African Business

Meet the Library and Information Science trailblazer honoured with the Newcomer of the Year Award at Wikipedia’s annual conference


In a world where a gender imbalance persists in knowledge management, publishing and research dissemination, one woman has defied the odds and blazed the trail in a field largely dominated by men. This is none other than Dr Nkem Osuigwe, currently the Director of Human Capacity Development and Training, and the Chair of the Public Library Section of the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA) in Accra, Ghana.

Dr Nkem shares, “In my culture, women could dream, but most women could not aspire to be all they wanted to be, because sometimes there were invisible barriers that kept women down, not because they wanted to but because conforming helped them blend into society’s expectation.”

Dr Nkem, a Nigerian who lives in Ghana, attended the University of Benin, the University of Ibadan and Abia State University. She holds a BA (English and Literature), MLS and PhD (Library and Information Science). In her current position, she is in charge of training African librarians on how to open up knowledge through open educational resources (OER), Wikimedia projects and open licensing as well as how to lead their user communities to tell their own stories in online spaces. Her skills include digital preservation, digitisation, natural language processing (NLP), open access and indexing.

Dr Nkem creates powerful connections between the African librarian community and Wikipedia. She started her journey as a volunteer Wikimedian in 2020 upon the realisation that African libraries and librarians were missing on Wikipedia. She went on to organise the first African Librarians Week as part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s bi-annual #1Lib1Ref (One Librarian, One Reference) campaign, which calls on librarians around the world to add missing references to Wikipedia. More than 800 African editors participated, making 27 800 edits to improve information on Wikipedia. It was this, among other efforts, that led to her being nominated for and winning the 2022 Newcomer of the Year Award at the annual Wikimedian of the Year Awards, honouring exceptional volunteers for their contributions to Wikipedia, Wikimedia projects, and the wider free knowledge movement. The awards form part of the annual conference, Wikimania, where Wikimedia volunteers come together to share experiences and showcase some of the work that they have been undertaking.

“Getting African librarians to believe in the power of telling the true African story through adding citations and editing articles about Africans was amazing. It was a call to action for librarians to go beyond being disseminators of information to information leaders in their different countries, telling the stories of their communities on a global platform,” an elated Dr Nkem said in her acceptance speech.

She has served as the Director of the Nigerian Book Foundation and Anambra State Library Board, in Awka, Nigeria. She has been the Secretary and Chairperson of the Anambra State Chapter of the Nigerian Library Association, and she led the State to win the Best Chapter Award for three consecutive years. She has also served as a mentor for the International Network of Emerging Library Innovators (INELI), Sub-Saharan Africa (SSAf) Cohort 1 and 2 and as a coach for the AfLIA Leadership Academy, Cohort 1 and 2.

Dr Nkem represents AfLIA on the Management Committee of the UN SDG Book Club’s African chapter. She believes that libraries are the truest democratic institutions in any community, with the power to transform lives as they propel the connection of people to knowledge, ideas, skills and opportunities for better living. She is also an advocate for training librarians to understand the importance of opening up knowledge for greater access and exploring pathways for the integration of Africa’s local content into the global body of knowledge. Dr Nkem is widely travelled and has many publications and conference presentations to her credit. She is married to Prof Andy Osuigwe, a paediatric surgeon.

Dr Nkem’s first experience of the magic of a library was at the tender age of five, when her mother left her with a local librarian to go to the market during a civil war. The impressions she took away with her that day lasted a lifetime and led her to a career working in libraries and with librarians that spans over 35 years. She strongly believes libraries are more than books, and that the power they hold to impact, tell and preserve the history of communities remains untapped in Africa.

This is the work to which she and the team at AfLIA are dedicated to ensuring equitable access to information and knowledge for all. Dr Nkem also appreciates the challenges that exist in Africa around digitising libraries and ensuring that information is not lost and becomes more accessible to all.

She is a strong believer in the following causes: Arts and Culture; Children’s Rights; Civil Rights and Social Action; Economic Empowerment; Education; Human Rights; Politics; Poverty Alleviation; and Social Services. For a woman who has risen to prominence against all odds, not even the sky can be the limit.

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