Information goes global

How one library is building relationships at Carolina and improving health education half way around the world

By Ginny Bunch (HSL) and Lisa Chensvold (IGHID)

It is fitting that the library at UNC Project in Malawi is housed in a building that’s name is a Chichewa word meaning “we should find out.”

That building, Tidzewe Centre, was built in 2003 to accommodate UNC Project’s growing research, clinical care, and training program in the capital city of Lilongwe. A collaboration between UNC and Kamuzu Central Hospital, UNC Project was started in 1991 and has become a dynamic partnership of research and exchange in the study, prevention, and treatment of infectious diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS.

susan swogger in foreground, smiling, with a journal in her hand, and library shelves in the background

Susan Swogger at the Malawi library

The UNC Project medical library could be considered the heart of Tidzewe Centre. The library supports the clinical and research staff of Kamuzu Central Hospital and students and faculty on rotation from UNC. It is also open to students and faculty from the nearby Kamuzu College of Nursing and Malawi College of Health Sciences. The facility is a hub for the growing number of Malawians who are earning degrees in the health sciences. “They use the library every day,” said Irving Hoffman, U.S.-based director of the UNC Project.

The main focus of the library’s collection is infectious diseases: HIV/AIDS, STDs, malaria, and tuberculosis. The library’s greatest resource is high-speed internet access, which is still a luxury in Malawi. The technology gives patrons access to a comprehensive collection of online journals and other materials.

The key to the library’s success is collaboration. Initially organized in the fall of 2004, the Tidzewe library has flourished thanks to an ongoing relationship between librarians at the UNC Health Sciences Library (HSL) and their Malawian counterparts.

This relationship has included intercontinental voyages on both sides. In 2008, then UNC Project librarian Ruth Mwenda joined colleagues from HSL at the Medical Library Association meeting in Chicago. Afterwards Mwenda spent a week in Chapel Hill learning more about the HSL resources and services that she and her patrons access on a daily basis.

Later that year Susan Swogger, collections development librarian at HSL, traveled to Lilongwe to help with improvements to the library. Swogger was tapped because of the 5 years she spent running a small library, experience her colleagues thought could be of use at Tidzewe. “Of course, the issues in Arizona and those in Malawi are quite different,” Swogger quips. But Swogger and Mwenda worked effectively on improvements to the online catalogs, collection development, cataloging, documentation, and training.

Swogger now collaborates with the current UNC Project librarian, Bernard Chilombe. They have recently ordered about 50 new books for the library and are slowly building the journal collection. “[Bernard] is interested in learning as much as he can,” Swogger said. “He just received his membership packet from the Medical Library Association and is very excited about it.”

For Hoffman, the long-term benefits of the library are clear. “It’s an invaluable service,” he said. “It’s building the health systems in Malawi.”

And what is good for Malawi is good for UNC as well. The Health Sciences Library is committed to becoming a true global leader, and the partnership with the UNC Project serves as a model for building successful collaborations with libraries and researchers worldwide.

For more information about UNC Project-Malawi, click here.
To browse the new Malawi library catalog, click here.
To learn more about the UNC Health Sciences Library, click here.