The gradual demise of the old library

Tuesday April 30 2019


By Dominic Ngodo

We are in an age of internet technology where students and young adults are glued to their mobile handsets. They browse the whole day to the late hours of the night. Days of sitting quietly in the corner of a library immersing themselves with knowledge are slowly fading away,

According to a report by The International Federation of Library Associations, IFLA, in August 10th 2018, there were about 350,000 libraries worldwide. With the current aggressive emergence of online media, that number is set to drop significantly.

Caution should be taken on ways of how we can safeguard the reading culture at an early stage. The role of libraries in our societies is changing to a place of peace and quiet where we can browse online and complete different assignments unrelated to the existing library materials.

At the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC), University of Dar es salaam, lecturers issue class assignments to students regularly with reference to the school’s library books. However few students opt to go and borrow those books. They prefer to search for the information online. Former Associate Dean, Dr Deitrick Kaijanangoma explained, “Libraries have become places to seek tranquility and peace, before examinations traffic increases in the library’’. One might be mistaken that books are being borrowed but usually that is not the case, students just seek the tranquil environment to read their own materials”.

On the issue of borrowing books, Dr Kaijanangoma continued, “Today students utilise the numerous search engines to search for required books and some even purchase the soft copy versions online for a little fee”. He however pointed out that there was also a category of students who never visit the library or borrow any books. This type of students opt to just use the meager notes they have jotted down in class and utilize them by quickly going through them before a quiz, test or exam.

To resolve this behaviour, Dr Kaijanangona advices that lectures should insist on verbatim references with page numbers on specific books for the class assignments. This will ensure libraries are utilized in the right context. A visit to the school’s library revealed that majority of the people attending the library were online through their mobile phones or laptops. There was also a significant percentage who came to read the different newspapers and journals.

The newspaper section had a lot of traffic every few minutes with students perusing the different newspapers. The fact that the institution is a journalism school also contributed to that. There are challenges in today’s libraries that need to be addressed to bring back the reading culture and utilization of the books in the libraries.

“We need a larger space in the library and more computers because we only have one for students, also more updated content is necessary,” requested Cosma Nchimbi, a Senior Library Officer at SJMC. She also highlighted that the proximity to the bus stop led to students and staff having to leave early in the evenings for safety reasons.

“Library exchange of books is one of the economical ways libraries can stay abreast and should occur frequently after weeding out old outdated books” added Hussein Miraji Beya, a library assistant at the institution.

“The administration departments of libraries and universities have a big role to play in ensuring that libraries continue being relevant. They should be quick to voice their opinion for adaptive changes to be implemented in the libraries,” he added.

“The ratio of books is not enough, classes can have up to 100 students while the reference books they are required to borrow are only 2 or 3 in the library” cited Dr Dominicus Makukula, also a lecturer at SJMC. He advised there should be close collaboration between lectures of various educational institutions to exchange ideas and formulate solutions to current library shortcomings. He also added that universities should invite relevant representatives of the ministry of education to keep them updated on what assistance and materials are needed to furnish our current libraries.

Lisah Temu, a first year degree student at the Institute of Social Works, regularly visits the institution’s library. However, she says that most of her colleagues prefer searching for academic materials online. “Even when they fail to find the right books as recommended by the lecturer, they opt to search for other relevant material online instead of going to the library to read the required book,” she says.

The convenience that comes with using online tools to access academic materials makes visiting physical libraries seem like a herculean task.

A research conducted by Cengage (an education and technology company built for learners, based in Europe) trying to uncover where most students get their materials from when doing research, revealed that on 11 per cent of over 5,000 college students begin their research in the school library.

From the pool of respondents on the research, one student explained, “I love the simplicity and ease of using basic search engines such as Google, they also do a pretty great job of helping you find necessary information.”

Benjamin Mazunda, a second year diploma student, at SJMC observed that entertainment should also be a crucial available resource in the libraries. “As a student journalist, the school should install cable television like DSTV in the library and more entertainment novels,” he opines. He further expressed the need for the libraries to be viewed by students as resources for refreshing minds. “The personality of libraries should transform to that of work and play. This change of mindset will encourage more students to visit our libraries.”

In a bid to boost reading and students making proper use of libraries, University of Dar es Salaam last year unveiled a new state of the art library at its main campus. With a capacity to accommodate 2,100 students, the library also boasts new technology through online access of study material. Students are able to access a variety of books in different fields.

According to the library Director, Dr Esther Ndenje-sichalwe, the institution has so far invested over Shs1 billion worth of books. “The library has the capacity to accommodate 800,000 books. It has a lecture hall with 6oo seats, and the roof is equipped with solar power for lighting and air conditioning,” she says.

The new library at the University of Dar es Salaam is not exclusive only to the institution’s students, outside members can also access it after passing procedural requirements.

Whether the library is being well-utilised or not remains to be answered. At the moment the facility hasn’t yet installed an online monitoring system that can monitor the number of students who visit the library at a given time.

The culture of reading should be encouraged at an early stage in life. It should be a way of life. If this is instilled at a primary and secondary school level, the behavior will be adopted in universities and in adulthood. The government through the ministry of education should ensure libraries at district and provincial level are built to facilitate this behavior change. Lecturers and teachers should ensure students incorporate the library resource in their studies through verbatim referencing of library books.