Part 1 – The pre-launch work and learning
One of the initial aims of the Advancing Library Visibility in Africa (ALVA) project is to collect basic data about libraries in multiple countries. Based off of our conversations and experiences working with partners, we had heard of or seen widespread gaps in information about public and community libraries in many countries. In addition to finding authoritative figures for the total number of public and community libraries, these gaps extend to location data for most libraries. When data does exist, it can be outdated, unsourced, or both.
Feedback from a February 2018 working session in Accra, Ghana confirmed that having data to help make the public and community libraries more visible would be of value to the library field and potential partners. This feedback also confirmed that there was interest in assisting in this effort. With this confirmation, we began to move forward with planning an initial round of testing a platform that would allow us to do two tasks: 1) gather basic organizational information about the library; and 2) gather the detailed location of the library.
Our investigation of a possible technology platform was shaped by the desire to find a low-cost, quick-to-launch solution that would allow us to start collecting some basic data from staff at the libraries. We hoped the solution would offer us future scalability, but also realized that most likely we would not get 100% of the features we wanted in this first round.Therefore, whatever we chose also had to allow for easy exporting of data so we could take the data with us if we switched to a new platform.
One of the difficulties that arose in our initial investigation was how to handle the workflow for reviewing and validating the information submitted from respondents. While this would be managed in our initial test due to the small set of potential respondents, we knew we would have to test a general process to see whether it could scale to handle the validation of data from an estimated 6,000+ public and community libraries.
In hopes of allowing users to locate a library as easily as possible, we looked at various software packages that would enable us to combine location functionality with basic survey functionality to collect information about the library. With these requirements in mind, we determined that Ushahidi hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS) would meet our current needs.
Ushahidi is an open-source software package used in data collection efforts that often involve a geospatial element as a key piece of the information reported. It allows a simple survey functionality and has out of the box functionality to assist with determining location. As currently developed, it has limitations. We knew might pose problems, but we felt it was a good enough solution to begin testing.
We wanted to test two key areas in this initial round: 1) does the terminology we are using for library services make sense; and 2) how well are respondents able to accurately identify the location of their library. We would evaluate the process by reviewing the initial location survey submissions for accuracy and also by asking respondents to answer questions on a follow-up survey to better understand where they might have faced challenges and suggestions for improving the usability of the software’s location survey.
After some challenges getting Ushahidi configured on AWS, we launched the location survey in early September 2018 with invitations to approximately 120 librarians across 20 countries. The potential respondents had participated in past events of our partner, African Library and Information Association and Institution (AfLIA), and we had a good sense that many of them would be responsive to our invitation to participate in the test. Once we pushed the launch button we waited to see what would happen. We’ll share the observations and learnings from this round of testing and our plans for further data collection in our next update.