Improving localization features of the ABCD information management system and application for Sinhalese users in Sri Lanka

1. Overall developmental objective and rationale of the project

The overall objective is to strengthen the capabilities of libraries to organize and manage their information services in a 'localized' way, i.e. using the local language/alphabet and information resources. As a 'case' this objective has been successfully elaborated in Ethiopia in 2015-2016 with its Amharic script and language, but at the same time this created similar options for many other countries and languages. The ABCD Amharic project, supported by UNESCO in 2015, was successful in so far not only a Unicode-capable version of software 'ABCD' was created but also a local Amharic version, and that version is now experimentally used by the 'NALA' (National Archives and Libraries Agency) in Addis Abeba for further deployment with public and school libraries all over the country. This new project will focus on possibilities for the ABCD software, as a general information management system including library management, based on the CDS/ISIS technology developed and supported by UNESCO for many years, to be localized also in another non-Latin alphabet environment : Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. This means that not only the information itself (the databases managed by the system) needs to be stored in Unicode, but also the interface (the web-pages in fact) needs to be fully Unicode-compatible. While a lot of preparatory work has been done to make CDS/ISIS (for the first time in its long history) Unicode-compatible, the interface itself still needs to be addressed fully in this regard.  As a concrete implementation, the localization of ABCD for Sri Lanka, using the Sinhalese alphabet and language, will be envisaged. The Department of Library and Information Science of the University of Kelaniya, Colombo, is very interested to become the center of expertise to lead such project and co-ordinate the activities in the country. The ABCD system has been put at work in many institutions in Latin America and Africa (see a list of users e.g. at the website but still the interest and use in Asia is lower, mostly due to the non-availability of localization features in ABCD. Since now this localization feature is fully available after the Ethiopian prototype development project, new possibilities for deployment in other countries arise. In all cases there is an obvious need to also cover local information resources, also non-academic (e.g. 'community information' services). This would strengthen the roles of the libraries also in preserving the local cultural heritage and reaching out to the (rural) communities, using the language of the people being served. These goals have become more important of late and fully fit with UNESCO's priorities. With such new more local information services being covered, new opportunities to fund longer-term support and training on the use of ABCD will be easier to find. A proper local platform, also presented in the local language (e.g. Amharic in Ethiopia, Sinhalese in Sri Lanka), for long-term ABCD-users support in the country will also be more logical and feasible once the country has its own localized version of the system. Through this project ABCD would become a lot more attractive to many regions in the world, mostly east of Western Europe, which are until now hesitant to use a technology which does not allow full localization into their own language/alphabet, whereas UNESCO's CDS/ISIS still has played, and in many cases still plays, an important role also in these regions. A better localization of ABCD will add an important tool for Southern library and information services in non-Latin cultures and make them much more capable of joining the international information society.


2. Intermediate results

We see the following operational levels of results for this project:

  1. Creating a Sinhalese version of ABCD

All existing screen-messages and help-texts need to be translated into Sinhalese, using the official computer-science vocabulary for Sinhalese (and available from the website of the Sri Lanka ministry of Science and Technology ( The standard ABCD-translation function and multi-linguality can be used for this.

  1. Documenting the process of localization

Both the Unicode features (e.g. the new alpha-numerical and upper-case translation tables and of the storage layer and of the interface need to be explained with the currently existing Amharic, Arabic and the new Sinhalese alphabet examples.

The process of creation of a new language version, both for messages and help-files, needs to be fully documented in a step-by-step guide. This process will be fully based on the existing multi-lingual feature of ABCD.

  1. Publishing/promotion of the new version of ABCD with its Sinhalese interface (workshop in Colombo, Sri Lanka)

At the end of the project the new Sinhalese version along with its Unicode capabilities will need to be demonstrated to Sri Lankan interested institutes. The report on this event can then also be used to make some more publicity worldwide by distributing it using the online ABCD-discussion list mechanism and/or a paper publications in a conference or journal.

  1. Organizing training workshop 'train the trainers' in Colombo

A workshop to train the trainers from both library fields (public and school-libraries) needs to be organized on how to use the system with its localized interface. At the same time this workshop will also discuss the organization of the deployment in both library systems, as this represents a major effort all over the country.

For the intermediate results 1 and 2 already the University of Kelaniya has agreed to avail experts in software localization and Sinhalese. For the results 3 and 4 the promoter, a seasoned expert on ABCD and international information projects from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, will partly assume responsibility together with the University of Kelaniya. The Sri Lankan partner will take responsibility for all practical organization matters for the workshops and training, the Belgian partner will supervise the contents and workshop facilitation.


3. Activity plan

The following activities need to be planned in order to obtain the expected results:

  1. The ISIS-engine for Unicode needs to be tested specifically for Sinhalese: is the Unicode table as implemented complete and adequate, is word-recognition correctly applied, how-to-cope with some specific Sinhalese grammar/spelling issues?
  2. The existing 'messages and help-file translation' module of ABCD needs to be used to create a full Sinhalese version as a 6th official language (on top of currently English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Amharic) and as a demo for other such localized versions (Arabic, Hindu, Vietnamese...).
  3. A manual needs to be written in order to fully document the new features and describe the steps to create another localized version for ABCD. This manual has to become available along with all other ABCD-documentation.
  4. A workshop has to be organized in order to 1) present and 2) promote the new system with its localized features. This one-day workshop ideally runs in Colombo at the end of the project and will be attended by staff of at least 10 other Sri Lankan libraries and library-related organizations.
  5. A training has to be organized in order to train the trainers who thereafter will be training users of the new localized ABCD-version in their local environments. This 4-day workshop will be organized at the University of Kelaniya towards the end of the project and needs to be attended by at least 10 participants from each of the two library fields (public and school).
  6. The final implementation (installation and testing plus training local librarians) will only partially be part of the project as it will extend long after the proper project phase of 1 year. However important experience will be gathered from the first installations and training sessions.




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