CELI executing agencies communicated with and selected course participants directly. In most cases, local library managements seem to have been presented with a fait accompli. Not all participants may have had sufficient influence to give CELI due prominence among other institutional projects. On the other hand, library managements lent support but were not necessarily accountable. Thus, at one institution the CELI web development ideas were subsumed in the university-wide decisions while at another, the link collection originally conceived under CELI was changed to fit in with the Database of African Theses and Dissertations (DATAD) project, which was already in progress. Be that as it may, the CELI approach was refreshing; it cut bureaucracy and entrusted responsibility squarely on the shoulders of course participants. All the same, prior local management commitment and compromises are essential in securing priority attention and buy-in, respectively.
- Practical tips
Among CELI's noteworthy results is a record of practical tips for enhancing Internet services, namely: use individualized searching training sessions, on demand, in order to circumvent the practical problem of organizing groups and also to get through to users effectively; adopt a policy for developing content and maintaining links, e.g., use of paraprofessional staff to maintain links while professional staff focus on content development; collaborate with the computer science department to secure the services of students in HTML tagging and editing, e.g., request final year students to do a useful project with the library; minimize use of images to improve loading time; arrange link collections by subject and have explanatory notes to guide users; and ensure that top library management leads and creates space for the introduction of new ICT concepts.
Besides the primary outputs, CELI had a wider skills and knowledge development influence on the participants. Other skills areas that were boosted are:
- Project proposal writing - In recognition of the need to sustain UAICT-Africa after CELI, participants jointly wrote a project proposal to submit to potential sponsors.
- Project management - Implementation of the work plans adopted at Workshop 1 and task teams, mailing list exchanges, and workshop consensus building discussions constituted a practical project management experience for participants.
- Thesaurus development - Participants developed new subject terms to meet the needs of UAICT-Africa.
- Marketing - Participants jointly wrote a plan and a brochure to market UAICT-Africa.
- Use of SBIG software tools - The UZ implemented the Scout Portal Toolkit  to develop an Internet catalogue and shared the experience with all participants.
- Interacting within multicultural settings - CELI participants attended the "Netlab and friends," conference which brought together 24 countries. Among themselves, the CELI participants represented different cultural backgrounds in Southern Africa. These interactions were a lesson in tolerance and appreciation of cultural diversity.
- Workshop organizing - Workshop hosts gained insight and experience in organizing international events.
At UEM, CELI gave impetus to Internet connectivity at more libraries that hitherto were unconnected.
Eriksson  and Taole  present interesting scenarios, which, on balance, depict a not so promising picture especially for UAICT-Africa. Subsequent developments include the following:
- At least four libraries reported terribly slow Internet connections. One institution experienced prolonged industrial action that paralyzed services. These factors frustrate the up-scaling of initiatives stimulated by CELI.
- To date (i.e., ten months after the conclusion of CELI), none of the participating institutions had indicated their intention to enter into the proposed UAICT-Africa consortium agreement.
- The UAICT-Africa project proposal document was submitted to the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa at the beginning of December 2003.
- Between July - December 2003, only one resource was added to UAICT-Africa. A total of 11 links were dead at early December 2003. Also, it remained unclear which institution will assume responsibility for hosting UAICT-Africa.
The outlook seems less than satisfactory in the short term. In the long run and in the context of CELI's preponderate objectives, the evident skills, knowledge, attitudes and competencies nurtured by the project have contributed to a further deepening of Internet services at participating libraries. To the extent that this legacy is acknowledged, and all variables outside CELI's control being satisfied, it can be said that the Internet service prospects for participating libraries are promising.
University and college libraries in Southern Africa, and in the world at large, are financially strained. In Southern Africa, the provision of continuous education and training is adversely affected. Consequently, the skills required to harness the Internet are sparse. The primary objective of CELI was to assist in enhancing Internet skills among librarians in some of the affected libraries.
Through a combination of workshops and practical work, CELI stimulated practical applications that represent positive steps in long-term programs aimed at harnessing the Internet to enable Southern African university libraries to attain a competitive edge in information services provision. Further progress is dependent on: (a) library leadership styles that create space for the application of new skills; and (b) deliberate convergence of development partner interests to forge holistic and integrated approaches that address all Internet project critical success areas including upgrading of skills and ICT infrastructure, focused indigenous e-publishing, etc.
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