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Sustainability Challenges Threaten Operations of Public Libraries

Joel Mukasa, who vends art crafts, and pieces of jewelry at the verandah of the library, says that the facility has almost lost its relevancy because it is no longer attractive to the community including students who were its regular users especially on weekends and during holidays.
23 May 2022 11:10
Lira City Public Library (1)

Audio 2

 Several public libraries in Uganda are facing serious sustainability challenges threatening their operations and existence. The public libraries lack the required financial resources, which has made rendered them a shadow of their former past.  

Some of the affected public libraries are in Masaka, Mbale, and Lira cities, and Nakaseke and Luwero districts. Despite the prevalent demand for the services in their areas of operation, the libraries can hardly serve their intended purposes.

In Nakaseke district, the community library located in Nakaseke town council was started in 1997 by residents with joint support from the British Council, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation-UNSCO, Uganda Telecom, and UNICEF. 

The library is currently struggling to operate following the withdrawal of the donors from the project in the mid-2000s leaving it to survive on the money generated from the user fees that are no longer forthcoming. Peter Balaba, the Manager of Nakaseke Community Library, says that the facility is currently running with a very small budget, which affects its operations.  

According to Balaba, the Community Library currently receives about Shillings 4million from the Central government to support its operations, which is insufficient. The situation is no different from Masaka City Public Library, which was established in the early 1980s with support from donors that included Lions Club International. 

Part of the library was apparently partitioned to create office space for the City Probation and Community Development departments. In most cases, the bookshelves are deserted with no attendants. The Library, which was formerly stocked with a range of books for elementary, secondary, and tertiary education as well as different volumes of Encyclopedias and novels, is now remaining with a few books and magazines from different government agencies. 

Joel Mukasa, who vends art crafts, and pieces of jewelry at the verandah of the library, says that the facility has almost lost its relevancy because it is no longer attractive to the community including students who were its regular users especially on weekends and during holidays. “Besides the lack of updated reading materials, the library can longer afford News Papers which also used to attract people into the facility,” he noted.

Florence Namayanja, the Masaka City Mayor, says that they are considering reviving the public library to its former glory such that it can fully serve its intended purpose. In the Luwero district, Maama Watali Public Library and Resource Center closed shop after operating for only seven years after the local government failed to maintain it.   

The facility had been set up by the Rotary Club of Ottawa in Canada which donated more than 100,000 reading materials to the library but due to the poor reading culture among the residents, administrators closed it in 2020.  Similarly, in Mbale City, the 1955 historical public library located along Republic street is currently in an appalling state and operates in very old structures.

The library building has not been rehabilitated for the last over 20 years and it currently leaks when it rains. Its ceiling board and the door angles have been eaten up by termites.  Hellen Ossaba, the Mbale City Librarian says that the state in, which the Library operates is dire noting that she cannot do anything to have the facility rehabilitated because of the limited funding.  

She notes that the City council appropriates Shillings 500,000 for the Library per quarter, which she says is not enough since there are a lot of costs. Besides the little funding, Ossa argues that the library also lacks enough space to handle the big volume of books and provide a conducive reading environment for users. 

Hakim Watenyeli, an elder in Mbale City, who was a regular user of the public library, indicates that it lost its true meaning following a decision to relocate the facility from its former premises on Kintu house.

//Cue in:” when someone…. 

Cue out; ….a service in Mbale,”//  

Rebecca Awayo, the Manager of Lira City Public Library, says that they are struggling with limited funding especially after the Central Government reduced their grants from over Shs.3m to Shillings 360,000 shillings per quarter. According to her, the funding kept reducing in the last three financial years and there have not been deliberate efforts by the local government to bridge the funding gap.

//Cue in: “Before we used…  

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Notably, it is barely a month after Uganda joined the rest of the World to celebrate World Book and Copyright Day, which is aimed at promoting the enjoyment of books and reading.  The day was marked on April 23rd, 2022 with national celebrations held at Uganda National Library in Kampala.