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Grant will help Mortenson Center at Illinois assist African librarians

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
217-333-2177; andreal@illinois.edu

4/21/2005

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Mortenson Center for International Library Programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has received a grant that will, through the development of automated systems, assist it in helping African librarians to better serve the research needs of their users.

The three-year $499,900 grant from the Carnegie Corp. of New York funds a project whereby Mortenson staff will assist university librarians from seven Carnegie grantee institutions in East and West Africa “move into a fully automated online catalog environment and a computer-based library management system,” said Barbara J. Ford, the director of the Mortenson Center.

The grant, which will run from April 1, 2005, to March 31, 2008, will benefit university libraries in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda – the same libraries that previously have received grants as part of Carnegie’s Partnership for Higher Education in Africa project. The project supports innovative programs that help revitalize university libraries and equip them to educate future leaders and administrators.

In the current grant project, Mortenson Center staff will work with the University of Ghana-Legon and the University of Education-Winneba in Ghana; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ahmadu Bello University and University of Jos, all in Nigeria; the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania; and Makerere University in Uganda.

A team from the center will visit the libraries each year to help plan and implement an automated system. Training and technical support systems and communication systems will be set up to provide assistance and report on progress. Training also will be provided at the center for selected African university library staff to develop expertise in library automation and strategies for sustainability, Ford said.

The new grant builds on an earlier grant from the Carnegie Corp. That grant, announced in February 2004, allowed Ford and Susan M. Schnuer, assistant director of the Mortenson Center, to spend March 2004 in Africa assessing the opportunities and challenges facing these same African academic libraries.

Assisted in Africa by Joyce Latham, an instructor in Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science who has expertise in technology, Ford and Schnuer later prepared a report, which is linked to the Mortenson Center Web site at www.library.uiuc.edu/mortenson.

What the Illinois librarians found in Africa in 2004 was, in general, outdated computer equipment, a lack of basic computer skills among some staff members, unreliable public utilities, an unprecedented demand for higher education and some professional isolation among librarians.

The Mortenson Center for International Library Programs is a professional development center offering programs to librarians all over the world. It is part of the U. of I. Library, which comprises more than 40 departmental and area studies units.

Established by two generous gifts from C. Walter and Gerda B. Mortenson, the center seeks to strengthen international ties among libraries and librarians worldwide. To date, some 680 librarians and information specialists from 86 countries have participated in the programs offered by the center.

For more information, contact Ford by phone at 217-333-3085 or fax at 217-265-0990 or at bjford@illinois.edu; or Schnuer at the same phone and fax numbers or at schnuer@illinois.edu.