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Why our public library facilities and services need improving

Saturday July 17 2021
Library pic
By Epiphania Kimaro

I have used public library facilities and services in several countries, including Tanzania, Kenya, and the UK - and, based on my personal experiences - the services in Tanzania are relatively poor. In this article, I will compare my experience of the Kenya National Library Services with that of Tanzania, based on cost of the service, facilities and use of technology. Then, I’ll suggest a few low-hanging fruits to boost them.


Cost of services

It costs Sh1,000 per day to use the library facilities at the ‘Maktaba Kuu’ in Dar es Salaam, compared to Ksh20 (about Sh450). In addition, while library parking space is free in Kenya, there is no visible formal guidance on parking for Tanzania, where security guards will be on your neck asking for a parking fee of Sh500 per hour or Sh2,000 per day. Not only are these a burden for most users who are already on low income, there is no way to tell whether the money goes to the library or whether you are financing someone’s lunch!


Facilities

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Here, I will focus on sanitation. The state of the toilets at the main library in Dar es Salaam is shocking! There is no running water, the hand-washing sinks are blocked, and you will not mistake the fact that there is a toilet near you as you pass through the corridor next to it … not because there is a label, no … because there is a smell! So, after you use the toilet service, you draw some water from a bucket to flush, then use the same to wash your hands in the toilet sink because the hand-washing sinks are out of service.

In one encounter with a cleaner, she mentioned that there is a better toilet downstairs. The door to this toilet is labelled ‘Staff Only’. I can’t help wondering how it is possible to have working toilets for staff and impossible to have one for library users, even during a pandemic where hygiene and public health are such critical matters?


Children’s facilities

Studies conducted in Tanzania show that only a few Tanzanians, one percent in 1991, use public library services. The studies also show that the main library users are students who go there for school work and personal study. However, another study found that the reason why other people did not use library services was because they did not offer other facilities such as children’s study and play areas.

The main library in Kenya offers a children study and play area, where on Saturdays several children attend the library. They also offer discounted membership services for children. They even established a children’s reading club, which has explicit support from the ministry of education. All these are great practices because they align with the purpose of having public libraries, according to the IFLA/Unesco Public Library Manifesto, 1994, to create and strengthen reading habits in children from an early age.


Opening hours

The opening hours for Tanzania is 9am while it is 8am for Kenya. But 8am is a better and more reasonable time to start the day.


Backbone health

The chairs in libraries in both Kenya and Tanzania are not backbone health-friendly. It would be better to get expert advice next time library chairs are bought.


Use of technology

Technology facilities such as a computer-based search catalogue and Internet are essential for library users. At present, use of technology is still in its infancy in both cases, although Kenya is a step ahead with good Internet and a working search catalogue. The big computer screen at the library in Tanzania is never on, and might as well be long dead!


Way forward

There are a few low hanging fruits that the TLSB can pick to significantly boost the experience for library users. First: eliminate parking fees. Second: fix the toilets. It goes without saying that good sanitation at a public place like this, and especially in the current pandemic is worth putting everything down for. Third: revive the existing technology facilities such as the Internet room and the search catalogue.

The pandemic has shown us that productive work spaces go far beyond the office environment.

This is an opportunity for the government and the private sector to enhance public work-spaces such as the library, to match the demands of the current era.

Ms Kimaro writes about careers, leadership, and issues affecting youth and women.