libraries in Zambia        0  8900 reads

Introduction to public libraries in Zambia

Public libraries began in the early years of the twentieth century as subscription libraries for Europeans, and with the provision of social welfare libraries for the African employees of mines and other large companies. The subscription libraries were gradually taken over by municipal councils in urban areas (Livingstone, Lusaka, Kabwe, Ndola, Kitwe, Chingola, Luanshya, Kamuchanga, Kalulushi and Chililabombwe), but the rural areas were thinly served by the book-box service of the African Literature Bureau, which was to be taken over by Northern Rhodesia Library Service two years before Independence.

Andrew Rooke's assessment of the situation at the time he wrote, in 1983-4, is still valid today, only worse; as the economy of Zambia has continued to deteriorate, so has the funding received by public libraries been reduced.

Municipal libraries

The urban areas of Zambia are still served by the municipal libraries mentioned above; Mufulira is probably the best, followed by Lusaka. However, it is unlikely that any council library has funds for purchase of books. They exist on donations of books mainly from North American sources channelled through the Rotary Club or World Vision International, or from Book Aid International (formerly Ranfurly Library Service) of the UK and the Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE) channelled through Zambia Library Service. The last two sources may be preferred, because with these there is an opportunity of stating priorities in advance; other donors do not seem to have this arrangement. After about six months without receiving newspapers, Lusaka City Library started to charge for use of newspapers, and purchased them with the revenue raised from the user charge of K100 per 15 minutes (approx. US$0.04).

This scarcely reduces their popularity; the cost of a newspaper being K1000 per issue, beyond the reach even of most people in employment. However, apart from this, any other income generated by the library is paid into the general council account, and the library does not have access to it. Most of the municipal libraries charge a deposit or membership fee. While this may be affordable to the average person, obviously the most disadvantaged will be prevented from using the library. Some libraries charge a fee for study facilities, while Kabwe is reported to charge K20,000 (nearly US$10) refundable 'security deposit' for popular and expensive books. Lusaka City Library is heavily used as a study area, especially now that the British Council has given their textbook collection to the library. However, the general stock is scarcely used; date labels of many fiction titles have not been stamped for more than ten years. Two of the three branch libraries (Chilenje and Matero) were opened with funding from the British Council in 1976.

It appears that most of the book stock dates from that time, with very little later, or local, material. The book stock is frequently under-utilized, with two or three loans daily from a library in a heavily populated township. The same branch, however, is heavily used by school children for reading textbooks and doing homework; there is a high demand for quiet places, conducive for studying, as many homes are overcrowded and noisy.

Livingstone Council Library is also much used by students. However, only about four shelves of books are of recent date, and not all of them are relevant - for example, the millennium collection donated by the British government has only about two titles that are likely to be read. Ninety per cent of the books are more than forty years old, and completely unused. Golden Nachibinga's report on a visit to the Copperbelt illustrates vividly the situation in municipal libraries, from Mufulira, which is managing well, to Mpatamatu, where the floors are not even swept, and Kabwe, where the community has taken the initiative in acquiring book stock and funding for the library. Since council staff remain unpaid month after month, and household and market refuse is uncollected, libraries are not of the highest priority. Many large communities in the periurban areas are completely without access to books and other sources of information.

There is now a move to attempt to serve these areas through community reading rooms, but it is still at the stage of sensitizing the communities targeted. This will be joint project involving Lusaka City Council and Zambia Library Service. As Prof. Lundu said recently: 'Council libraries have lacked vision, leadership and funding; they have depended heavily on donors, but, without a vision, that doesn't help.'

Zambia Library Service

Upon the establishment of Zambia Library Service in 1962 (with a grant from the Ford Foundation) it took over the work of the Literature Bureau, and gradually expanded it beyond the book-box service, both in terms of the size of collection and area covered. By 1983 there were approximately 1500 library centres, with upwards of 200 books each, run by volunteers. Many were in schools or other centres of population. Even those in schools were encouraged to serve the surrounding population, and many of them still do. By 1972 Zambia Library Service had built six provincial libraries, but then further development came to a halt as the economy started to decline with the oil crisis in 1975.

Nineteen branch libraries have since been opened in converted accommodation identified by the local councils. Zambia Library Service levies no charges for individual borrowing except for fines on overdue books, the cost of replacing lost books, and, in some cases, a levy on lost readers' tickets. Charges are, however, made for the distribution of donated books to private schools and other non-government institutions at a rate of K50,000 (US$20) per consignment of 120- 150 books. Government schools and institutions are supplied free of charge. These books are deemed to belong to the school, whereas books in library centres are intended as a circulating collection and are Zambia Library Service stock. Zambia Library Service is now funded by a direct grant of K300 million annually ($120,000) which covers administrative costs, books, and all costs except salaries. On the whole, this is just enough to keep the institution, with its six provincial libraries and eighteen branch libraries, running, with two newspapers daily for each library, and minimal purchase of books. As with all other public libraries in Zambia, the ZLS relies heavily on donated books.

The Service is, however, able to undertake some additional activities, such as promotion of reading among children, in the form of reading tents and reading competitions, and promotion of libraries. 'Women's corners', which have been established in four libraries in an effort to increase women's use of the libraries, could also provide an early reading environment for very young children.

