Public libraries are widely available in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe offering the traditional service of lending books and offering a conducive environment for studying, for instance, where school pupils or even university students can complete homework and other classroom-related reading, such as revising notes.
However, according to the survey titled, “Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa” by the Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), most libraries in the six countries studied, are small, have limited space and are resource constrained. Most lack technology-related facilities and in some cases relevant books to meet the needs of users.
When we spoke to Peterson Mutebi, a Senior Four candidate, he was optimistic that he would pass his just concluded Uganda Certificate of Education national examinations because he was able to find the required text-books in Hoima Public Library – books that are missing in their school library. On the day we spoke to Mutebi, he was revising the Solutions to UNEB Past Papers: UCE Chemistry 2011 edition in the serenity of the public library located in Hoima Municipality in mid-western Uganda on August 22, 2013.
“I have borrowed this book because it is precise and contains all the information I need to pass my chemistry examination,” Mutebi, a 19-year-old student of Balibaseka Secondary School in Wakiso District, said.
“We don’t have this book at our school library. I don’t know why it wasn’t stocked in our library. This public library contains books that are not in my school that can help me pass my exams,” Mutebi, who lives in Kalyabuyire village, five kilometers away from the public library, adds.
On the other hand, 19-year-old Morris Angudubo is bitter for he has had to move two kilometres from Rock Foundation High School in Masindi District to access the Masindi Municipal Council Public Library to revise for his Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) Biology examination, because his school lacks a library.
“My school does not have a library so we lack a proper place for our revision. This public library is the only place with furniture for reading in preparation for examinations; the problem is that the books here are outdated and hard to understand,” Angudubo says.
“Some private schools only think of making money and do not cater for facilities like libraries,” Angudubo, who was reading his own copy of the Biology: GCSE edition by Geoff Jones and Mary Jones, adds.
Challenges public libraries face
There are currently 32 public libraries funded by the taxpayers across the country down from 26 in 2006. In the EIFL study released in 2011, stakeholders in Uganda identified the three major challenges facing public libraries as limited space for users’ comfort, inadequate funding and lack of technology, which includes computers and Internet access. Public library users (94 per cent); non-users (89 per cent), local government officials from authorities that run libraries (100 per cent) and from authorities that do not (90 per cent) and national level officials (85 per cent) all believe that public libraries are under-funded.
“Many libraries do not have trained staff or enough staff to offer all expected services because the ministry of public service has not included them in the staff structure for local governments. Each local government wishing to provide a library service has to first negotiate for posts,” the director of the National Library of Uganda (NLU), Gertrude Kayaga Mulindwa said.
Mulindwa added that they encounter limited funding. They have to compete for funding with the other pressing needs of government such as health and education.
According to Mulindwa, public libraries also lack of purpose built structures – some of them are in office blocks, for example, those in Mbale and Mbarara Districts.
“We have very many users who request for the Internet for research, reading their emails and electronic applications for jobs. We don’t have funds to start the Internet here. But if we start one, the users will have to pay for it at subsidized rates,” the librarian at Hoima Public Library, Geoffrey Tumwesigye said.
“We are also housed in his building that belongs to Bunyoro Kitara kingdom. So anytime they could repossess the building as their income generating project. We have been here since 2004 and not paying rent. If we are to rent such a building we may need ($383) Shs1m per month, which we cannot afford because the users access our services free of charge,” Tumwesigye added.
Tumwesigye laments that there is no proper staff structure for librarians in public service. “We do not have promotional ladders in public service to develop our careers as librarians. We are currently understaffed here because when Hoima Public Library was under Hoima Town Council we were five staff members, but when the town council was elevated to a municipality the posts were reduced to three.”
Tumwesigye says his library is underfunded by government because it serves a larger community compared to other public libraries: “This is a very large library based on its stock of over 25,000 books for adults and 2,166 books for children, and the catchment area serving users from as far as Bulisa, Kiboga and Kibaale Districts including private schools that do not have libraries. So what is the rationale and discrepancy in distributing funds to public libraries?”
According to the EIFL study a typical public library user in Uganda is likely to be young, single male student from a middle class background, aged under 30.
The study showed that 64 per cent of library users are men while only 36 per cent are female. Forty nine percent are aged between 21 and 30, and 75 per cent have completed secondary school and some post-secondary education or a degree. Forty one percent of users are students.
Masindi Public Library is busy during school holidays with users ranging from 50 to 60 per day compared to 20 users per day when the schools are open.
Brenda Kwikiriza, a 19-year-old who is undertaking computer training at Masindi Public Library, says she wants to get computer knowledge in order to be competitive: “We are in the dot com world and if you do not know how to use the computer then you are misplaced.”
“For now I would wish to use the Internet at the Masindi Public Library to go to Facebook to make new friends. In future I will use it for applying for jobs, among others,” Kwikiriza says.
“I have not decided on the professional course that I will take now. Even then, it is important to study the computer because these days one cannot get a decent job without computer skills,” 20-year-old Mary Gorret Mutegeki said.
According to the EIFL study, a typical public librarian in Uganda is male. 66 per cent of librarians are male. Eighty six per cent are aged from 21- 50, and 36 per cent have a degree, professional training or a diploma in librarianship.
