iAfrika is a digital libraries service that provides access to information about customs, clan histories and cultural phenomena like dreams, in African languages. This type of information is often unavailable in books or on the Internet but is important to people’s cultures, histories and identities. Based on McNulty Consulting’s theory of change, iAfrika has the potential to:
- Develop people’s digital skills,
- Improve literacy in various forms (reading, digital, information)
- Promote African languages and knowledge
- Support social inclusion and cohesion, and ultimately
- Contribute to the development of a knowledge society and economy in Africa
It can attract new library users, be used for community outreach and promote individual libraries, whilst harnessing the collective power of libraries in achieving their goals and increasing their social and developmental impact.
In mid-2019 the Ray Nkonyeni and Msunduzi municipal libraries partnered with us at McNulty Consulting on a six-month iAfrika pilot project. In line with government strategies to prepare citizens for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, iAfrika trains local people (called project fieldworkers) in digital skills to enable them to record their histories, customs and culture in their own language, in this case, isiZulu. This information is then moderated by a mother tongue language editor and published as newspaper-style articles on the iAfrika website, which is optimised for cell phone users. Librarians can also be trained to organise and categorise the digital information that is produced by the fieldworkers.
iAfrika training in action! Fieldworkers and librarians from the Msunduzi and Ray Nkonyeni libraries at the iAfrika training session at the Msunduzi Municipal Library, July 2019
In mid-July 2019, we held training sessions at the Msunduzi Municipality for iAfrika fieldworkers and librarians from the Msunduzi and Ray Nkonyeni municipal libraries. From August 2019 to January 2020 these fieldworkers created their own content based on three themes:
- Izithakazelo nemilando – Clan praises and histories
- Amaphupho nezincazelo – Dreams, their cultural symbolism and interpretation
- Amasiko – customs relating to coming of age, weddings etc.
Articles that are researched and written in the previous month are moderated and published in the following month. The new fieldworkers, who were trained in July, researched and wrote articles in August that were then published in September. During the six-month period McNulty Consulting supported the fieldworkers to continue writing and adding their articles to the iAfrika website.
There has been a significant improvement in the usage statistics since the two libraries joined iAfrika.
Number of visitors and articles read
Period 1 (Feb – Jul 2019): In the six-month period before the libraries joined the project, the iAfrika website had 138,281 visitors who read the ±700 articles on the website a total of 618,636 times.
Period 2 (Aug 2019 – Jan 2020): There is an exponential increase in the number of visitors to the website in Period 2 when we began publishing the articles created by the Ray Nkonyeni and Msunduzi fieldworkers. From the beginning of August 2019 to the end of January 2020, the iAfrika website had 204,807 visitors who read the ±700 articles on the website a total of 1,709,940 times.
This means that from Period 1 to Period 2 we see a:
- 48.11% increase in the number of visitors to iAfrika website
- 176.40% increase in the number of times the articles were read
- 5.83% increase in the amount of time that visitors spent on the website
- 83.47% increase in the number of articles each visitor read
Local content in local African languages
Across both periods (the beginning of Feb 2019 to the end of January 2020), iAfrika received visitors from 121 different countries. However, the vast majority of visitors (92.91%) came from the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, the regions of South Africa with the majority of isiZulu speakers. This is a clear example of libraries meeting the public’s information needs with locally relevant information in local African languages!
Theory in practice
The iAfrika project is the practical implementation of our theory of change. It focuses on developing people’s digital skills and promoting African languages and knowledge. This small, two-library pilot project has proved these aspects of the project. We trained four fieldworkers with limited digital skills who were then able to create digital content (articles) in one African language, isiZulu.
Publishing the fieldworkers’ articles has resulted in greater engagement with locally relevant digital content in African languages, produced by public libraries. The project shows what individual libraries can do but also points to the collective power of libraries and how they might work together in the digital realm to amplify their social and developmental impacts.
The other aspects of the theory of change include improving literacy, supporting social inclusion and cohesion, and contributing to the development of a knowledge society and economy in Africa. Assessing these impacts will require a larger and more detailed project that includes an impact assessment study, which we will do as the project grows.