Digital technology is the future of the libraries! An interview

Library Tracker ©Library Tracker

In 2020, Library Aid Africa started to develop the web-based application Library Tracker in partnership with the Goethe-Institut Nigeria. Below is an interview with Damilare Oyedele that sheds some light on this ongoing project.

What is Library Tracker?
Library Tracker is a web application that collates and provides essential information about libraries, such as location, opening hours, services, capacity, and available resources. As the first of its kind, we decided to pilot this project across six states in Nigeria to document learnings for a full-scale process.

How did you come up with the idea for the app? Why is it important?
I was trying to find a library close to me and I could not find any information online. At that moment, it occurred to me that we needed a platform that provides easily accessible information about libraries, the services they offer, and, most importantly, their location.

For me, the most vital component of this project is that we are redefining the future of libraries by using digital technology to connect libraries with existing and potential users. By providing detailed information about libraries and the services they offer; it brings libraries closer to the people and makes libraries accessible to everyone. From the comfort of your home, you can search for libraries that are close to you. This will increase the number of visitors to libraries. It will bridge the communication gap between libraries and the general public. This app will also help libraries to improve their user experience.  Libraries aren’t for nerds. They are for everyone.

In addition, we hope that the data about user experience, available resources, infrastructure, and capacity can be used to engage policy makers and other stakeholders to improve the library sector and to position libraries as strategic partners for development. In fact, the Library Tracker platform has been created to serve as a data bank that provides accurate details about the state of libraries in the country.

Which steps have you taken in developing the app so far?
The preliminary stages of the app development were quite intense as we needed to do a lot of research to understand how one develops and designs an app.

The first thing we did was to develop a sketch of what we wanted the app to do and how it should do it. We shared the sketch with our tech partner, Motionwares Digital Solutions. They gave us insights into the technical feasibility of our ideas. Together, we drafted an app development plan. This plan included the UI/UX design of the platform.

In the second step, a team of programmers developed the platform at Motionwares Digital Solutions. This process has taught us that it is incredibly important to work with professional partners who are experts in their field and know how to conceptualize and develop digital platforms.

From the onset, we also have been very much aware of the need to develop the app collectively. So, we had a series of virtual consultative meetings with library stakeholders, during which we shared the design and received feedback for improvements. This process really shaped the final version of the app’s design. We are documenting the process and the feedback so far has been encouraging and open more possibilities in terms of skills and capacity needed for libraries to use the platform. Through our Library Tracker Ambassadors in the pilot locations, we discovered that libraries need capacity on digital tools and how to use them— this brought up the monthly webinars we started in August called Library Tracker webinar session where we educate librarians on digital tools, how to use these tools to improve library services delivery. We have received amazing feedbacks from participants who have now signed up on Library Tracker to make their libraries visible and accessible to existing and potential library users.

How does the app work?
The app is web-based. That means, you need internet connection and a web browser to access it and you can also install the app on your phone or computer through your web-browser.
On the app, there is a search area where you can type in your search criteria such as library name and location. You click on 'search' and the result page will display libraries based on your search.
Two categories of people are responsible for uploading information on the app. These are the library administrators and a volunteer data collating officers
Library administrators are library staffs who sign up on the app. They upload and manage their library information on the platform.

We adopted citizen engagement approaches as volunteer data collating officers who upload and maintain library information in hard-to-reach communities where there are no librarians. The volunteers in those locations perform the roles of administrators. They handle the uploading and updating the information of libraries in their location.

The uploaded information goes through a vetting process. Once the information is approved, it becomes available to the general public on the Library Tracker platform. These approaches will enable us to capture as many libraries as we can and #LeaveNoLibraryBehind

To add up to my point on this, the Library Tracker platform will create a new open-source of data to identify areas of improvement and growth for library development in African communities. Through this, informed decisions can be made through advocacy and programming that will further position libraries as major stakeholders for societal development.

How do libraries, communities, and other stakeholders benefit from this project?
Through Library Tracker, libraries gain increased exposure and have real time data. The exposure happens when users look for libraries in their areas. Some of the users might be visiting a location and not know where the libraries are. Others could be locals who have never been to a library. Libraries can use data from the app to improve user experience. This will translate into more visits to the library.
The app can boost tourism for communities. We expect avid readers to search out libraries in places they visit.

Stakeholders can use the app to renew discussion on how digital technologies can provide the average library experiences. Libraries are more than just books resting on bookshelves. There is so much that can be achieved through digital technologies. This is a significant niche Library Tracker has identified through the technology Library Aid Africa, and Goethe-Institut have introduced to the library space in Africa.

What is the goal of the project and what are your plans of the future?
Library Tracker exists to connect libraries with existing and potential users. It bridges the gap between libraries and their communities through digital technology.
Our future plan is to make the app the one-stop open-source library data and information platform in Africa by the end of 2025.  We started with six Nigerian states (Lagos, Kano, Kwara, Cross River, Anambra, and Bauchi) plus the FCT.

Most of Nigeria is being gradually covered and the platform pushed to other African countries. Learn more and engage here.