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is the only place with furniture for reading in preparation for examinations; the problem is that the books here are outdated and hard to understand,” Angudubo says.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.