Building “future libraries” in Africa with UNESCO and CERN

CERN-UNESCO School on Digital Libraries brings librarians and IT specialists to Ghana for hands-on learning with Elsevier

Participants and teachers ride from the hotel to the university in Kumasi, Ghana, early in the morning. (Photo by Kenneth Hole)

Many of the 30 attendees of the CERN-UNESCO School of Digital Libraries traveled long days to reach the city of Kumasi in Ghana. University librarians and their IT information specialists from Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi, the Seychelles and South Africa gathered for an intense training week in November at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi with a focus on building a “digital library of the future.”

The banner outside of the Premphe II Library. (Photo by Charon Duermeijer)

This was the fourth school organized under the auspices of CERN and UNESCO. The purpose of the school is to deepen participants’ understanding of digital libraries, expose them to new trends in scientific publishing and emphasize a set of principles related to open science, such as open access, information sharing and research data management. The overall aim is to increase the impact of African researchers’ work by making it discoverable across the Internet.

The program benefits from an established collaboration with the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the African Digital Library Support Network (ADLASN), which were instrumental in identifying the 100+ applicants who applied for the 15 places for international participants.

The presentations were given by information professionals for leading international organizations, including CERN, the publishing industry represented by Elsevier, and Tind Technologies for the library IT business. In addition, several of the participants provided updates on projects running in their respective institutions and countries.

Many discussions and hands-on training sessions were devoted to building national or local repositories. As Patrick Sekikome, Academic Librarian at Makerere University in Uganda, explained in his country presentation: “We want to build a repository to support international intercultural understanding, expand the volume and variety of cultural content, to provide resources for the general public and narrow the information gap.” Subsequent discussions revealed that this ambition comes with a great challenge, which most attendees said they experienced in their countries as well: the bandwidth of the internet remains a problem.

Samuel Nikoi, Librarian, KNUST, and Jens Vigen, Librarian, CERN (Photo by Charon Duermeijer)With lectures and practical tutorials, presenters covered topics such as an overview of open software solutions for operation of digital libraries, web technologies and APIs, cataloging formats, persistent identifier systems, available information resources, open access principles, operation of institutional repositories and discussions on the opportunities for developing countries.

Elsevier lectures involved sharing thoughts and ideas from around the world on how librarians support their researchers. We discussed research data management, responsible sharing, publishing ethics, metrics, bringing science to society, and sustainability.

The wide variety of topics was welcomed by an energetic audience. Often very tasty coffee breaks had to be shortened or postponed as numerous good questions and enquiries were posed during and after the lectures.

Some of the attendees in front of the Manhiyia Archives in Kumasi, Ghana (Photo by Charon Duermeijer)

The training week certainly did not go un-noticed. The Ghanaian Times reported on the event, quoting KNUST Vice-Chancellor Kwesi Obiri Danso’s opening remarks: “The development of digital libraries holds great potential for breaking down information barriers and promoting access to virtual knowledge collections that connect communities across different cultures.”

An incredibly strong and warm network was formed among the participants, ensuring ongoing information sharing and learning.

Participants at the opening ceremony, which also included many of the Premphe II Library staff. (Photo: KNUST)

“This has been a wonderful experience for me, and am thrilled at the idea of putting all the knowledge acquired to setting up a repository at my organization,” wrote Tamuno B. Johnnie, librarian/IT specialist at the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission.

In addition to the training itself, the CERN-UNESCO effort brings colleagues, challenged with the same issues, together and establishes networks that hopefully will last for many years. Back home, delegations report back to the rest of the group. i.e. “The South African crew is safely back home and looking forward to continued interaction with all the colleagues.” According to Jens Vigen: The week in Kumasi, both for participants and lecturers, has certainly created new links and changed our vision. And this is just a start; in June 2017 a smaller group will be invited to Geneva for a three weeks in-depth training.

The CERN-UNESCO School for Digital Libraries is a project under The CERN & Society Foundation CERN & Society project, and the 2016 School in Ghana was made possible by a generous donation of Margarita Louis-Dreyfus.


UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was created in 1945 to respond to the firm belief of nations, forged by two world wars in less than a generation, that political and economic agreements are not enough to build a lasting peace. Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.

UNESCO strives to build networks among nations that enable this kind of solidarity, by:

  • Mobilizing for education: so that every child, boy or girl, has access to quality education as a fundamental human right and as a prerequisite for human development.
  • Building intercultural understanding: through protection of heritage and support for cultural diversity. UNESCO created the idea of World Heritage to protect sites of outstanding universal value.
  • Pursuing scientific cooperation: such as early warning systems for tsunamis or trans-boundary water management agreements, to strengthen ties between nations and societies.
  • Protecting freedom of expression: an essential condition for democracy, development and human dignity.

Source: UNESCO


CERN: the European Organization for Nuclear Research is the world's leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva. Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe's first joint ventures and now has 22 member states. You can find more information about how CERN is governed and organised here.

CERN operates the global SCOAP3 partnership, a consortium of over 2500 libraries, research organizations and funding agencies in over 44 countries, which has converted to Open Access 10 journals in High-Energy Physics.


KNUST: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology is in Kumasi, Ghana. KNUST’s vision is to be globally recognized as the Premier Centre of excellence in Africa for teaching in Science and Technology for development; producing high-caliber graduates with knowledge and expertise to support the industrial and socio-economic development of Ghana and Africa.

In summary, the vision can be stated as "Advancing knowledge in Science and Technology for sustainable development in Africa." Read more.


Written by

Jens Vigen

Written by

Jens Vigen

Jens Vigen is head librarian at CERN in Geneva, where he has been working for more than 20 years. He has been involved in the CERN-UNESCO Schools on Digital Libraries since the program started in 2009.
Written by

Charon Duermeijer, PhD

Written by

Charon Duermeijer, PhD

Dr. Charon Duermeijer is Senior Director of Academic Customer Engagement, Research Solutions, at Elsevier, responsible for outreach with key academic stakeholders around the world to understand their needs and ambitions and explore how Elsevier can help achieve them. She joined Elsevier in 2000 and held various roles in Publishing. In her most recent role as Publishing Director, she was responsible for the global strategic direction and development of the Physics journal business unit, with more than 80 journals.

Before joining Elsevier, Charon worked for Kluwer Academic Publishers. In 1999, she finished her PhD in Geophysics at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Earlier she worked as a geologist for Goldfields of South Africa.

She has a strong interest in science communication and a passion for education and knowledge sharing. In 2015, she was a volunteer for Elsevier’s Publishers Without Borders program in Tanzania, supporting Tanzania to become a nation where science and scientific publishing are embedded in the universities and research institutions. She is based in Amsterdam.
Written by

Ingrid van de Stadt

Written by

Ingrid van de Stadt

Ingrid van de Stadt is the Regional Marketing Director at Elsevier for Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Within this region, she is responsible for strategic marketing development and customer relations.

She has a master’s degree in biology and has been with Elsevier for over 20 years, where she has held positions in publishing, marketing and sales.

Before joining Elsevier, she was a researcher for a biotechnology company in New York.


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