Project Focuses on Delivering Digital Books to Underserved African Communities

The invention of the printing press in 1436 increased access to books and facilitated the spread of knowledge unlike anything before it in human history. Today, however, many useful books sit idly on shelves largely out of reach of the world’s poor. In rural Africa, the problem is particularly severe. Great distances make the transport of heavy books expensive. The storage of large quantities of books becomes problematic when enclosed spaces are better used for housing or as classrooms. The harsh climate means that, over time, many books eventually become delicate and unusable. The Nzega Digital Library Initiative (NDLI), however, is seeking to change this using technology. The NDLI is being carried out in the town of Nzega in Tanzania where there are few schools and even fewer teachers. The largest libraries there contain less than a hundred books.

The NDLI has its roots in the Books for Nzega Project started in 2004 by Dr. Hamisi Kigwangalla, a local medical doctor turned politician. The original Books for Nzega Project focused on delivering donated physical books to local schools. However, the transportation and storage of these books proved to be costly for donors and recipients. The NDLI, by contrast, will focus on distributing books in digital formats, which can be done at minimal cost. With the increasing ubiquity of inexpensive smartphones and tablet-like devices in Tanzania, the opportunity exists to exploit these tools for book distribution.

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