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The Ulwazi Programme was established in 2008 as the first digital library in South Africa aimed at collecting and sharing indigenous knowledge and local history and culture. The brainchild of former Senior Librarian, Betsie Greyling, the programme forms part of eThekwini Municipality’s Libraries and Heritage Department and aims to address the needs of the previously under-represented majority by providing a portal for local contemporary histories and culture. According to the latest figures published (Internet World Stats 2012) 79% of the population in North America use the Internet versus 16% penetration in Africa. Apart from the problem of accessibility, local content on the Web is also very low because of a lack of capacity to record, transfer and disseminate information.

How Does It Work?

Early Indian Traders
The Ulwazi Programme collects and shares local knowledge and histories in the form of a 'wiki', a website designed to enable contributions and modifications from multiple users. Local knowledge is recorded on the wiki by fieldworkers who are employed by the programme. The fieldworkers have strong ties to their communities, and have been trained in recording audio and visual material, as well as in basic writing and computer skills necessary for the uploading of stories to the wiki. In addition to the preservation and dissemination of local knowledge, the Ulwazi Programme also has a strong focus on skills development.

As the website can be edited by multiple users it has somewhat of an unusual structure. When you look at this page, for example, you will notice that there are two tabs: one for the content as it’s been published and one for the ‘source’ of the content, which can be added to and revised by people who are registered ‘users’, in this case the fieldworkers.

When you click on the different tabs you may also notice that the content is not laid out as it is on most websites. The structure of the information is similar to how it would it appear in a library cataloging system, such as the Dewey Decimal System. Content is arranged by categories and subcategories, with links to stories or ‘pages’ for each category, as well as links to any audio visual material relating to the particular category. The website in essence acts as a catalogue of sorts for different topics relating to local knowledge and histories.