Library users at Ngwerere Lubuto Library have been using Wikipedia for Schools and the World Book Encylopedia (digital) for over a month now. I’ve spent some time at the library observing the use of these e-resources and interacting with users. The response to World Book and Wikipedia has been very positive. Two experiences illustrate how users are seeking information, both happened last week. First, several secondary school students were huddled around the computer preparing for their ultimate school exam. They were answering questions about biodiversity. The question in front of them was what the importance of biodiversity was. World Book has a comprehensive article on biodiversity. The article breaks down the three different kinds of biodiversity. The students were very excited to discover that there were three kinds of biodiversity discussed; genetic, environmental and species diversity. We launched into a discussion on genes before going back to the questions they had. At the end of the day, I feel that their experience was richer than it would have been if they had only a textbook.
A couple of days later, I noticed a shy looking boy typing in a question into the address bar of a search engine. I explained to him that the computers were not yet connected to the internet but were loaded with two great resources: Wikipedia and World Book. The question he had typed in was ‘Why do people grow old and die?’ I directed him to the World Book article on aging and he read it with great interest. I was very curious to know why he was asking that question. He responded that he had read it in a religious pamphlet. Why did he think people grew old now that he had read a different source? He said he believed both accounts. That people grow old because of a version of original sin and that, according to the World Book article, we grow old because of natural, biological, reasons. I’m not certain that he understood all the scientific information but I think it is a triumph that he found an alternative explanation for a question that intrigued him, a process that will likely broaden his mind and aid him in later life. I learned that this boy had come into the city recently and wasn’t attending school. The library served as a place to be and a place to learn when school wasn’t possible.
by Thomas Mukonde.