UMass World Librarians Project Launches Initiative in Kenya

Left to right: Wachira Warukira, founder and executive of Waruks Art; Charles Schweik, professor of public policy and environmental conservation; Daniel Patrick Muigai of Waruks Art; Verah Owiti of Sustainable Rural Initiatives; Ezekiel Chemwor of Banda Primary School; and Gladys Nyambura of Kangubiri Girls High School
Left to right: Wachira Warukira, founder and executive of Waruks Art; Charles Schweik, professor of public policy and environmental conservation; Daniel Patrick Muigai of Waruks Art; Verah Owiti of Sustainable Rural Initiatives; Ezekiel Chemwor of Banda Primary School; and Gladys Nyambura of Kangubiri Girls High School
Students at Banda Primary School work with a Wi-Fi device provided by World Librarians.
Students at Banda Primary School work with a Wi-Fi device provided by World Librarians.

The UMass World Librarians project, which brings educational resources to students and teachers in under-resourced areas in Malawi, is expanding to other African countries.

This comes after Charles M. Schweik, professor in the School of Public Policy and the department of environmental conservation, recently spoke about the project at the Association for Research on Civil Society in Africa (AROCSA) conference in Nairobi. After his presentation, he was approached by numerous people interested in expanding the project into countries including Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, and Rwanda. 

The expansion is already underway, with a new World Librarians Kenya chapter formed before the end of the conference. Schweik sent the group home with a Wi-Fi device he’d brought to the conference, which Ezekiel Chemwor, a primary school teacher, has already put to use in his classroom.

Schweik cofounded World Librarians in 2016 with UMass librarian Jeremy Smith; Carl Meyer, cofounder of ShiftIT, an education organization in Malawi; and UMass students Pammy Eisner, Danielle Bermingham, Pempho Chinkondenji, Meghan Cross, Brittany Leland, Scott McCullough, and Promise McHenga. 

The project works with twenty schools and libraries in Malawi, providing them with portable servers and Wi-Fi hotspot devices loaded with open-access educational resources that can be used by students and teachers in solar-powered computer labs. In addition, teachers and librarians can request specific information by sending a message to World Librarians via Twitter. 

“I knew, based on our Malawi experience, that we had made an important innovation in the invention of the World Librarian social-technical system and workflow, but I was frankly overwhelmed by the positive response I received to the project,” Schweik said. “An important reason for the positive reaction is that we have invented a system that supports what teachers or library patrons without access to the internet in the Global South want, rather than a system where we in the Global North choose what they should read or watch or listen to. That message resonated greatly with the audience.”

 Another reason for the positive reaction, Schweik added, is the affordability of the system.