UI WiderNet Project receives substantial grant to help fund digital library

Contact: Andrea Murphy (319) 335-2200
June 12, 2003


UI WiderNet Project receives substantial grant to help fund digital library

The University of Iowa’s WiderNet Project recently received a grant to fund the construction of its African digital library project called “eGranary: Storing the Seeds of Knowledge.”

The grant totals approximately $236,000 and will be used over two years, said Cliff Missen, co-director of the WiderNet Project. The grant was donated by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Leland Initiative, a U.S. government effort to extend full Internet connectivity to 20 or more African countries over the next five years. The Initiative is named after Mickey Leland, former Chairman of the House Select Committee on Hunger, who died in a plane crash while on a mission in Ethiopia in 1989.

The WiderNet Project grant will help African universities expand and update their off-line digital libraries and will aid in the delivery of large amounts of digital educational materials into African institutions using satellite broadcast technology.

“With the creation of the satellite, the universities will be able to update their systems as close to real time as possible,” said Ryan Wells, a WiderNet project assistant.

The satellite broadcasts will occur weekly, and African universities who pay a nominal subscription fee will receive the updates. This is a small fee to pay considering the amount of money African universities would otherwise be spending on Internet access.

“We deliver the documents to the university for free so that the people inside the university can use them without paying for the Internet,” said Missen.

Many of the institutions the WiderNet Project works with do not have Internet connections, and where connections do exist, they are slow, unreliable and very expensive. Professors and students often have to pay by the minute to be online in African universities, and it can take days to search a website because of the slow speeds. Missen said the broadcast satellite will be an effective alternative to the Internet.

WiderNet staff members are currently collecting copyright-free materials from the Web for the eGranary digital library. They are then securing permission from publishers to distribute these materials in Africa.

Until the broadcast satellite is up and running though, Missen will continue to hand-deliver the library documents to Africa on CD-ROMs.

“Right now, we have collected and distributed over a million documents. We hope to have four or five million by next year,” said Missen.

Along with updating the digital materials via a satellite, the WiderNet staff will also train African library personnel to digitize their materials so that African research can be shared more easily with other world educational institutions.

More information on the eGranary digital library project can be found at http://www.egranary.org/.