Ever since its establishment in 1964, Njala University in Sierra Leone has taken steps towards advancement in learning and the improvement of the health and general welfare of the population. One of these steps includes a long-standing academic partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Together, these two institutions have provided the opportunity for faculty and graduate students from both schools to present their research and engage in an exchange of ideas and knowledge.
The relationship between these two schools has faced a number of challenges, including a ten-year civil war (1991-2002) and an Ebola epidemic (2014) in Sierra Leone. One of the casualties of these crises at Njala was the loss of the entire library collection of the university. Njala and UIUC re-established their academic partnership in 2009, and have recently been discussing how the University of Illinois library can be involved in supporting the program. Through these talks, Veterinary Medicine Librarian at UIUC, Erin Kerby, volunteered to go to Njala and conduct a needs-assessment of the library system. The purpose was to go to Njala to investigate, explore, and ask questions to gain a sense of where things stand with the library at this time. Ultimately, she would use this information to brainstorm strategies to move forward and build upon the infrastructure that Njala has now.
In May of 2016, Erin Kerby joined a group from UIUC in a trip to Njala. She found that the people she worked with at Njala were very receptive to her ideas and interested in working with her to implement strategies to benefit the library. One of the largest challenges she noted was that the scarcity of funding and resources currently available to the library. Importantly, however, Njala is in the process of developing a high speed internet infrastructure, with the potential to increase access to a significant volume of online resources.
Specifically, the library at Sierra Leone can focus on implementing online resource information in addition to trying to rebuild their print collection. Furthermore, the library at Sierra Leone currently has plenty of staff with strong leadership skills, and the Illinois library can provide online resources to further develop the skills of the librarians and staff. In addition to online resources, the Illinois library is exploring strategies to develop training programs tailored to Njala University library staff to take to Njala and implement in workshop settings. Several UIUC librarians would take these programs to Njala potentially later this year, or maybe next spring, depending on the availability of funding. Other goals include bringing one or two Njala librarians to Illinois in 2018, to provide experience and training in the United States.
Having a well-defined physical space with print books and the skills to catalogue and reference them is important for the growth of a developing nation. Through increased access to internet, as well as collaboration between Illinois and Njala librarians, the Global Health Initiative is hopeful that Njala University can create a sustainable library system to benefit its faculty and students. As the UIUC-Njala partnership continues to grow in a number of areas, increased opportunities for collaboration increase the potential of the academic relationship between these two institutions.