The purpose of this paper was to explore African conceptions of digital libraries from the perspective of the historical literature. This paper argues that the concept of digital libraries is a western creation and that there was a need for developing societies to develop their own conceptions to guide their own digital library development agenda.
The paper is based on a literature review. The paper makes use of publicly-available literature on the theme of digital libraries from both the Western and African perspectives. The search terms used were “digital libraries”, “Africa digital libraries”, “electronic libraries”, “information communication technologies/libraries” and “institutional repositories”. A total of 89 publications were examined for this purpose.
The analysis revealed that most of the initial digital library initiatives in Africa emanated from the west with African countries benefiting from international initiatives to expand access to information resources to bridge the global digital divide. However, due to a number of contextual challenges such as lack of sustainable funding and inadequate capacity and strategy, the development of digital libraries was hampered. Thus, even though digital libraries enjoy considerable goodwill, there remain negative conceptions of digital libraries in Africa.
Information institutions in African countries must evolve a unified conception of digital libraries as this would largely drive the direction of digital library development towards achieving the developmental goals of the continent.