Public libraries: A safe haven for students during holidays

Monday January 20 2020



It is still holiday time and for most students, studying is not on the to-do list. But not for Fahad Musasizi, a Senior Four student at Buziga Islamic Theological Institute. I met Musasizi at the National Library on Buganda Road in Kampala and he said, “I want to score Aggregate eight in eight subjects in my final exams that’s why I am here.”
Musasizi has to part with at least Shs3, 000 as transport and library fees three times a week to go to the library to study. One may wonder why he would leave Buziga which also has a community library to travel to Kampala to study.
“By 9am, the Buziga Community Library is already full with students and it is much smaller than the National Library,” he intimates.
Abdul Mugisha is pursuing a post graduate diploma in Monitoring and Evaluation at Uganda Management Institute. While he is a resident of Gayaza, a Kampala surburb, every morning, he goes to the National Library on Buganda Road to study.
“At home, I get distracted and can hardly concentrate on my course work, that’s why I come to the library,” he says.
Mugisha says libraries provide a conducive environment for people who want to read but also have resources such as references and a variety of books.
“Libraries have a collection of different materials; you can find a rich collection of different books from current to previous editions,” he says.

Public libraries provide an avenue for children
Public libraries provide an avenue for children to research and understand other aspects of society. PHOTO BY Paul Murungi

Inside a public library
At the entrance of the National Library, one is welcomed by a display of reference works, a list of Ugandan presidents, eBooks and the latest books in the library.
Further inside, there is no doubt that it is business time and by 10am, the library is already teeming with all kinds of people. These range from primary school pupils to researchers of all ages. Peace and quiet is maintained and apart from the clicking sound emanating from a computer keyboard from one side of the library, there is nothing but a beautiful silence that makes one want to sit down and read a book. Now I know it is true that the power of public libraries as places of comfort for reading and research cannot be underestimated.

Masindi Municipal library
Almost 217 kilometres away from Kampala City is the Masindi Municipal public library. Tucked away in the tranquil environs of the Masindi Municipality Council offices; it is a safe haven for many students, especially during school holidays.
On my recent visit to this particular library, I meet Evelyn Nyakato, a Senior Six student from Mandela Secondary School in Hoima. Nyakato’s home is half a kilometre away from the library.
I ask her why she prefers the library to studying from home.
“At home, there are too many distractions from my family. It is almost impossible to concentrate, that’s why I opt to come to the library. It is more conducive.”
Nyakato also points out that the library has many books on different subjects which aid her to do extensive research.
The Masindi Municipal public library is divided into three sections; a general reading section, a children section and a magazines and newspaper section.
The children’s section has smaller chairs and tables compared to other sections in the library. Light reading material such as newspapers and magazines are assembled in one corner and continue to attract people to the library. The library also has text books covering a wide range of subjects.
Jackson Kiiza, a Primary Four pupil from Masindi Public School loves reading in the children’s section. He says that’s where he finds his favorite novels. Kiiza adds that he finishes his holiday work from the library.
When he gets exhausted because of studying hard, he peruses newspapers specifically children’s magazines. Daily Monitor’s Rainbow Magazine is one of his favourites.

Library fees
At the library in Masindi, all you have to do is register with the librarian before accessing the section of your choice. This is not the case at the National library where users have to part with Shs2,000 per day.
Hellen Muyomba, the principal librarian at the National Library of Uganda says the library charges Shs2,000 to supplement on their budget, and quickly adds that the fee is not intended to keep people way.
Musasizi says the library in Buziga charges Shs 1,500 per day.

What experts say
There are few public libraries in Uganda. Parents with the desire to see their students excel expect them to read hard. Most times, they are forced to pay for extra-coaching to teachers especially for those in candidate classes.
Job Matua, a teacher at St Pope John Paul Secondary School in Nakaseke District, says every district should have at least one public library.
“Public libraries are very good. They provide an avenue for children to research and understand other aspects of society,” he says.
Matua adds: “Most students are given a lot of work during school time which they cannot comprehend within that specific period. The child needs time to go over what they have learnt again. This is where students find time for deeper understanding of the concepts they have been taught.”
Matua says most schools lack essential text books which can be found in public libraries.
According to Hellen Muyomba, the principal librarian at the National Library of Uganda, even if all kinds of people visit the library including researchers and academicians, the majority are students especially during the school holiday.
Muyomba says the library registers at least 50 to 60 people every day during holidays but the number goes down to between 30 and 40 when the school term begins.
“Our peak season is during school holidays,” she says, and also points out that during national examinations, students also make the great trek to the library.


Free Internet
Muyomba says one other key thing attracting students to the library is free Internet and computers which they use for research.
With digital learning, the library has also developed e-learning platforms such as e- reader books on computer tablets.
One beneficiary of the initiative is Buganda Road Primary School which is just opposite the library.
Most public libraries grapple with limited space and lack new and improved book editions.