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iAfrika Pilot Project Report

iAfrika is a digital libraries service that provides access to cultural and historical information in African languages. This type of information is often unavailable in books or on the web but is important to people’s cultures, histories and identities. Based on iAfrika Digital’s theory of change, iAfrika has the potential to: 

  • Develop people’s digital skills
  • Improve literacy in various forms (reading, digital, information, cultural)
  • Promote African languages and knowledge 
  • Support social inclusion and cohesion, and
  • 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 impacts.  

In mid-2019 the Ray Nkonyeni and Msunduzi municipal libraries partnered with iAfrika Digital on a six-month iAfrika pilot project. In line with government strategies to promote digital skills, we used Diji to train local people (named fieldworkers) to record their histories, customs and culture in their mother tongue (in this case the Zulu language). Their contributions were then moderated by a mother tongue language editor and published on the iAfrika website.

iAfrika training in action! Fieldworkers and librarians from the Msunduzi and Ray Nkonyeni libraries at the iAfrika training session at the Msunduzi Municipal Library

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, following which these fieldworkers created their own content, from August 2019 to January 2020.

Fieldworker Articles

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 iAfrika Digital supported the fieldworkers to continue writing and adding their articles to the iAfrika website. 

Usage Statistics

There was 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 a considerable 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 158,451 visitors who read the ±700 articles on the website a total of 914,565 times.

This means that from Period 1 to Period 2 we see a 14.58% increase in the number of visitors to iAfrika website and a 47.83% increase in the number of times they read the articles.

Local content in local African languages  

Across both periods (Feb 2019 to Jan 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 Zulu speakers. This is a clear example of libraries meeting the public’s information needs with locally relevant information in local African languages!

Map showing concentration of visitors to the iAfrika website in South Africa (Jun – Nov 2019). The provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, which have many Zulu speakers, show the most visitors.

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, proven by this small, two-library pilot project. We trained four fieldworkers with limited digital skills who were then able to create digital articles Zulu. 

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.  

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