The National Center for E-Learning (NCeL) of the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education was launched five years ago and has grown to become a fundamental part of the country’s open and distance learning agenda. Of its many projects, the Saudi Digital Library (SDL) is perhaps the most impressive. Launched in November 2010, the SDL holds more than 114 000 e-Books and reference works spanning various academic disciplines and is arguably the largest such endeavour in the Arab world. Dr Abdullah Almegren, Assistant Professor of Education at King Saud University and the general manager of NCeL, spoke to ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN.
You have managed to acquire an astonishing number of materials within a short time…
The SDL works continuously to update this content in order to accumulate a huge store of knowledge for the long term. All of the 114 000 volumes are available in both full text and multimedia. We also have titles from 300 prominent and specialised publishing houses around the world.
How many students have access to the digital library?
The Digital Library is accessible for 1 261 139 students and 49 528 faculty members in all Saudi higher education institutions.
What were the main challenges you faced in launching the project?
SDL faced three main challenges throughout the launch phase. The first one was to convince Saudi higher education institutions to contribute and make use of this project, while providing each of them with a digital library that covers their various requirements.
Secondly, attracting major publishers and bargaining with them to get the best deals for the best e-book collections [was a daunting task].
The third challenge was establishing the SDL technical platform and designing an inviting portal. In addition, we had to provide each university and higher education institution in Saudi Arabia with their own access point customised to their website and specific needs.
Has the library taken off successfully? How have people responded to this new way of accessing information?
There are several indications of the success of the SDL. For instance, the library has been awarded the Arab Federation for Libraries and Information (AALI) prize, which recognises distinguished projects throughout the Arab world, for its carefully selected digital references.
Also in one of the SPRINGER (one of the major e-publishers in the world) reports they stated that the number of users who accessed their database through the SDL exceeded their expectations, which indicates how well the project is running.
The Maknaz project also seems to be an online repository of resources. How does it differ from the SDL?
Both projects were established to support and enrich the learning process on several levels. The SDL works on the macro level by providing e-books and e-references, while the Maknaz repository works on the micro level providing interactive learning objects in different formats such as photos, instructional movies, illustrations and so forth.
In OEB Session VAR13, you will be giving a paper entitled Striving for Quality Lifelong Learning Organisations: In the Mission of Transforming Saudi Society. What does your quality control strategy entail?
Although we see quality control as the most important way of achieving lifelong learning, that is not to say that good learning opportunities cannot be delivered using the new systems known as “lean” and “just-in-time”.
Our quality control operates at all levels, from the sources through the delivery process to the receivers. If lifelong learning means anything, it means that at one time or another we are all learners. Since we are all learners at some time or other, we are not afraid to put our learners in the driving seat. We want lifelong learning to flourish throughout Saudi society.