''Librarians have an important role to play in the eSri Lanka initiative'', says ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) Chairman, Senior Presidential Advisor and Peradeniya University Chancellor Professor P.W. Epasinghe. The Professor said so while participating, as the chief guest, at the Sri Lanka Library Association's 52nd Annual General Meeting held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo recently.
Delivering his address Professor Epashinghe emphasised the huge possibilities the librarians have in accelerating the attainment of Sri Lanka to the position of a regional knowledge hub. The ICTA Chairman also explained how the island-wide existence of Nenasala’s, or digital resource based centres or libraries were an ideal network for making the benefits of ICT reach the people. While dwelling on the six-pronged programme of ICTA for implementing the eSri Lanka initiative, Professor Epasinghe also underlined the following:
Librarians in ideal position to build knowledge hub
“Librarians are in a better position to offer their cooperation in building Sri Lanka as a knowledge hub of the region. Library Associations and the Sri Lanka Library Association in particular, are in an ideal position to take Sri Lanka on the path to Sri Lanka becoming a Wonder of Asia'', ICTA Chairman said pointing out the huge possibilities libraries and library professionals have in leading the country towards the highest achievements in knowledge.
Countrywide libraries for digital content, a concept of the President
Tracing the origin of Nenasala - library for digital content the Professor said: ''About five years ago, only some privileged city-dwellers had easy access to the internet. His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his far-sighted vision wanted the computer taken to the village. This vision is now spelled out in what one might call libraries for digital content. These are the 667 centres spread island-wide under the 1000 Nenasala project, a brainchild of His Excellency. ICTA designed this project and implements it.
“These centres or wisdom outlets provide an island-wide service in bringing the benefits of ICT to the rural population. These have been set up in easily accessible and convenient locations. Each Nenasala is equipped with three to four personal computers with Internet access, a laser printer, scanner, web camera and other accessories. The concept of shared computing (sometimes called "Virtual Desktops") is now implemented in Nenasalas: the excess power of a PC is leveraged for powering multiple computing sessions at once. A “virtual desktop” experience is provided through the access devices to each end user using their own monitor, keyboard and mouse”, the professor said explaining the facilities available in Nenasala’s.
Content for library users through ICTA programmes
Underlining the role ICTA plays in the development of content available in libraries including Nenasala’s Professor Epasinghe said: “The means of accessing content and services was thus implemented but it was also necessary to create relevant content for users. ICTA, therefore, implemented the e-Society programme, which entailed creating an empowered knowledge based society. One of the strategies of ICTA’s e-Society programme is to facilitate the development of innovative locally relevant local language content.
Key library function of sorting in local languages
Referring to a much pervasive library function the Professor went on to say: “As you know much more than I do, libraries have to deal with sorting. They have to deal with large volumes of information material. They could be printed materials, such as serial publications, magazines, monographs or books. With the commencement of the digital age, information material could also be videos, CDs etc. Now when one has an ocean of such materials, he is lost. It is here that we need the service of the librarian who solves the problem. His basic methodology is sorting. For example, he may arrange the information material in alphabetical order. We are familiar with arranging according to the Roman alphabet, ABCDEF. But the majority in rural Sri Lanka is not familiar with ABCDEF.
The majority is familiar only with ayanna, aayanna in Sinhala or aanaa, aavanaain Tamil. All major functions of library science, cataloguing, classifying and information retrieval have to do with sorting. What a wonderful facility it would be for rural Sri Lanka if sorting could be done in the local language? Well ICTA-initiated projects under the local language programme have achieved this.
''A local language content portal, www.danuma.lk was developed. A wide selection of content in local language was sourced through the Lake House Newspapers, digitized and uploaded to www.danuma.lk.Workshops were held for Nenasala operators, school children, teachers and community-based organizations on local content, Unicode Sinhala etc. They were trained on e-commerce, accessing agricultural information and e-services etc. Content was sourced from various organizations and saved on DVDs which were distributed among them. Subsequently, as the range expanded and included many areas such as education, agriculture, health, commerce etc., specially designed software (content library) with a facility for easy navigation was developed and distributed island-wide. One such specific project was the Sinhala Wikipedia.
ICTA's thrust to make Wikipedia type library benefits available to local population
''The Companies Felidae and Practical Action worked as a consortium to seed the Wikipedia with translated articles from the English Wikipedia and build awareness so that people would contribute content to it. ICTA was interested to give the benefits of the Wikipedia to the local population who know only Sinhala or Tamil. The Sinhala Wikipedia is now available. People have been contributing additional work to the base.
Key Library function of service assistance through GIC (1919)
''The GIC (1919), the Government Information Centre is quite well known now. When a citizen needed some information from a Government Department some time ago, the task used to be very cumbersome. He had to find a contact person in the relevant department, meet him or telephone him and ask him. Very often, he was referred to others. If he had no access to a contact person, he is often shunted from pillar to post. Now GIC has become not only a mere information centre but also an information service centre. Now not only can you ask for the telephone number of the Railway Department by dialing 1919, you can also ask and receive information about what time the train convenient to you is.
''GIC is a centralised location for providing Government information. ICTA’s venture on setting up a Government Information Centre fulfilled a long felt gap needed to serve the citizens of Sri Lanka in all 3 languages. The call centre which is operational for 12 hours every day is highly utilized. On average it receives over 2,500 calls daily.
''However, it became obvious that if the same information can be provided over the web, such information can be accessed by a citizen 24 hours every day without any limitations. This idea gave birth to the GIC website www.gic.gov.lk which has already won two international awards. Information is now provided through the website and by telephone.
ICTA Chairman, Senior Presidential Advisor and Peradeniya University Chancellor Professor P.W. Epasinghe delivering his address
ICTA Chairman, Senior Presidential Advisor and Peradeniya University Chancellor Professor P.W. Epasinghe presenting an award
This article is carried in the Weekend FT, The Island, the Nation and Sunday Observer of 7th July 2012.