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Bridging the Information Divide

Bridging the Information Divide

Computer science researchers from Waikato University are helping UNESCO bridge the information gap between developing countries and the rest of the world.

Professor Ian Witten, Dr David Bainbridge and Mr Michael Dewsnip from the New Zealand Digital Library (NZDL) research group have been asked to teach at a UNESCO-sponsored workshop on the Greenstone Software in Fiji.

Developed by the NZDL group, the Greenstone Software is widely used by UNESCO and other world aid organisations to distribute humanitarian information in developing countries.

Greenstone enables UNESCO to compile virtual libraries on user-friendly CD-Roms that are distributed widely in developing countries, in areas that lack information resources and have slow and unstable communication networks

Each CD contains resources on topics like fair-trade marketing, medical information, agriculture, environmental conservation and culture.

Prof. Witten says the CD-Roms are part of the ‘Information for All’ project, which aims to close the information gap between developing countries and the rest of the world.

“The Fiji workshop is one of many that UNESCO run throughout the world each year, to train representatives from developing countries how to use the Greenstone software,” says Prof. Witten.

“Those who attend the workshop then go back to their own country and train others how to use Greenstone to access information in existing libraries and eventually create their own.”

UNESCO has been liasing with the NZDL and using Greenstone for over 4 years. It was one of the first organisations to adopt the unique software.

The Fiji workshop runs for three days, with representatives attending from developing countries across the Asia Pacific region.

Freely available under the GNU Public Licence (GPL), Greenstone is used globally by a range of organisations, from humanitarian aid and disaster relief agencies to the BBC, who use the software internally for a 1 million item radio and TV catalogue.

Earlier this year Professor Witten was named as the seventh recipient of the Namur Award, a prestigious international humanitarian honour that recognises recipients for raising awareness of the social implications of information and communication technologies

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