With passion of reaching to end users, any transition of technological innovation has to overcome several issues, beyond the environment. While turning reference library to digital library in United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Nepal, mainly three components – content, budget and technology – were central to produce a visible result within 5 years timeframe. Authorization is major component every time to establish a legacy. This article is based on the author’s experiences of UN digital library (http://un.info.np) transition in UNIC Kathmandu.
A concept of digital library in UNIC developed with consultation with professionals both in library science and technology. Feedback from both sectors including academicians got equal weight at design and analysis phase in 2013. A team had started the project with no cost implication using existing resources for a mock model of the digital library. With official authorization from authority and endorsing the system in country team, UNIC geared up the digital library in the beginning of 2014 focusing on three pillars for the UN digital library. They are:
- Digital Assets (Objects) – While translating reference library to digital library, strategy of storing objects in digital library determines budget and result – success or failure. Like a books of reference library, digital objects with proper credits, license or policy are objects (assets) of digital library. These assets might be text (PDFs), audio, video and any type of digital objects. Working with text is handier than photos and videos which also needs more technological resources – like high bandwidth and high-end hardware. With careful planning for budget and project’s result, we started working with text, UN publications (PDFs), in the first version of the digital library. On another hand, implementing digitization is another cost intensive process which requires extensive technical skills and human resources. That’s why we went for digital process of available UN publications in PDFs.
- Process – includes acquisition of content and development of meta-data from content for search engine. Since search engine optimization (SEO) plays a vistal role in digital library to reach to people penetrating the internet content. That’s why design of digital library system should consider further strategy of implementation and SEO in future. However, acquisition of content is another challenge which requires maximum coordination with publishers (stakeholders) and technical skills to find digital assets in websites of publisher.
Meta-data development process implementing well-defined protocol for cataloguing like UN thesaurus, which we implemented, increases visibility in online search engine and also helps end-users to find any content without language barriers.
- Reaching to ground – Unless you share your knowledge, it is not a knowledge. It is waste. Aiming to disseminating UN message to public, the team focused on sharing mechanism while designing software and technology within overall governance of knowledge management policy of the United Nations System.
- Collaboration – Agile framework
Planning of budget and visualizing annexes associated like activities with budget are crucial factors while designing digital library. Listing out contextual activities with details of every context best strategy to estimate budget in planning document, like visualizing contexts – knowledge management for institutional repository in which web application and mobile application are final output. It is good idea of exploring inhouse resources and skills for cost effective innovative idea. For example, I implemented my skills – technical (i.e. software engineering) and managerial capacities – what I learned during my entire career. For these, we sought volunteer contributions within UN system. We were blessed from everything and we geared up the seed project with no cost but inhouse resources. I have grouped those important points in following categories.
- Financial Authorization from authorized body is basically support of your idea and alignment of organizational mandate which ultimately contribute to sustainability of the initiation. I prepared project document with SMART goal setting approach which was ultimately approved by HQs (Department of Public Information), United Nations, New York after 45 minutes video conference between HQs and me and my supervisor in 2014. SMART stands for following categories – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and T I always used agile framework while working with team that I learned in software companies because collaboration is central part of project implementation, especially in development sector like in the United Nations.
- Regular Budget and Sustainability – The source of regular budget should be foremost crucial functionality, for example: the cost of the Internet bandwidth cost for digital library and datacenter maintenance. Onetime funding or seed money is however essential, but core budget source is heart of any initiation. Regular funding and source of core budget give strength to the initiation. And exactly, we implemented same funding mechanism while starting UN digital library redirecting core fund from UN secretariat for reference library as new fund to digital library.
- Activities planning – Activities priority management and implementing those activities phase by phase is good strategy to prevent shock of big budget scheme to management. Divide activities in phases like two phases of development. Identify most essential activities of digital library in the first phase and plan budget for those activities in the first phase. The estimated budget might be smaller and affordable from management and plan rest of activities for second phase. I planned the UN digital library in four phases 1. Making mock UN Digital Library using my own computer so that I could present sample digital library, 2. Establishing tiny datacenter after approval for budget of USD 2.5k without security measures 3. Installation of security measures like firewall and 4. Establishing data security station as backup center. Splitting phases make you easy to issues of management, you had to work hard while implementing technology without security measure like I had to monitor each second for preventive measure from data hacking which is always a nightmare for datacenter. Security is not obviously luxury. It is mandatory subject, especially while working in such digital library.
