Chapel Hill Librarians Helping Ebola Fight In West Africa

Oct 22, 2014

String-like Ebola virus particles are shedding from an infected cell in this electron micrograph.
Credit NIH/NIAID via Flickr/Creative Commons

Some Chapel Hill librarians are joining in the effort  to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. A non-profit group called WiderNet is making information available to those without Internet access.

WiderNet's project director, Cliff Missen, says only two percent of people in Liberia and Sierra Leone have an Internet connection -- that includes health care workers.

"What we do is something completely different," says Missen. 

"We get permission to copy whole websites and we put them on hard drives and deliver them [to West Africa], so they can just get the website off of a hard drive instead of getting the website off of the internet. So it opens up quickly, tons of information, and no internet."

I feel like I have to do something. We are librarians, this is what we can do. - Cliff Missen

The virus is as much about logistics as it is about medicine, Missen says. Access to information is one way librarians can pitch in.

"I am very familiar with the country, I know how desperately poor people are. And I know how bravely and how hard they work to build their country up," says Missen, who worked in Liberia in the 1980s.

He has gone back several times since  to do medical training. Missen recently received word that one of his former medical students died of Ebola.

"I feel like I have to do something," says Missen. "We are librarians, this is what we can do."

The information will be delivered on 32 gigabyte memory chips for use in smartphones, tablets and laptops. There will be materials for healthcare workers, teachers, ministers and others. The group hopes to deliver these "pocket libraries" by mid November. They invite the public to donate thumb drives.