By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

Imagine an African country the size of Maryland with a population of 11 million.

Then think that, out of all those people, only a handful are presently trained as public and academic librarians.

Now try to comprehend how a third-world nation can rebuild its society, years after suffering a million-person genocide, by becoming a knowledge-based economy. 

These are the facts for the country of Rwanda, and also the compelling reasons why the School of Information Studies (iSchool) at Syracuse University, along with other key partners, answered the country’s call for educational assistance.

These are also the reasons that educators from the iSchool, plus Cornell University, the Kigali Institute of Education and the National University of Rwanda have acted together to bring that plan closer to reality. Officials of the institutions signed a Memorandum of Understanding toward those goals at ceremonies in the African nation last week. More than two dozen governmental, organizational and academic officials took part.

Among them were iSchool Dean Elizabeth D. Liddy and Sarah Webb, a doctoral student who has been shepherding the Rwandan initiative for some time. Rose Jackson, a MLIS alum who is the director of the library at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda, also was present, as was Cornell University agricultural library director Mary Ochs. Also an iSchool alum, Mary has worked with Sarah on the initiative for some time, and traveled to Rwanda to represent Cornell at the MOU-signing ceremonies.

For the last several months, Sarah has been paving the way for the historic agreement by coordinating with officials and institutions in both countries. And although she will receive her doctoral hood soon, Sarah is staying on for a post doctorate period at SU to continue helping the Rwandans gain ground.
The Kigali Institute and National University’s Vision 2020 plan call for educating 33 students. Three would earn doctorates from SU, 15 would earn Master’s degrees from SU or Cornell, and 15 would obtain certificates of advanced study from Syracuse. That core group would then form the faculties needed to reopen the library science program at Kigali Institute and start an information science program at the National University. From there the country wants to  educate more in the professions: library clerks, cataloguers, frontline staff and school librarians at Kilgali; and training library directors, archives managers, museum directors and many other information professionals at the National University.

“It’s really about Rwandans helping themselves”, Sarah noted. “They asked, and we responded to that request, and the program is our response.”

Of three goals for this trip, all were achieved to a fair degree, Sarah said. They include raising awareness and increasing buy-in for the many organizations and governments involved; achieving greater involvement by organizations representing the international community; and beginning the work of interesting potential program funders. “We have a lot of work to do to get the funding in place,” she noted. 

That arena will claim much of Sarah’s focus in the coming year. Implementing a program to train the 33 students carries a $3 million price tag. While the iSchool can assist with some tuition aid, an outreach to all donor avenues is planned, including corporations, foundations, government venues, and alums, according to Dean Liddy. The desired timeline is to bring the students from Rwanda is next summer. They would experience a two-month orientation residency here before returning to Rwanda to finish their SU educations through distance learning. 

 “The Rwandans are very eager, and they’re very dedicated to rebuilding their country,” Dean Liddy observed. She said she would like to see increasing numbers of Rwandan students obtain their library and information science degrees from the iSchool at Syracuse, “and eventually open their own iSchool within the university, one that is able to produce the librarians and information science people they need to meet their goals.” The Dean further suggested that a consortium of iSchools throughout the U.S. might want to become involved.

“There is a whole continent in need. If we really believe this is the future, and if we as iSchools really believe this is where we need to be, it would be great to be part of the initiation of Africa being part of the iSchool movement.”