International recognition for Waikato
Computer Science Professor Ian Witten
has been honoured with a prestigious international award for the
humanitarian work of his University of Waikato research group, the New
Zealand Digital Library project, on the Greenstone Software.
Professor Witten will be the seventh
recipient of the biennial Namur award
http://www.info.fundp.ac.be/~jbl/IFIP/award.html), which recognises
recipients for raising awareness internationally of the social
implications of information and communication technologies.
Presented by the International
Federation of Information Processing, an organisation devoted to the
relationship between Computers and Society, the purpose of the Namur
award is to draw attention to the need for a holistic approach in the
use of information technology in which the social implications have been
taken into account.
Nominations for the 2004 award were
made earlier this year and Professor Witten has been announced as the
recipient now, to allow for travel to the award ceremony in Belgium
during January 2004.
Professor Witten was nominated for his
work with the New Zealand Digital Library (NZDL) project, a research
group within the University of Waikato Computer Science Department. One
focus of the group is developing the Greenstone Software, which is being
used to deliver humanitarian and related information in developing
“Greenstone allows user-friendly
computer-based libraries to be compiled according to the needs of a wide
range of groups and organisations,” says Professor Witten.
“Part of our work involves liaising
with UNESCO and Belgium-based nongovernmental organisation, Human Info.
to publish humanitarian information on CD and distribute it widely in
Greenstone is particularly valuable in
developing countries, which typically lack information resources and
have slow and unstable communication networks, making accessing
information difficult. CD-Rom based virtual libraries can free
organisations and agencies from reliance on those networks.
In the rural village of Kakunyu,
Uganda, the nearest source of books, periodicals and newspapers was in a
town 20 km away, a long journey over rough roads. Most people were
unable to access important resources and information needed to have a
major development impact on the community.
The Kataayi Multipurpose Cooperative, a
grass-roots organisation within the village, set up an information and
communication centre in the hopes of supplying resources on topics like
fair-trade marketing, agriculture, environmental conservation and social
“The Kataayi Cooperative heard about
the Humanity Development Library, a CDRom compiled using Greenstone
software, and approached Human Info. for a copy to use in the Kakunyu
information and communication centre,” said Professor Witten.
“Kakunyu villagers now have access to
a collection of 1,200 books and periodicals on topics produced by UN
agencies and other international organisations, increasing their
information resources immeasurably.”
In print, the books available on the
Humanity Development Library CD-Rom would weigh 340kg, cost $20,000 and
occupy a small library book stack. The Greenstone software has allowed
this wealth of information to become available to people throughout the
developing world at a miniscule fraction of the cost of paper books.
Disaster relief agencies can also use
the Greenstone software to pull together libraries of material from
international sources, store them on CD, and access them even when
Internet lines are down or jammed in the aftermath of a disaster.
Professor Witten says that to overcome language barriers interfaces to
Greenstone have been established in almost two-dozen of the world’s
languages, such as Maori, Arabic and Hebrew.
“As well as Uganda and other
developing countries, the Waikato software is in regular use in the US,
Israel, South Africa and Russia, to name a few, and has established New
Zealand as a leading provider of digital library software.”
Currently visiting Canada on a research
trip, Professor Witten will travel to Belguim for the Namur award
ceremony in January 2004. As part of his acceptance of the award he will
present a lecture on the work of the Waikato research group before being
presented with a commemorative plate and certificate.
Established in 1989, the Namur award
has most recently been granted to such leaders in their field as Dr.
Deborah Hurley, Director of the Harvard Information Infrastructure
Project (http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/ii), Harvard University, USA (2002
Namur Award) and Professor Simon Rogerson of the Centre for Computing
and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University, in the U.K. (2000