Wikipedia defines Digital Library as, "a special library with a collection of digital objects that can include text, visual material, audio material, video material, stored as electronic media formats (as opposed to print, or other media), along with means for organizing, storing, and retrieving the files and media contained in the library collection."
Traditional libraries service largely printed materials, which are expensive and bulky; and exponential advance in information technologies is forcing libraries to redesign their services to satisfy the dynamic service platform and information needs of users.
As one of the main features of digital libraries is efficient delivery of information (knowledge) economically to all users, it (potentially) provides a huge and paramount benefit to developing countries.
"Digital library in Ethiopia is at a pilot stage. It has been at play for at least 10 years, albeit in a teeter-totter manner as it was donors-driven and when the money ran out, the work stops", says Fisseha Yitagesu, Director of Science, Technology and Information Center.
The Center - which is setup with the aim of collecting and organizing science and technology information and disseminate them to the public, industries and research institutes by adding value to them - have been operational for four years now. And one of the projects incubated by the Center in this regard is the development of a national digital library.
With its vision of building up the national digital library as a national knowledge asset and a key driving force for education, research, innovation, and knowledge economy, the Center is expecting that the initiative will promote the research activities in our country.
In a sense of being effective and cost benefit, Fisseha believes that there is no choice but to cooperate in procuring books and scientific and research journals through a single center, and make them available to every universities, scholars and students and wide range of community in Ethiopia. "And the goal is to make the national digital library a platform to such end." He also adds that the platform provides opportunities to attend issues like plagiarism, and reduce
duplication of works.
According to him, the project is in an experiment phase, where it has already more than 1.2 contents available to be accessed and downloaded. The plan is to initiate a meeting with the relevant stakeholders (universities et al.) to flash out the project with them, and after a month, the project will be officially launched, he adds.
Till then, the project will be platformed through two strategies, namely through the use of the Ministry of Education's 'Education and Research Network (EthERNet)' - a local network that link universities without the need of internet access, and through a mobile app. "To this end, we are working with most of them, including the Ministry of Education, library consortium to make books, journals be accessible to them. Knowledge should be added and disseminated, and our goal is to build a huge collection and create interlink between various universities."
In addition to collecting, digitized and uploading hard copy resources and materials from 33 universities, the library will also collect and digitize rare collections of materials from long aged libraries museums and archives.
"We have seen many digital libraries in Africa, and I have to say that our start is impressive given that it is a feat to collect 1.2 million contents in this time frame" the Director said, and shares his belief that if it can be maintained and build on it, "we will have one of the continent's top digital libraries".
According to Nardos Girma, the digital library brings many benefits to a developing country like Ethiopia. As to her, it will help not only in making materials, sources, references and high-quality networked information resources accessible to researchers involved in research and development activities in the country, but it also helps in providing value added science and technology information and in solving lack of reading materials and resources.
She also points out to the opportunities to be exploited to establish a national digital library, such as latecomers advantages, and the existence of pre-established digital libraries in different universities, which she said will help to get well organized books and research materials.
There are of course challenges that loom on the project involving issues like Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), control over information by copyright holder, technological obsolescence of formats, devices and medium, among others.
All in all, digital libraries are seen as the hope for developing countries in their struggle to access scientific and academic publications, despite the fact that it is a real challenge for them. Therefore, it is imperative for Ethiopia, to mature the already works done to setup a national digital library, given its potential help for the country, by creating its own dedicated team and employing a consistent and sustainable book collection, metadata extraction and uploading methods.