Role of the eThekwini Public Library
As part of the Durban Public Library’s social service mission to the community they serve, the library should include provision of indigenous knowledge resources. Indigenous knowledge is part and parcel of the culture and history of a local community. It affects the wellbeing of the majority of people in developing countries. Some 80% of the world’s population depends on indigenous knowledge to meet their medicinal needs and at least 50% rely on indigenous knowledge for food supply. Indigenous knowledge is also the cornerstone for building an own identity and insuring coherence of social structures within communities. Because it is mostly stored in people’s minds and passed on through generations by word of mouth rather than in written form, it is vulnerable to rapid change. Development processes like rural/urban migration may contribute to loss of indigenous knowledge. Indigenous knowledge faces extinction unless it is properly documented and disseminated. The project is underpinned by the guidelines set out in the National Policy Document (2005) on the role of libraries in the preservation of Indigenous Knowledge Systems. The policy states that libraries should:
- “facilitate indigenous and local community information access, based on their own identified needs;
- provide opportunities for indigenous and local communities to actively record and share their contemporary history, culture and language with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples; and
- use new technology creatively to support Indigenous and local community development.”
More on Durban
Durban is the second largest city in South Africa, situated on the eastern seaboard of Southern Africa. Within the population of around 3,5 million various cultures are represented, the largest group undoubtedly the Zulu community, with smaller communities of Indians, Coloureds and Europeans. Each of these cultures has their own indigenous knowledge systems but it is certainly the Zulu culture of which the least is hitherto recorded. In broader perspective the mix and interaction of the different cultures in the Durban area puts another angle on the programme. In the sharing of different cultures lies the richer experience and better understanding of one’s neighbours and the nurturing of greater tolerance between cultures.
The Ulwazi programme strives to preserve and disseminate indigenous knowledge of local communities in the greater Durban area. It creates a collaborative online database of local indigenous knowledge as part of the Public Library’s digital resources, relying on community participation for delivering content and posting the content on the Web. Existing library infrastructure in the eThekwini Municipal area, comprising 89 public libraries of which most have Internet access, is used to carry the programme to local communities. Community workers collect oral and visual material while members from the community are taught at their local library how to add local content to the website. People of all social and age groups are employed to steer the programme at ground level while volunteer contributions to the database is encouraged.
Web 2.0 technology enables collaboration at all levels in the building up of the database, which is in the form of an online encyclopaedia such a Wikipedia, but with Durban’s own branding. This provides the potential for collaboration from the whole community. The library acts as moderator and custodian of the online indigenous knowledge resource. The virtual resource that is created will be in step with the global information society and will provide universal access to local indigenous knowledge. At the same time the programme will empower citizens through digital skills development, through preservation of their indigenous knowledge and through fostering of a knowledge sharing culture. Ultimately a sustainable people-centered, Afro-centric library service will be established using modern ICT technologies. A pilot project with a two-year development period will target mainly the rural areas within the eThekwini Municipal boundaries, without excluding any social or cultural groups.
It is the vision of the programme not only to preserve and disseminate local indigenous knowledge, but to encourage local communities to take ownership of the website and to become actively involved in the developing of a resource of local indigenous knowledge. The sharing of knowledge will strengthen social coherence within communities and enhance tolerance between cultures. A local informed society will become part of the global information highway.
For more information on the programme, visit www.ulwazi.org