Community libraries

Community libraries were originally a 'donor-driven' programme, promoted by CODE. However, when they very soon dropped the programme, ZLS staff had already been persuaded that this was the only way to serve larger populations outside the district headquarters where branch libraries are planned. In some cases, where a library centre is serving the community well, it has been suggested that it involve the community in its management and become a community library.

At present only five are supported by the ZLS, in rural areas, and three more are the in process of being established in deprived peri-urban areas. The community finds the accommodation, staff, and any funding required, and Zambia Library Service provides books, advice and support. Since CODE withdrew its support from community libraries, funding for the purchase of local materials has become a problem that has not yet been resolved.

Community information services

The concept of community information has not been introduced to those manning these libraries. On the whole, this subject is still foreign to Zambian librarians, although every thesis written on Zambian public libraries since 1975 has mentioned the need for this kind of service in a variety of formats, considering the low literacy level of the community.

Zambia Library Service is in the process of starting to provide community information services at its provincial libraries, but progress is slow, owing to a lack of staff, training and resources. There is a need to repackage materials, to make them appropriate to the user as to level and language, but no library has the skills or the funds to do this.

Services to the visually impaired

Zambia National Library and Cultural Centre for the Blind was established in 1992 with extensive help from the Finnish Federation for the Visually Handicapped (FFVH). Although it now falls under the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare, it is still very dependent on donor funding. The institution is on e-mail, and is now well provided with the basic electronic equipment for scanning print and printing in Braille, and for recording and dubbing. In addition to the Headquarters in Lusaka, the public are served through 30 centres, ten of them in public libraries - Kabwe Municipal Library, Kitwe City Library, Livingstone Council Library, Mwense Branch Library, and six ZLS provincial libraries .

Information technology

It is fairly safe to say that no municipal library has a computer; the majority do not even have a telephone, although they are situated in areas with good access to telephone services. Zambia Library Service received one Macintosh computer from UNESCO in 1996, and three Compaq computers from CODE in January 1999. The Service is not yet connected to the Internet, but will be as soon as a telephone line is available. The six provincial libraries have telephone connections, together with six of the branch libraries. Three provincial libraries and Zambia Library Service Headquarters are provided with fax machines.

Other information initiatives

There may be isolated information centres provided by NGOs, but little is known about them. Most NGO information centres are targeted at professionals in various fields, such as gender or the disadvantaged. NGOs specializing in AIDS/HIV information tend to distribute their materials through schools and ignore other information providers.

The Ministries of Agriculture and Health provide extension programmes and both have a range of leaflets on a variety of subjects, but they tend not to co-ordinate their efforts or work with other information providers. USAID with the Leyland Initiative hopes to spread access to the Internet throughout the country, but plans of how they intend to do this have not been disclosed.

Publishing industry in Zambia

Although the remit of this report is libraries, it has to be said that the publishing industry seems to form a part of the whole problem. It remains at a very low level of development. Although there are, in theory, 41 publishers in Zambia, very many of these have not produced more than one book. Only a few titles are currently available in the seven Zambian languages in general use and taught in schools (there are 74 languages and dialects altogether). The titles that are available are mainly short novels, or books of traditional sayings - apart from the school textbooks. There is nothing on agriculture, health or other subjects of local importance.

An assessment of needs

Bearing in mind the importance of public libraries in a variety of fields, such as support to functional literacy, good governance, education, civic education, and problem solving, especially in the present economic circumstances where many children drop out of school, the majority of the population live in poverty, retired people are returning to the land and need agricultural information in their neighbourhood, the following needs are observed:

Human resource development

Public librarians need:

- reorientation and training in the use of computers and the Internet;

- training in community information techniques;

- and probably training in public relations and management.

This training might be by means of attachments, or workshops; a training programme in community information might be developed with the assistance of NGOs working in community information.

Technical and learning infrastructure

The public libraries all require:

- rehabilitation, especially in relation to physical security. Some of Lusaka City Council's libraries are leaking badly, and Zambia Library Service has just started working on securing and repainting its libraries for the first time since they were built thirty years ago;

- computers, not only to provide access to information through the Internet, or to information on CD-ROM, but also for data management, office management, and wordprocessing;

- transport; Zambia Library Service needs one vehicle for each of six provincial libraries for servicing the branch and community libraries; the headquarters needs a small truck for carrying new books and equipment to the provincial libraries; municipal libraries need one vehicle each for reaching schools and general administration.


- All libraries have existed for too long on donated materials, and, inevitably, certain types of materials are rarely supplied by donors; these include appropriate technology (pit-latrines, wells, etc.) tropical agriculture, African history;

- Books are required on subjects of local importance; locally published books; books in local languages; information repackaged to suit local needs;

- Support is needed for publishers or libraries to commission materials on subjects of local importance where nothing is available at present;

- Imported books on subjects not normally supplied by donors are required.

Elizabeth Msadabwe
Deputy Chief Librarian Zambia National Library Service
P.O. Box 30802, Lusaka
Fax: +260 1 254993

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