I recently spoke with Cliff Missen, founder of WiderNet about his non-profit organization and the services it provides. WiderNet began in 2000 with the goal of improving digital communications in developing countries. WiderNet distributes digital library and research materials through the eGranary Digital Library, trains computer technicians, advises decision-makers and administrators, provides cutting-edge research on information technology for the developing world, and donates computer equipment to partner institutions.
The eGranary Digital Library provides a solution to low bandwidth and lack of Internet connection by offering a professionally curated collection of Internet sites via a hard drive that can be loaded on a local server or stand-alone machine and accessed off-line by researches and scholars. It is essentially providing high-quality Internet resources selected and organized by librarians, educators, and experts without the need for a live Internet connection. Topics covered include: mathematics, computer science, engineering, medicine, nursing, public health, language dictionaries, education, social sciences, agriculture, biology, chemistry, literature, music, and art.
Some of the resources included on the eGranary Digital Library include included all of Wikipedia and other reference materials, all of Khan Academy educational videos, the entire Project Gutenberg library, all of the MIT OpenCourseWare courses, the high school math and science video lessons from MIT BLOSSOMS, portions of the World Bank web site and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site, over 50000 books, 150 academic and medical journals, over 55 educational software programs, and over 80 computer software applications.
The eGranary server also contains a community information platform with built-in web server and web site creation software like MySQL, PHP, and Moodle so that people can also create own web sites. Also included are tutorials to learn web site development. With the eGranary Digital Library, a teacher could create web sites for classes that include links to eGranary resources in addition to links to local resources.
How does the eGranary Digital Library work? WiderNet offers several options. The most popular option, the eGranary Server, is called the Internet in a Box™ solution. It is designed for institutions that wish to make the eGranary Digital Library available to users on a pre-existing local network or as a stand-alone unit. It ships with an Intel Dual Core eGranary Appliance Server; the eGranary Digital Library on a 4TB hard drive; proxy server, search and update-processing software to install on the host computer; email/web/phone-based technical support; free operating system upgrades via FTP; and antivirus software. For locations without reliable power, WiderNet offers a similar 12-volt, battery powerable eGranary Server. It is a less powerful system, but will serve hundreds of users and run on a standard uninterruptable power supply for hours. The WiderNet web site lists several other options as well.
There are over 1200 eGranary installations worldwide. Countries with the largest number of installations include Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and 11 countries have field associates that promote and support eGranary. Some institutions have purchased multiple eGranary Digital Libraries that run on separate local area networks. Satisfaction with the eGranary solution can be seen in the number of repeat customers – 80% of installations in last 2 years have been done by people who had already installed an eGranary Digital Library.
In addition to the eGranary, WiderNet has a team of librarians who take requests from user in the field for projects. They then create special collections to meet those needs or work with eGranary sites to co-create sites. These special collections often reside on flash drives that are easy to distribute and copy. Recent examples include a collection for the “Girls Can Code” (GCC) program in Ethiopia and a collection of Ebola-related information.
WiderNet always tries to get local content in different topic areas because it is important for users to see themselves and their community reflected in the collections and resources.
For ILN members interested in more information about eGranary installations in their regions can consult WiderNet’s map of installations to see if they can visit one located near them. WiderNet has created a wonderful short animated video describing the eGranary services and more information is also available on the WiderNet website.
Information professionals and educators interested in contributing local and regional content to the eGranary can send suggested resources to firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to suggesting resources, assistance is appreciated in helping to request permission to use information on web sites and with cataloging resources.
– Jacqueline Solis, ILN Ambassador to the US.