In 1998 Sabre Foundation's Secretary and Project Director traveled to Algeria at the request of then U.S. Ambassador Cameron Hume. In meetings with the U.S. Embassy personnel and Algerian librarians, Sabre discussed the establishment of a book donation program in Algeria and training programs for Algerian librarians. Both ideas were well received. Sabre's customized training workshops for librarians from developing countries would introduce Algerian librarians to the Internet and hone their computer skills, objectives which the library personnel agreed were integral for the development of Algerian libraries given that Algeria ranks among the lowest in terms of Internet access and connectivity in Africa.
Nonetheless, the recruitment of the librarian/participants and fundraising in Algiers took nearly two years to bear fruit. With $10,000 funding from the Starr Foundation via the Aspen Institute-France, Sabre was able to offer a two-week training program for four librarians at no cost to the librarians or their sponsoring organization. The additional costs of travel and accommodations in Cambridge needed to be covered by another party. Sabre asked the U.S. Embassy in Algiers to cover the travel, accommodations, and per diem expenses for four librarians since the Embassy had shown great interest in Sabre's programs during the 1998 visit to Algeria.
Throughout 1999 and 2000, Sabre kept in frequent communication with the U.S. Embassy and the Algerian National Library, which seemed the most likely future coordinator (with the Algerian Librarians Association serving as the non-governmental consignee of shipments) for the book program. Sabre was notified in August 2000 by the U.S. Embassy that recruitment of librarians for training was underway and that the Embassy was prepared to pay the travel and housing expenses for four librarians. The training took place at Sabre from October 2nd through 13th.
Sabre suggested to the U.S. Embassy that they select librarians who are involved in "hands-on" library work, especially those who are in frequent communication with patrons and other library staff. In addition, Sabre asked that the participants speak English and, when possible, that they all have a similar level of technical knowledge. These two criteria would ensure productive and smooth-running workshops for all involved.
The Embassy selected librarians who represented four types of libraries, which are listed in the next section. Although there were significant differences among the libraries with regard to size of holdings and range of services, each seemed to be at a similar level of Internet access, with only the University of Algiers having a website address and permanent Internet connectivity. During the discussion with the librarians prior to the start of training, Sabre learned that only Mr. Abdi had access to the Internet at work, and two of the others had used the Internet a limited number of times at an Internet café.
Overall, the librarians were an enthusiastic group that established excellent rapport with one another and their trainers. Each embraced all of the training topics and took the opportunity to participate in every site visit. Following a visit to the Sabre warehouse, the librarians expressed a desire to begin a book program in Algeria, perhaps by forming an Algerian organization that would be responsible for the selection, warehousing and distribution of the books.
The participants were:
The librarians received training from two librarian/trainers and one college-level computer trainer. In general, over the course of two weeks, the trainers sought to impart general Internet and computer skills which are frequently used in a library setting and more library-specific skills which would increase the awareness of the librarians to contemporary library issues in more developed settings. Several site visits to libraries and other organizations served the same purpose.
Library topics studied:
Internet/computer topics studied:
Other visits offered to the group:
The librarians showed a keen interest in receiving books through a Sabre-Algeria partnership. During the visit to the Sabre warehouse, the Algerians located books and other materials that they deemed appropriate for their own institutions and materials that would be useful in Algerian schools and other libraries.
Upon learning of Sabre's past efforts to establish a book donation program in Algeria, the librarians seemed neither surprised nor discouraged by the lack of results thus far. Indeed, the pace of change in their own libraries mirrors Sabre's experiences. Rather than focus on established organizations as Sabre has been, the librarians were keen to find a new way of instituting a book donation program. Thus, Sabre's staff explained the process of establishing a non-governmental organization and forming a partnership with Sabre Foundation. The staff will continue to work with the librarians if they choose to follow this route.
At each library that the trainees visited, a librarian (or several) led the tour and demonstrated the library computer systems. At the conclusion of several visits, the librarians offered to keep in touch with the Algerian visitors and answer questions by email. Other librarians suggested future collaboration, such as the Bibliographer of Islamic Law at Harvard University who expressed interest in a journal exchange program with the University of Algiers.
Sabre's trainers have also made themselves available for questions by email. (The librarians each established a free email account on a French website on their first day of training at Sabre.) Four half-day workshops were devoted to website development since this topic was of great interest to the Algerians. Sabre's trainers will provide assistance as the librarians continue to develop their sites.
In addition, the two trainer/librarians are available for library-specific questions such as automation and cataloguing, which were two subjects of particular interest to the Algerians.