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Grant to benefit four Nigerian university libraries

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


 Susan Schnuer (left) and Barbara Ford
Click photo to enlarge
University of Illinois Photo
Susan Schnuer, left, is the principal investigator of the MacArthur Founation grant to provide professional development training on how to use technology and electronic resources to more effectively meet the information needs of Nigeria’s university students and researchers. Schnuer is the associate director and Barbara Ford, the director of the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nigerian librarians are wrestling with serious problems – insufficient bandwidth, unstable power and limited access to research materials, but they are about to receive some help thanks to a new grant to the Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Mortenson Center for International Library Programs has received a $303,000 MacArthur Foundation grant to provide professional development training on how to use technology and electronic resources to more effectively meet the information needs of Nigeria’s university students and researchers.

The three-year grant, which began on Jan. 1, 2006, will focus on four MacArthur grantee university libraries: Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Bayero University Library, Kano; University of Ibadan Library, Ibadan; and the University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt. The MacArthur Foundation awarded the center a grant last year to do a needs-assessment of Nigerian libraries.

“The project is intended to strengthen university libraries so that they can contribute to the development of robust research universities in Nigeria,” said Susan Schnuer, principal investigator of the grant and the associate director of the Mortenson Center.

MacArthur says its long-term support for the four leading Nigerian universities is “helping them to rebuild and upgrade their facilities, curricula and faculty.”
According to Schnuer, there’s a wide range of development at the libraries in each of the four Nigerian institutions.

“Some have an online catalog, electronic resources and an active Intranet, while other are not yet wired for technology.

“However, as is true of many universities in several countries in Africa, insufficient bandwidth is a problem, making access to electronic resources slow and unpredictable. The bandwidth problem is one MacArthur, together with many other foundations, including Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, is addressing and bandwidth availability has started to improve in many of these institutions.”

Unstable power in Nigeria “also lends its own set of problems,” Schnuer said.
The Mortenson Center’s assistance and training will focus on three priority areas: development of outreach services that assist university libraries in publicizing newly acquired electronic resources and training users to take advantage of these resources; planning, implementation and maintenance of management systems that allow libraries to expand their current capabilities; development of strategies to effectively manage electronic resources, focusing on increasing access and ease of use.

Under a similar grant from the Carnegie Corporation – an award of $500,000 that will run through 2007 – the center is working on a project to develop an automated and “dynamic” library environment in seven institutions in East and West Africa.

The MacArthur grant allows the Mortenson Center to work with groups of librarians in Nigeria on similar library issues and “develop a cadre of well-trained librarians in the country,” Schnuer said.

“We are pleased to be able to expand our work with academic libraries in sub-Saharan Africa as they enhance their programs to support teaching and research through the use of new technologies,” said Barbara Ford, director of the Mortenson Center.

Training begins in mid-February in Africa, continuing for three weeks. Schnuer will be leading a team of three: David Dorman, an independent automation expert from West Hartford, Conn.; John Hostage, an authorities librarian at Harvard Law Library; and Kathleen Kern, the digital reference coordinator at Illinois.

In late March, eight librarians from the four Nigerian institutions will travel to Illinois to attend a two-month training program. Schnuer and her colleagues intend to return to Nigeria every year to give additional training.

MacArthur learned of the Mortenson Center’s work with the Carnegie institutions in Nigeria and “then wanted us to work with their institutions.”

While similar in many ways, the MacArthur and the Carnegie grants emphasize different areas, Schnuer said.

“Carnegie wants us to work on establishing an online catalog while MacArthur is more interested in putting electronic resources into the hands of researchers and users. Both institutions want to see the users of these libraries have better access to information.”

Many universities are involved in projects in Africa, Schnuer said, but Illinois’ project with the MacArthur and Carnegie grants is “a unique large-scale professional development initiative with university libraries in Nigeria.”

Other Mortenson projects have focused on libraries in Central America, Ghana, Haiti, Japan, Kenya, Russia, South Africa, the former Soviet Union, Tanzania and Uganda.

The Mortenson Center for International Library Programs is a professional development center offering programs to librarians around the world.

Established by two generous gifts from C. Water and Gerda B. Mortenson, it seeks to strengthen international ties among libraries and librarians worldwide. To date, more than 700 librarians and information specialists from 86 countries have participated in the programs offered by the Mortenson Center.

With more than 10 million volumes in 38 departmental libraries, the University Library is the largest public university collection in the world.