Nigerian offline library opens access to all

An ambitious offline project plans to give millions of students in the developing world access to online resources.

    More than 110 million people in Nigeria are still not connected to the internet largely because of poor infrastructure and a lack of fibre and mobile networks make it expensive and unreliable.

    But now an ambitious project aims to give millions of students in the country access to a vast library of digital content.

    But rather than depending on an internet connection to access it, the project has developed the resource for offline viewing.

    The eGranary Digital Library - also known as The Internet in a Box - has been developed by a US-based non-profit called the WiderNet Project.

    "It gives me up-to-date information unlike the normal library, where textbooks sometimes are outdated," Abubakar Mohammed, a final year law student at Ahmadu Bello University, told Al Jazeera.

    "It gives me an opportunity to access libraries not only in Nigeria but libraries outside."

    The project puts millions of digital documents, including websites, multimedia and academic texts, onto a server in a school or university.

    This information is then available to local users at no cost, even when the internet goes down.

    For Zainab Ismail, an Islamic law student, the project means she no longer needs to visit the university book library.

    "[I find] anything I search for," says  Ismail. "It is fast and works even without a connection. It helps me a lot before and after classes."

    Students are not the only ones to use the service, which is viewed as especially cost-effective at a time when funding for education has been cut.

    "Lecturers use it to update themselves, to conduct research, writing journals and their projects," says Ibrahim Barkindo, a teacher at Ahmadu Bello University.

    "Sometimes we read onscreen; sometimes we save some of the pages and print them for later use."

    Other academics are proving slow to adopt the new technology, preferring the traditional library for their research.

    "There are some categories of scholars that are really not too comfortable or not technology-savvy," Abdullahi Musa Ibrahim, the university librarian, says.

    "Those scholars would rather touch the books, flip the pages and they feel much more comfortable."

    The eGranary project also lets readers upload and edit local material, allowing them to create and edit their own websites, which are stored locally.

    The founders are also working in expanding access by putting the library onto a small chip.

    This will allow it to be taken anywhere and is likely to further boost its popularity.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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