Category Archives: public libraries

>Friday 26th March: Spice island libraries

>Hannah: Flying over the water to Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island 2 hours off the coast of Tanzania. We were met at immigration by Hamid Juma, Director of the Zanzibar Library Service. Their spanking new library in Stone Town, the capital city of the island, is one of the most beautiful library buildings we’ve seen this trip, with the traditional carved doors of the area. They are still settling in, but they are clearly trying new ways of displaying their stock, especially in the children’s section which was bright, airy and included lots of posters and child friendly bookshelves.

Rob: Then we began the whirlwind section of our day, as we get around 6 more libraries that fall into two main groups – Teachers Centres which also serve as district libraries for communities, and primary schools where the pupils have been benefitting from small ‘book boxes’ of fiction books for children in both Swahili and English. We are hoping to receive funding to extend this scheme to ten more schools and wanted to see how the model was working.

Karen: For me, the most memorable visit of the day was to Bububu primary school, which serves around 6000 children who attend in two shifts, served by nearly 70 teachers. Class sizes can be up to 70, and textbooks may have to be shared by 10 children, who are fitted into the classrooms by sitting on the floor without any furniture. Despite this, Hamid tells us it’s considered one of the best schools in the area, with an unusually high number of children going on to study at secondary school. With this many children, it’s clear the number of fiction books provided by the book box can never be sufficient, but the headmaster still allows the children to borrow the books, encouraging their interest in reading both English and Swahili. We were surprised to see how enthusiastic young children are about reading and understanding English – primary school is taught in Swahili and secondary school is taught in English, but they all seemed very aware of how learning English early on could help their chances later. We will need to talk more about how the project could be expanded, but we finish our last official visit feeling optimistic about the opportunities to help development in libraries in Tanzania and Zanzibar.

We are writing this on a terrace overlooking Stone Town in Zanzibar, with a well deserved drink at our elbows. Looking back on the week, Karen is tired but optimistic, and will be going back to Camberwell, London with a renewed sense of purpose. Hannah has got some great footage of the readers of our books and can’t believe how much of a difference they can make – it’s been a great opportunity to find out what happens after the funding comes in! And Rob would be relaxing, but is already thinking about his next trip to Zimbabwe in May, where no doubt he will be blogging enthusiastically – and Karen will be following up the contacts she makes in a project development trip in July for what we hope will be the first of many repeat visits to Tanzania.


>Thursday 25th March: Breakfast with Monkeys

> Karen: The need to fend of the attentions of monkeys keen on my breakfast banana was not helped by another early start, as we left Tanga and headed back ‘home’ to Dar es Salaam after two nights away.

We were held up by a couple of the all too frequent road accidents, and were late for our second meeting with Mama Africa at the Central Library. Luckily, we were still able to get some great footage of children enjoying their new space and an interview with the ever-inspiring Mama Africa herself.

Hannah: Our last appointment in Dar-es-Salaam was at the headquarters of the Open University of Tanzania (OUT). They have a very good library with mostly relevant books, which according to the librarian are about 90% donated by Book Aid International. They are dealing with the problems of overcrowding as their courses become ever more popular, by seating students outside in two large permanent tents. We are more used to seeing reading tents for children, but it was heartening to see how busy it was as people finished their day jobs and got on with studying together.

Rob: We are long standing supporters of OUT, and it’s great to see opportunities given to people who may otherwise have missed out on the chances that education can offer. An early night was in order as a 5am start beckoned as we prepared to leave Dar after a packed 5 days and travel by ferry to Zanzibar.

>Wednesday 24th March: Falling for Tanga

> Karen: After a five hour drive, we arrived in Tanga on the coast above Dar es Salaam, and immediately went to see Tanga Regional Library, a beautiful building in dire need of repair. Holes in the roof and ceiling were being mended slowly and the stock was outdated, though very well organised with an eager new librarian looking to introduce new activities and restore the library to its former grandeur. After the stock is weeded to remove outdated books, a donation from Book Aid International could really make a difference – the library is obviously well used by the community in Tanzania’s third largest city.

Rob: We also had a visit to a secondary school in the area which had recently benefitted from renovation by volunteers from Read International, a UK based charity that we support with book donations. The library was created from what had been a ruin of a room, but again, book stock was very low for the number of children who were obviously keen to use it. Hannah filmed some great interviews, whilst Karen and I discussed what might be possible with some follow-up from Read International.

Hannah: Our last appointment was with a local NGO, the Tanga Youth Development Association, where we discussed the exciting possibility of setting up a community library in the region of Tanga to particularly benefit young people looking to maximise their opportunities in life.

>Tuesday 23rd March: On the Road

>Hannah: We started with a longish drive (3 hours is long by most standards, but not compared to the drive we know we’ve got coming up tomorrow!) to Morogoro to the west of Dar es Salaam. On the way, we had our first glimpse of the Tanzanian countryside after what seemed like hours of traffic jams in Dar. On the way there, Karen and I were excited to see baboons on the side of the road. Even Rob, after 20 trips to Africa, was pulling out his camera trying to take a picture.

Rob: Once we finally reached Morogoro, we were pleased to see the children’s book corner that Book Aid International is helping to secure funds for was up and running and being well used. The children were clearly enjoying an opportunity for their own space within the library, playing games and reading books in a comfortable environment.

Karen: Our afternoon visits were both university libraries – Sokoine University, which is also the national library of agriculture, and Mzumbe University. Both are growing very quickly as more people choose to carry on their education, but we found a very outdated book stock and insufficient resources for the number of students they serve. However, we left feeling optimistic we could help with relevant and high quality books at both universities, who had enthusiastic staff and quite comprehensive IT systems in place.

>Monday, 22nd March: Finding our feet in Dar

> Hannah: The first day of any trip traditionally starts with a visit to the National Central Library, and it was a great introduction for Karen and I to meet Dr. Alli Mcharazo, Director General of the Tanzania National Library Services Board (TLSB). We were also really excited to see the first of the Children’s Library Corners, which we received funding for at the end of last year.

Karen: As a former Children’s Librarian, I was inspired by the passion of ‘Mama Africa’ the incredibly energetic and enthusiastic leader of the project. The sunny room that had been provided for the Children’s Corner, with its comfortable cushions and maps was a welcoming environment for any child visiting the library. Although they are still waiting for the final purchase of books in Swahili, the local language of primary school instruction, it was clear that the corner is already well used and well loved.

Rob: The afternoon was earmarked for visiting the School of Library and Archival Documentation Studies (SLADS). The school has expanded rapidly in the town of Bagamoyo to support over 400 students, housed in a campus on the outskirts of the town. We were able to meet the students and talk to them about our work – they had very insightful questions about how we pick partners and libraries to send books to and the use of ICTs in our work. It is encouraging to see that the rapid expansion of the college means that being a librarian is now, more than ever seen as a viable and attractive career among the young people of Tanzania.

Karen: We were pleased to be invited to Alli’s home in the evening for dinner and to discuss the future of library development in Tanzania. A busy day tomorrow means that an early night was the sensible option!