I first visited Africa in 1964 and have just returned from my second visit (Nov. 30 – Dec. 17, 2005).
Since books are a major part of my life I look for bookstores everywhere I go. I go to libraries and discuss books with librarians and with students. Whenever possible I buy books in the countries I visit.
On this visit I did not take paper books with me. I took a lot of work, two computers, an iPod and a Palm Pilot. I listened to podcasts and some music on the flights to Africa and did some work. I had a few e-books on my computer and several on my PDA, but I had read them.
I had hoped to buy magazines or books in Kampala, but since our hotel was some distance from the downtown area I did not have an opportunity to visit a bookstore. When we moved to the conference hotel on Lake Victoria (Entebbe) I was disappointed to find that there were no magazines for sale at the hotel. There was a shop attached to the hotel which advertised 'books for sale', but the seven used books in the shop were not appealing to me or to anyone else, apparently.Later I visited two private bookstores in Nairobi and bought several books to entertain me for the rest of the trip.
In 1964 school children sought books, any kind of books, they said. We left them some of the books we brought with us to read that summer. Churches and service clubs from North America and Europe have sent boxes of books to schools and other organizations in Africa, but, in many cases, these have been books that have been discarded by individuals and libraries. Children and adults who are in school or trying to increase their qualifications need the best books, books which are current and relevant to their needs.
Students in North America are complaining about the costs of textbooks. Imagine adding the cost of shipping these books 10,000 miles and then consider the total cost of supplying a foreign textbook to a child in Africa.
While I love paper books I feel that the only way that most libraries in the third world can stay current in terms of books and scientific journals is by using e-books and e-journals. The librarians I met with agreed with me.
Local authors and scientists could publish their material more easily if there were the alternative of using e-publications. These publications could then be made available to local libraries, schools and Universities. At the moment many local authors are dependent on foreign publishers for opportunities to publish their work.
I know that not everyone in the third world has a computer: but almost everyone has a CD player, and some have iPods. If one can play music, one can listen to an audio book. Many University libraries now have extensive computer labs, and virtually everyone in urban areas can access the internet through the many, inexpensive, computer cafés.
Investing in new technology in the third world will pay dividends. At the moment students and professors are excited about the potential of new and innovative approaches to making knowledge accessible.