Over half of library users (59 per cent) reported visiting the library on a weekly basis and on average; nearly all users will visit at least once a month. Most users (90 per cent) visit the library for educational purposes.
Additional reasons for library visits include seeking national and local news and information (more than 30 per cent), health information (22 per cent), to conduct a job search or write a curriculum virtue (14 per cent) and to seek information on agriculture (9 per cent). The Masindi Public Library was part of a new library service introduced by EIFL that focused on helping young people find employment. NLU, working with Lira and Masindi public libraries and the National Youth Council, is supposed to train young people to use computers and the Internet — increasing their employability.
The Electronic Information for Youth Employment (EIYE), was to take advantage of the popularity of mobile phones among the youth and send regular text messages to over 1,000 young jobseekers about vacant positions, education and training opportunities, business support and loan facilities. NLU was awarded a grant of $15,000 (about Shs38m) from EIFL to pilot the new service through the Public Library Innovation Programme (PLIP).
Theft of equipment
“The users’ response towards the Electronic Information for Youth Employment service was good only to be disrupted after our IT trainer, Aspah Kasangaki stole computer accessories mid last year from three of the four computers that came under this youth project. Kasangaki is on interdiction for six months and the case is with the Director of Public Persecutions,” Katusabe said.
“Before this theft, our library was very busy with users who came in for research, among others. Even then the Internet services lasted from December 2011 to December 2012. We have not had the Internet since then. Some software has expired that needs updating as well. The British Council donated 20 computers and is yet to fulfill its promise of connecting us to the Internet for three years,” Katusabe says. “We still get users who need Internet services and we assure them that the library will soon be reconnected. Most of our users were mainly university students carrying out their research, others would search for medical and business information or social networking,” Katusabe added.
According to Katusabe they have managed to replace the hard disks and memory sticks on two of the three computers to keep the training section running. The library now has only six out of the 24 computers in operation. Students have to part with Shs10, 000 for each of the five packages compared to Shs50,000 at private institutions per package.
According to Mulindwa, Lira Public Library has continued to offer computer training to the youth even though the project funding ended last year.
The EIFL survey showed that there is strong belief in Uganda that libraries have the potential to improve quality of life by providing access to information across a wide spectrum of development issues, including health, communication, social cohesion, agriculture, citizen’s empowerment and e-government, poverty and employment.
Describing a public library, Mulindwa noted: “It is that neutral public place from where every member of the community regardless of age, education level and gender can access information and commune with one another.”
As to the state school libraries Mulindwa observed, “Some libraries are in very good condition and others are not so good. Private schools tend to have good libraries but some government schools such as Buganda Road Primary School also have good libraries...”
On whether schools are valuing the importance of having libraries Mulindwa said, “Some are and some are not. There are some schools that are partnering with public libraries to ensure that children grow up using libraries, examples are Mbale and Kabarole Public Libraries.”
Currently, Uganda has 16 community libraries.
According to Mulindwa, Ugandans want to use libraries but they are just not readily available. “That is why individuals are starting up their own libraries to cater for this demand. The private libraries fall under the Uganda Community Libraries Association and although they are not funded by the taxpayer but by communities themselves they serve the same purpose as other libraries,” Mulindwa said.
tough job as a public librarian
Lydia Katusabe a librarian at the Masindi Municipal Council Public Library, says that she is the only staff at the library. “I don’t go on leave unless it is maternity leave. It also means that I should not fall sick. I have talked to the Town Clerk over the possibility of recruiting more staff and he has said there are no funds for more staff.”
Katusabe adds that the Masindi Public Library lacks enough reading tables and chairs for the special children’s section.
The Electronic Information for Libraries study shows that the librarians’ priorities if funding were increased would be replacing, extending or maintaining the building equipment (especially computers, televisions, fax machines, phones and printers.
Only 36 per cent of public libraries surveyed had computers for public use. Forty six percent of libraries have between 1 and 10 computers – but these are mostly for the operations of the library and not for users. Only 21 per cent of library users use either computers or the Internet in public libraries.
According to the director of the National Library of Uganda (NLU), Gertrude Kayaga Mulindwa, a public library requires about Shs60m to pay staff, acquire information materials, run programmes for different types of library clientele, among others, per year. “That is an average figure based on a few libraries in operation.”
Under its “Quarter One Limits and Releases for Local Government Votes Financial Year 2013/14” the ministry of finance has allocated Shs82.5m ($31,657) to be shared among 13 public libraries out of 32. Entebbe Municipal Council Public Library get Shs1.1m; Hoima Public Library Shs2.4m while Fort Portal Municipal Council Public Library Shs22m.
Hoima Public Library registers 280 – 300 users per day during school holidays. And it gets 135 users per day when schools are open.
helping teen mums
National Library of Uganda and Kawempe Youth Centre, Naguru Youth Centre as well as a local NGO, Youth for Christ in Mengo, are giving pregnant teenagers computer training to enable them to access health information for their neo-natal and post-natal life. The training is done on Saturdays and the NLU donated a computer each to Naguru and Youth for Christ. “This training will end this September but we are working towards ensuring sustainability by training those who can train others,” Gertrude Mulindwa , director NLU said.