Bridging the digital divide through the use of Chromebooks in Ethiopia

Publication Date21 November 2019
AuthorJanet Lee
SubjectLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library technology,Library & information services
Bridging the digital divide through the use
of Chromebooks in Ethiopia
Janet Lee
Providing educational resources to
students in developing economies is a
challenge for educators, librarians, and
information technology specialists, but
one that can be resolved through the use
of technology and sometimes even in
spite of technology. This is especially
true in rural communities. Print
resources are expensive to purchase, not
easily available locally, and costly to
ship from a distance. Too frequently,
donated materials are out of date and go
unused taking up valuable shelf space.
Technological solutions show promise,
but also have limitations due to initial
expenses related to setup, equipment
upgrades or maintenance, unstable
electrical power, lack of access or
intermittent access to the internet, and
limited access to content due to
licensing and copyright.
I returned to Ethiopia in August 2017
as a Fulbright Scholar assigned to the
library at Aksum University. Ethiopia
was my country of service as a Peace
Corps Volunteer in the 1970s and I had
been involved in a number of library-
related projects since 2006, the majority
of which were print based and which
met a certain degree of success. What
led me to Axum rather than one of the
other beautiful Ethiopian cities was
the proximity of the Axumite Heritage
Foundation Library, a full service
community library that had outgrown
its space in the Governor’s Palace and
was being relocated to a new building
on the existing site www.
Prior to my departure to Axum, I
traveled to Provo, UT, to investigate a
promising technology put in place in
Ethiopia by a fellow Returned Peace
Corps Volunteer and founder of
ETLearns ( that
used Chromebooks and a wireless
server that was loaded with content,
including the Ethiopian Ministry of
Education secondary school
curriculum. This technology was
similar in scope to others with which I
was familiar including Laptops to
SolarSPELL, and
Each used a different technology, One
Laptop Per Child, Chromebooks,
laptops, Kindles, with content on the
device or on a standalone wireless
server. Some were powered by
electricity, others with solar cells, or a
combination of both. ETLearns had set
up the Chromebook technology
successfully in eleven schools in the
southern part of Ethiopia. If we would
proceed, this would be the first time this
configuration would be in a community
library and the first time in the northern
region of Tigray.
After a brief discussion and
affirmation with the founder of the
Ethiopian Community Development
Council (ECDC), ETLearns and I
agreed on a plan. Each of us would
purchase 15 Chromebooks and deliver
them to the ECDC headquarters in
Arlington VA. ETLearns would also
purchase and deliver to me a fully
configured RACHEL (Remote Area
Community Hotspot for Education and
Learning) server that I would hand carry
to Ethiopia. The Chromebooks would
be added to a shipping container that
was ready to ship and scheduled to
arrive in October (Plates 1 and 2).
Axumite heritage foundation library
The Axumite Heritage Foundation is a
subsidiary of the Ethiopian Community
Development Council (ECDC). The
Foundation was established in 1993 in
order to restore the ‘Inda Nebri’id,the
former Governor’s Palace in Axum and
turn it into a cultural center and library to
promote the unique heritage of Axum.
The library is located across from the
main tourist bureau on thedirectrouteto
the historic sites for which Axum is
famous. Axum is of great historical
significance in northern Ethiopia, home
of ancient obelisks, tombs of kings,
Queen of Sheba’s palace, and St. Mary of
Tsion church, where the faithful believe
the Ark of the Covenant is housed. The
library has the full blessing of the mayor’s
office, city elders, the university, and the
regional development association, all of
whom have been supportive of its
development. It serves as a model of
community development for all regions
of Ethiopia.
The ‘Inda Nebri’id opened its doors
as a community library in 2002. Use of
the library exceeded the limits of the
existing building, and a new library
building was needed. In addition to
much needed space and quiet study
areas, the new building provided the
opportunity to build in a technological
infrastructure to take advantage of
emerging technologies. After several
years of construction, the new building
was opened in May 2018 in the same
compound as the former library. Each
floor of the four-story building was
wired to provide amply power supply
and dedicated networking capabilities
that were fed through a ventilated server
In addition to the Chromebook Lab,
the library includes a children’s library,
auditorium, large reading room, a
computer lab, an Ethiopian collection,
several classrooms, an exhibit hall, and
several meeting rooms. From opening
day, the library has been filled to
capacity (Plates 3 and 4).
The Chromebook lab
Thirty Chromebooks were purchased
in the USA and shipped to Ethiopia in a
shipping container that was already
scheduled for shipment from ECDC.
6LIBRARY HITECH NEWS Number 1 2020, pp. 6-8, V
CEmerald Publishing Limited, 0741-9058, DOI 10.1108/LHTN-08-2019-0051

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