Government in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will install computers and internet services in local libraries in a joint project launched at the Gaborone public library on Friday.
The advocacy and outreach specialist for African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnership (ACHAP), Tshepo Maswabi said the project was aimed at bridging the digital gap.
She said the programme is going to position libraries as necessary tools for access to e-government services.
During the launch, officials from the Department of Information and Technology spoke about government services which are available online. "Our government is intending to transform libraries into information resource centers," Maswabi asserted.
She said the government has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to bring free computer and internet access to every Motswana. The intention is that every library in the country should have computers and internet facilities.
Maswabi said after installing the computers, they will offer basic ICT training to the librarians who will in turn impart the skills to communities. The idea is to train 648 library workers who would impart the skills to 40,000 community members. She said they have found that the library staff are enthusiastic about their training.
The ACHAP official said the project to install computers started last year. So far, she said, they have equipped 18 libraries throughout the country.
During the first year, the project mostly covered libraries in the urban areas and major rural centers. Currently there are 98 libraries and the project is targeting 78.
Maswabi said out of the 98 libraries, 69 are reading rooms which are found in the rural areas.
She said the reading rooms do not have good structures. However, Maswabi reveled that they intend equipping 42 libraries that are used as reading rooms. She further noted that before the computerisation project commenced, a pilot project was conducted.
Maswabi said they install a maximum of eight computers in a library depending on its size. The Sesigo project is going to run for four years. When this period elapses, the project will be taken over by the Botswana National Library Service (BNLS).
Maswabi revealed that with the current arrangement the government is responsible for the maintenance costs of the computers as well as the recurrent costs of the equipment. The Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation provides both hardware and software. The foundation is also responsible for the training.
Maswabi said since the project was incepted, they have not faced many challenges. Of course, she said, there have been areas where there is no internet network.
Meanwhile, Gaborone deputy Mayor, Haskins Nkayigwa noted that access to computers and internet in libraries is the key factor in closing information gaps that create or reinforce inequalities.
He said it was through this backdrop that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation approached government and ACHAP for a partnership aimed at changing people's lives. "The project was necessary because people who lack access to information and communications technologies (ICT) are able to take advantage of the many social and economic benefits that can be gained through improved information and communication.
Many inequalities arise from and are exacerbated by lack of access to useful information that could support better education, improved health, increased income and social capital formation thereby enabling improvement of people's lives in transitioning and developing countries like Botswana."
He enumerated the main goals of the project as allowing meaningful access to computers and internet especially by communities that might otherwise have missed on the benefits of modern ICTs and information services. Secondly, it aims to transform public libraries and allow them to provide a full range of information services and have a measurable positive impact on the lives of users both socially and economically.
Nkayigwa said the project will avail a platform where all can access ICT services at no cost.
He said the project's vision of success is "Botswana which has been transformed into an information society with effective modern public libraries that offer free access to computer and for all citizens.
"A strong public library system and improved service access to information are integral to this transformation, and as such they significantly contribute towards the attainment of the country's socio-economic goals."
Some of the objectives of the project are to position libraries as agents of change for the individuals and communities they service.
The project is also aimed at satisfying the country's information needs and ensure useful information is available to improve their quality of life, in areas such as health, agriculture, education and e-government.
The deputy mayor said the Sesigo project goes hand in hand with the BNLS vision of being a world class library and information service provider and contributing to the development of an informed, educated and empowered nation.