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EIFL and UNESCO partner to bring together library directors and IT staff to learn about free software solutions for libraries
Library directors and technical staff from 14 countries across Africa met in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to attend an intensive seminar focused on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) tools for libraries.
The two-day seminar, on November 4 and 5, was organized and supported by EIFL and the UN agency, UNESCO.
FOSS library tools provide affordable alternatives to high-priced commercial software, and enable libraries to develop modern digital systems, without incurring large licensing costs. The seminar built participants' confidence and technical capacity to implement FOSS in their libraries. It was also an opportunity to learn how to advocate for FOSS deployment.
FOSS success stories from across Africa were shared at the conference. One example was work undertaken at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) where librarians piloted FOSS tools that help visually impaired students and researchers to access e-resources. The UZ project has sparked wide national interest in Zimbabwe, and has been nominated for a United Nations award.
Several participants remarked that they really liked the format of the seminar, "Combining Library Directors and FOSS Librarians was a great idea." noted the delegate from Ghana.
Many expressed appreciation at being introduced to such a variety of tools. One participant noted, "It has been absolutely useful. I have gained knowledge of a wide range of FOSS solutions available, their features, advantages, and requirements for application. Particularly SubjectsPlus, OpenBiblio and DSpace."
The delegate from Ghana noted that, "the session on 'Transitioning from Windows to Linux' by Robin Isard was totally inspirational. Robin showed how he moved from knowing nothing in Linux to mastering it in 2 years. My confidence towards learning has been totally boosted."
Finally, it was nicely summed up by the delegate from Mali, "the best lesson is that the difficulties I meet in my country are common. Some colleagues were able to find solutions. I met colleagues that are willing to support and help me."
There was clearly a renewed energy in the room at the end of the conference. Participants appreciated learning about new tools and also having the opportunity to learn from and talk with their colleagues about their projects and plans. In addition, each participant took home a USB drive with all the presentations and, where possible, the installation files for the FOSS tools discussed, including the AccessApps, a suite of 60 FOSS disability tools.