Practice Article

World Librarians: A Peer-to-Peer Commons for Closing the Global Digital Divide

Authors: , ,


INTRODUCTION An estimated 53% of the world’s population do not have Internet access. As a consequence, they lack information capital that could be key to bettering their lives. In this practice article, we introduce a sociotechnical system called “World Librarians.” This system, facilitated by a knowledge commons, provides educators, librarians, students, and medical professionals in remote Internet-poor areas of Malawi with access to digital content that they request. OBJECTIVE We describe the social and technical methods by which a team of educators, librarians, students, and information technology specialists in information-privileged environments share educational content to information-disadvantaged communities. METHODS After briefly discussing key foundational components and partnerships, we explain the mechanics of the sociotechnical system. We follow this with two proof-of-concept cases where offline requesters in remote school and library contexts in rural Malawi are assisted by an online librarian searcher team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. RESULTS The proof of concept cases demonstrate that the relatively low-cost sociotechnical system accomplishes the goal of sharing open access educational content in remote areas with limited or no access to networked information. Moreover, the cases demonstrate that the content shared can be content global southerners offline want and need, rather than information global northerners think they should have. CONCLUSIONS The World Librarians system is ready to be scaled and replicated at other institutions with ready access to high-speed networked information. The authors welcome contact from readers who might be interested in establishing their library as a new “searcher node” in the growing World Librarians network.

Keywords: Commons-based Peer Production, Digital Divide, ICT4D, Open Access, Open Educational Resources, Access to information

How to Cite: Schweik, C. , Smith, J. & Meyer, C. (2018) “World Librarians: A Peer-to-Peer Commons for Closing the Global Digital Divide”, Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication. 6(2). doi: