Book drive opens a new chapter for student

The opportunity was right up Christina Wilson’s alley.

When the Master of Library and Information Science student heard about a book drive collaboration between Western Heads East (WHE), the Faculty of Heath Sciences’ Global Health Promotion course and the university’s chapter of Librarians Without Borders (LWB), she knew it was a way to get her foot in her future career’s door.

“The Tandabui Institute of Health Science and Technology (in Mwanza, Tanzania), asked for any used textbooks under medical, nursing and health sciences because they are extremely desperate right now,” Wilson said of the relatively new institute, whose mission is to train multidisciplinary health professionals in Tanzania.

“They have under 50 books, and students are using photocopies of other textbooks from other institutions. This (drive) is to supplement their resources, in general, and they’re willing to accept stuff as old as 20 years.”

The goal of the book drive, which ran until last week, was to send 1,000 books to Tandabui Institute, but Wilson noted realistically, the number is about half that. She’s nevertheless happy to see quality books being sent, regardless of the goal or amount going.

What’s more, she will be joining the books on the trip to Tanzania.

“WHE contacted LWB and we agreed to help, and give our expertise when it comes to evaluating materials, deciding what to send, packing, shipping and doing some primary cataloguing to make it easier,” noted Wilson, who is part of LWB.

Soon after, she approached Bob Gough, WHE director, and offered to go along as an intern and accompany the books, helping to catalogue them for the Tandabui Institute library.

While there, Wilson will also conduct a research project on information-seeking behaviours of students and faculty at the Tandabui Institute, looking to assess what information they are seeking and what means they prefer to use to find it.

There is a serious shortage of human resources in health in Tanzania, Wilson added.

“I want to figure out how they would ideally like to find information – if it’s through Internet, print resources, through open-access journals – to see, in the end, how they should allocate the funds they do have available to make a better collection for the people,” she explained.

“The really interesting thing is, because the Tandabui Institute is within a system of newly established privatized health institutions, this study could actually be relevant for all the 40-something other newly established institutions.”

Wilson anticipates not only helping the community, in the spirit of WHE’s grassroots and social justice efforts, but she’s also thrilled for both this opportunity and for similar ones to follow.

“I want to work in global information development, and broadband diffusion, getting the world the Internet and the information they need. Information equality is such an issue and it doesn’t have to be. Everyone can have access to the same materials, if we just tried,” she said.

“I think the internship will open numerous doors for me. Just the fact I will be able to say I did work in a development setting in information science for six months, I can’t describe how many doors I think that will open. And being a Classics major, I don’t have the development experience. This is really getting my foot into something I feel very passionate about.”

Wilson leaves May 20 and will return in November.

The book drive hasn’t been able to collect books on surgery, which is a fundamental need in addition to the other books collected.

“It would be great to supplement the collection of what we can find and send with monetary donations, so we can go and order it through Amazon, or get it used so at least they can have something,” Wilson continued.

The drive is also looking for monetary support to help ship the books.

“Investing in medical reference textbooks is prohibitively expensive, as with print materials in the print crisis faced in Africa currently.”