- Financial Analysis – Fixed cost and overhead cost are two categories which should be clear before initiating and after implementation of any technical project in any environment. Such cost might help exploring inhouse resources and aligning cross cutting issues within organization. I was clear on my own capacity and those fixed cost and overhead cost during execution phase. That’s why I put clear picture in project document for further proceeding of approval. Fixed costs for digital library are cost of web hosting or datacenter, software and development cost. Overhead cost for digital library are like cost of the Internet and staffs or volunteers in case of UN digital library.
While working in software companies as an engineer, I thought technology is everything to achieve success in technical project. I gradually leaned and changed my mindset entering social development sector. Although I implemented a lot of technical skills, what I learned during my entire career in private companies and UN system, technical matters are just 5% among overall works in the digital library but these 5% play a vital role while rendering digital service on the ground. That’s why technological matter should be precisely scrutinized and planned phase-wise. Technological issues can be categorized into following points to understand well.
- Appropriate Technology – In general, most people, especially technical person, thought that latest and advance technology should be used for any project to start but it might sometime be very risky for positive result. The technology should be appropriate rather than any advancement. Let’s take an example. If you need to walk 5 days through known forest side but there is no electricity and you have a mobile phone for your rescue in emergency, which phone would you prefer to take along with you for your trip? Smart phone or classic phone? Obviously classic phone might be wise idea for such trip since classic phone has more durable battery than smart phone. In this way, while implementing technology in UN Digital Library, I planned only those technologies which are essential to meet objective of the mission with cost effective and efficient way. That is appropriate technology for UN Digital Library like SQL Server Express version which was free to use and after few years we purchased Lisence version, the design of website and mobile application was simple and conventional for Nepali users who can navigate.
- Mission Base Technology – The technology should be tested and robust to fetch data efficient to serve people. Before releasing the system, we implemented it within UN System for six months extensively and parallelly developed necessary technology as required. The system should be able to serve public 24 x 7 service hours. Otherwise, the project might lose creditability. That’s why while designing overall architecture of datacenter and software applications should be designed based on the best practices and tested technology.
- Standard and Policy – fulfilling minimum standard and adhering policy of organization in technology development are major components to establish trust for long term opening transparency in technology for management and non-technical people who should audit process later.
Limitation of this article is not to incorporate political context while implementing digital library project. However, without the above mentioned three categories, building digital library is still a distance dream but a passion with articulated plan can achieve a dream in reality.
 Author of this article is Rajendra Man Banepali, UN official, firstname.lastname@example.org, working in UN Information Centre, Nepal, for transition of reference library to digital library. Special thank goes to Amanda Izenstark, Professor, University of Rhode Island, USA for her inputs in this article.
UN Digital Library Experience Video:
Contributor of UN Digital Library: UN Interns: http://un.info.np/Net/Blog/15
- UN Information Centre Nepal and Department of Information Hold a Meeting Exchanging UN Knowledge Management Framework – http://un.info.np/Net/Blog/News/322
- UN publication review for 2017 – http://un.info.np/Net/Blog/News/336
- UN Digital Library in Mobile – the easiest way to getting UN Publications in Nepal—Yujin Kim – http://un.info.np/Net/Blog/News/296
- UN Nepal volunteering to build cyber synergy in rural schools under ICT for Development – http://un.info.np/Net/Blog/News/295
- UN Knowledge Management Workshop – http://un.info.np/Net/Blog/News/201
- The First Anniversary of UN Digital Repository in Nepal – http://un.info.np/Net/Blog/News/187
- A review on Nepal Specific UN Publications – http://un.info.np/Net/Blog/News/165
- Talk Program “Chiya Guff” in Santwona College – http://un.info.np/Net/Blog/News/143