The African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships (ACAHAP), together with the Ministry of Youth Sport and Culture (MYSC) through the Botswana National Libraries (BNLS) are launching an ambitious program to transform Botswana public libraries through a new program dubbed Sesigo.
The Sesigo program is aimed at bringing about fundamental changes in the service offering and technology endowment of libraries. Sesigo avails a platform where all can access ICT services at public libraries for free.
The program will be funded by the government of Botswana and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Botswana government has committed US $6.5 million (P45.5 million) for library building, maintenance and upgrades and recurrent internet charges towards the project while the foundation has awarded a US $4.75 million (P33.25 million) grant to Sesigo.
The money will be used to provide free access to computers and the internet in public libraries and to train library staff and communities on how to use the new technology.
The Microsoft Corporation also is donating software costing more than US $ 1 million (P 7 million) for use in all the library computers and servers.
The project will cover 78 of the already 98 existing public libraries in the country, reaching the traditional branch libraries in towns and major villages, through median community libraries to the smallest village reading rooms.
Gaorere Kgotla, the Acting Director of the BNLS, said that the task of transforming Botswana society into an information society is a mammoth task adding that it is, however, interesting and is also ‘doable’.
“It is doable because a great deal has been taken into account to ensure a smooth and rapid transition for the computers and internet access which has been proven worldwide┬áto bring quick results.”
She continued saying that, “Our libraries will no longer be seen as an extension of the primary or secondary schools since the older generation will also find a place or something to do in a library.”
Kgotla said that the training that will come with the project for both the communities and the librarians will go a long way in making an impact in the profession.
“Close to half of the total numbers of our local librarians are not trained in the field; this, in effect, renders the service provision to be of compromised quality,” she said.
She was, however, grateful that at least 648 librarians will be trained for the project.
The Deputy Director of the Global Libraries’ Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Debora Jacobs, said that the project would have not materialised without the MYSC.
“We at the Bill and Melinda Gets Foundation believe in public libraries because it is through libraries that individual’s lives are made better,” she said.
Jacobs said that the digital divide keeps getting worse and not better and the project should prove important as a means to empower individuals technologically and inform them.
“Our selection for implementing the project is country based. We select a country based on its needs and readiness. Botswana is the 1st country we chose in Africa because we believe the country can be a leading example for other countries,” she said.
The Deputy Permanent Secretary in the MYSC, Mothusi┬á Nkgowe, remarked that a recent study by the Department of Library and Information studies at the University of Botswana concluded that libraries in Botswana do not satisfy the needs of both their users and potential users, highlighting that the project had come at a time it was needed most.