Creating a virtual library in Tanzania

Tuesday August 6 2019


By Elizabeth Tungaraza

Have you ever asked yourself how children know many things compared to their age. If you give them access to a smart phone, they confidently know how to use it. They even know how computer works and how to use it. This generation has grown up with technology and the internet and they know how to browse the worldwide web more than their parents.

Knowing that today’s children are exposed to the world of computers, Rainer Mwashu, an IT graduate, came up with a learning library APP for the pupils and students.

For Rainer, the fact that today’s children can manage to post WhatsApp messages to a classroom discussion groups or browse the Internet in search of some materials to understand more about a topic they were taught in class is a big step towards learning.

This drove him to think of an online library project. He came up with what he called ‘Tanzania Online Virtual Library’ (TOVL) so as to address the needs of today generation.

‘Tanzania Online Virtual Library’ is a website, which enables pupils and students from private and public primary and secondary schools to enter their academic qualifications and find their text and reference books.

Rainer, the Senior Instructor at Bandari College, graduated at the Dar es Salaam’s Institute of Finance Management (IFM) with a Master’s of Science Degree in Information Technology and Management.


According to Rainer, the idea came up when he was a student at the IFM. While taking his Masters Degree course, Rainer found it difficult to access different books, while at the same time, he had to use extra efforts to find books for his four children. “It was a tiresome and costly exercise,” he said.

“My wife challenged me to create an online library. At a glance, I took her challenges lightly but as the days went by I came to realise that the idea can probably work. As an IT student by then, I took the challenge positively,” says Rainer.

Rainer says he started to experiment his wife’s ideas by scanning some books he borrowed from IFM library. He also did the same for his four children.

“I scanned and saved the soft copies for later use. I found it very useful for the whole family as it helped me to save some money which I would otherwise spent in buying books. Even school children from our family friends were beneficiaries,” says Rainer.

Realising how it works after successful trials of his online family library, in 2012 Rainer saw the opportunity and explored it. He started to create the online library that will help build reading culture in Tanzania.

“I contacted the ministry responsible for education in order to know which primary and secondary school text books are used in accordance to the Tanzania’s syllabus and curriculum. I also contacted some publishers and explained about my project.

I was lucky that they agreed and offer me support. I had all that I need to start my project,” says Rainer.

Together with his other four team members, Rainer started the Tanzania Online Virtual Library. “I was the first person to install books online at the URL,” he says.

For the first time, they managed to install 26 books for Primary and Secondary Schools. Currently, the Apps has 390 books which are in line with Tanzania’s syllabus and teachers can also find their manual books.

Under the support of Amani Mawala and Lordgurd Minja from the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, Stellah Kaguo from the University of Dar es Salaam and Ritha Ndyamukama from the Institute of Finance Management, Rainer’s dream came true and they created the TOVL Apps.

Rainer says his project didn’t sail through smoothly without resistance from some stakeholders. According to him, it was not easy as some publishers didn’t like the idea thinking that the whole idea is a shady deal while others didn’t want to share their books.

On the other hand, Rainer says before introducing payee/ charging system, the number of visitors in the website used to be around 700,000. “Unfortunately, the number dropped to around 200,000 after we introduced the Sh500 and Sh2000 weekly and monthly charging system consecutively.

Rainer says he is confident that such online learning App will create and build reading culture among Tanzanians school children, something which most of children and even adults in our families don’t have.

“Having a library at their finger tips, children may use at least half an hour a day to visit the online library through their parent’s smart phones. It simply needs one to download the App and install it in their smart phones,” he says, adding that It would help children to broaden up their knowledge.

“However, parents should exercise daily monitoring to ensure that their children strictly access the learning App instead of browsing unnecessary stuff,” he advices.

“Most parents are very busy nowadays to the extent that they can’t find time to interact with their children. This App can be a good alternative for parents to interact with their children,” he adds.

“What parents need to do is to ask their children to read a certain book for 20 minutes and/or do an exercise for 20 minutes. That would be enough for a child for a day. By doing so parents would be interacting with their children in a funny way while reading and children would in a long run be more freely and open to their parents” he adds.

Stellah Kaguo, one of the team members, despite of variety of educational website and learning Apps, the fact that the Tanzania Online Virtual Library App has books only makes it unique.

“While on other educational website or online learning App, students can find more questions and answers, in TOVL App, they access and read books only,” she says.

According to her, putting questions and answers online doesn’t make or help a child to learn. “Putting everything onto a website would be like spoon-feeding the children,” she adds.

Stellah believes that by reading books, children can learn and improve their vocabulary and writing skills that can add value to your life. “A part from text books, the App also contains stories books which can entertain children,” she says.

Stellah appeals to education stakeholders as well as parents to take advantage of technology to help their children learn. “Having a society with many Smartphone users is an advantage,” she advices.

Stellah feels that if we would have serious programs to sentisize people on how to use their smart devices as learning tools then we might change and improve our reading culture.

“This app is very helpful for children at home; we know many of our children love ICT, if this is seen as an opportunity then the acute shortage of books might be reduced. Being a mother this app also has helped me be more close to my children,” she says.

On the other hand, Stellah says most of school books are sold at a price of Sh7500 at a minimum price.

But with this App, parents have been helped so much as children have the books at the minimum cost and at the same time minimizing the digital gap in our society.