The Ulwazi Programme

The Ulwazi Programme is a library project of the eThekwini Municipality in Durban. It is based on the idea that access to a digital knowledge resource of local relevance facilitates the growth of digital and information literacy skills, and the preservation of local knowledge.The extent to which information requirements are met by the Internet throughout the world is reflected in the high usage statistics of developed countries. The global trend of using the Internet for the preservation and dissemination of information poses problems for the African information community, which, due to the small amount of local, African content on the Internet, is at a major disadvantage in the current knowledge economy.

The Ulwazi Programme has been established to bridge this gap in the communities served by the eThekwini Municipal Library.  The programme is based on a model whereby an online  and collaborative local knowledge resource is established as an integral part of local Public Library and Information Services. Community participation ensures the collection, recording, preservation and sharing of local knowledge while the library focuses on custodianship of the information resource, providing database management, training and support.

The eThekwini Municipal Library wanted to establish a system through which local communities could manage their own knowledge with the Library acting as a custodian. The system had to be able to handle different media and be intuitive to use.  The community also needed to be trained in the collection and management processes required to run a project of this kind.

The MediaWiki open-source framework was chosen to run the knowledge management side of the project. MediaWiki is the software used by Wikipedia. It allows a community of users to independently add and edit content and also has built in tools to keep track of changes made.

Firstly, we commissioned Dominic Strauss from Tokyo Studio to design a logo and icons for the programme to give it a distinct identity.  We then created a website to provide information on the programme and a blog to publish news and updates. We developed the main MediaWiki-based knowledge management database, dividing the information into the three broad categories of Culture, Environment and History. Using our contacts in the cultural and heritage sectors in Durban, we sourced content to seed the database.

We then created training material on managing the Wiki and using the  audio-visual equipment required to collect oral histories and other local knowledge.  Together with systems librarian, Betsie Greyling, we interviewed and hired community fieldworkers who were trained to collect local histories and culture from their communities and load them into the database. They were encouraged to pass these skills on to other interested members of their communities. Lastly, we set up social media accounts on Flickr and Twitter to promote the programme and a channel on Vimeo to host the programme’s oral history videos.

The pilot project was a huge success with the Head of the eThekwini Libraries & Heritage Department rolling out the programme to all libraries in Durban. The Ulwazi Programme is now an official project of the eThekwini Municipality.