Lagos and the dream of world biggest digital library
by Renn Offor
Alexandria was home to the biggest ancient library in the world. The Royal Library of Alexandria or Ancient Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The library was part of a larger research institution called the Museum of Alexandria, where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied. Famous for having been burned, thus resulting in the loss of many scrolls and books; it has become a symbol of “knowledge and culture destroyed.”
In 1974, the Egyptian government came up with the idea of reviving the old library that was destroyed, and proposed new one, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, meaning Library of Alexandria in English. It is both a commemoration of the Library of Alexandria that was lost in antiquity, and an attempt to rekindle something of the brilliance that this earlier center of study and erudition represented. Construction work began in 1995 and, after some USD $220 million had been spent, the complex was officially inaugurated on 16 October 2002.
Following their history of building great libraries, the laudable plan of which favors them was not without optimism from the citizens when the government of the North African country announced last November of its plans to build another monument, the world’s biggest digital library. Which plan it delivered on 10th January this year.
Now in West Africa, Lagos, a State in South Western Nigeria, actually acknowledging the great project of Egypt about building the world biggest digital library, set out to out-match that Egyptian legacy project when it announced recently that it was going to build the biggest digital library in the world to surpass that of Egypt! Praise-worthy as such a laudable dream may sound; a careful observer would have to be convinced that the project would be a reality, and not a farce.
This was part of the project unveiled at a special session organized by the Lagos State Ministry of education and presided over by the Deputy Governor of Lagos, Dr. Idiat Oluranti Adebule, who is also the head of the Ministry. Tagged “Strategic focus for Education in Lagos”, the project was put together to showcase all the educational projects embarked by the State by 2016.
Making the presentation, the Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos State on Education, Mr. Obafela Bank-Olemoh, said the current largest digital library in the world is located in Egypt. “Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, and Lagos is its commercial capital, so there is no reason why the largest digital library shouldn’t be in Lagos”, Bank-Olemoh said.
Notwithstanding, the building of a mega project like the one Bank-Olemoh touched is extremely capital intensive, and unless if there are other avenues the government plans to raise money to pursue the project, of course the the 2016 budget on Education which stands at N113.379b is not likely to be deployed to that end as he revealed the direction the government was going with this year’s budget in his speech.
He disclosed that more than17 per cent of the total budget for 2016 has been set aside for education, saying “For the first time, more than 17 per cent of the total budget will go to education.” Adebule in her comments said the administration will build new model secondary and primary schools to be called Ibile Schools.
The Egyptian Knowledge Bank (EKB) is a state-funded open source library made available for free to anyone with an Egyptian IP address. The digital library, which is being touted as the world’s largest—though as of right now we don’t actually know how many items are in its collection—holds costly subscriptions to a number of major publishers such as Springer Nature, National Geographic, Discovery, Elsevier, Cambridge, Oxford, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Reuters.
According to a statement from Egypt’s State Information Services (SIS), the collection is far-reaching, and made up of “scientific courses in all fields of information like electronic books and magazines, educational syllabus for schools and universities, databases, browsers, digital libraries for videos and pictures along with computer programs in the field of sports and more.”
The statement continues, declaring the ultimate goal of the EKB as to build “a civilized well-educated society through getting all kinds of human sciences available for every Egyptian citizen.” The statement reads:
This EKB is designed in a way that all factions of society with various specializations and interests and ages should benefit from, in order to develop scientific research for researchers, human knowledge for youth, promote teaching methods for teachers and develop ways to attract students to learn. The EKB is Egypt’s spring on the path of progress and global competition in the age of science and information.
Lagos is less than 20 million in population while Egypt has 90 million. The EKB was an Egyptian national project while that of Lagos is a State speculation which has no know national acknowledgment or proposed inputs as yet. So, we wait to see who will give Africa the world’s biggest digital library.