libraries in Malawi        0  1405 reads

The Malawi National Library Service (MNLS)

The Malawi National library Service is the only public library service and is funded by the government. It was established by an Act of Parliament in 1967 which became effective in 1968 when the first director was appointed. As a free national public library service, its services are provided through the headquarters library (city centre) and branch library both located in Lilongwe, regional branches in Mzuzu (northern region) and Blantyre (southern region), and district branch libraries in Luchenza (Thyolo district), Mulanje, Zomba, Karonga and Namwera (Mangochi district).

The Malawi National Library Service also runs a community information centre at Chiwamba. This is a joint pilot project between Malawi National Library Service and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada. Over 1,114 library centres have also been established throughout the country in primary and secondary schools, colleges, agricultural development projects, clubs, adult literacy centres, mission stations, prisons, hospitals and community centres.

However, this rosy picture is tainted by meagre resources and a myriad of competing priorities in the national budget that have resulted in funds allocated for books, buildings, staff and other essentials dwindling to levels far below the rates of inflation, expansion of education and literacy programmes and population growth. If MNLS cannot do the impossible by continuing to provide all the services to its patrons as if nothing was amiss, it is at least striving to maximize the use of the meagre resources at its disposal while at the same time stretching its ever dwindling budget.

Staff structure and duties

The present establishment provides for 90 posts, divided into core library personnel and administrative support personnel. The National Librarian is the chief executive of the MNLS. He is responsible for the planning, organizing, controlling and co-ordinating the activities of the entire Malawi National Library Service. He is answerable to the Malawi National Library Service Board.

The Head of Branch Library Services is responsible for the supervision of branch libraries. Below him are branch librarians who are responsible for the day-to-day running of the branch libraries. They are assisted by library assistants. The Head of Extramural Services is responsible for planning and co-ordinating activities of extramural services department. This department, it should be noted, is responsible for the rural library service and school library service. Below him are three regional heads representing the three regions, north, central and south. They are also assisted by library assistants.

The Head of Technical Services is responsible for the co-ordination of all book selection, orders, processing and major repairs from the regions. Technical services in the Malawi National Library Service are centralized for efficiency and economy. The cataloguing and classification of books is carried out in this department, and branch libraries receive their latest additions to stock already fully processed and ready for loan to members of the public. The Book Development Unit is a small unit and is responsible for the preparation, printing and binding of all publications published in printed form by Malawi National Library Service as well as for printing and binding for internal and external use. The following publications are produced each year: annual reports; staff newsletter (quarterly); The Werengani Series (children's books).

The MNLS has been associated with the Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE) for over eighteen years, and accommodates several CODE-funded projects involving book purchases, the publishing of children's story books, and the training of school librarians. Malawi has been getting books from CODE over the past eighteen years. CODE started by sending books targeted at children. Over a period of time it was discovered that children's literature from Canada was not very suitable for the children in Malawi. A decision was made to purchase locally published books to be distributed to school children in Malawi. A writers' workshop produced the first title in the Werengani series. To date, sixteen titles have been published.

The books are popular with children as well as with adults because of their simplicity and relevance. MNLS is seriously thinking of reprinting some of the titles for commercial distribution; money realized from the sales will be used for printing more books. The future of publishing for children in Malawi can be viewed with optimism because:
- Children's books constitute an inexhaustible market for publishers unlike textbooks.
- Over 60 per cent of the readership is made up of young people.

The Accounts and Administration section controls the receipt and expenditure of funds according to the Board's financial regulations and the requirements of the Auditor General. It draws up preliminary and revised budgets for approval by the Board and ensures adherence to the budget.

The activities of the Accounts and Administration department entails particulars the following:
- Control of receipts;
- The supervision of expenses;
- The control and dispatch of debtors' monthly accounts;
- The settlement of creditors' accounts, locally and abroad, by means of cheques and bank drafts;
- The application of budgetary controls, and the compilation of financial statements.


Practically all funds are derived from government grants, though sometimes funds come from grants by benefactors. Funds allocated by government are most of the time unrelated to the goals set out for MNLS and there are arbitrary budget cuts in times of financial difficulties.

Year Budget (Kwacha) Budget (UK pounds)
1998/99 9,032,000 124,411
1997/98 * 13,391,309 183,443
1996/97 3,961,047 54,261
1995/96 2,816,540 38,583
1994/95 2,389,225 32,729

          * Extended to 15 months and included provision for the purchase of three vehicles.

Controlling expenditure is becoming progressively more difficult, as very little room is left for expansion and growth. The main source of income, i.e. contribution from the state, fell by 7 per cent compared with an increase of 31 per cent in remuneration alone, notwithstanding the continued practice of freezing posts.

Paradoxically, the structural adjustment programme of the World Bank (which has resulted in the destruction of some libraries in Africa), has helped streamline Malawi National Library Service. It has made the MNLS set realistic staff levels, and reassess its role and comparative values. It has also brought about the development of budgets, so that departments have more control over their own expenditure, rather than the loose funding of the past.

Stock and users

The number of registered borrowers reached and topped the 10,000, mark not all of them are active of course. This out of a population of 9.8 million. MNLS issues annual statistical data of borrowers by locality. Certain areas contain more avid readers. It has been noticed that the year a branch library is opened in a district/locality is the year of heavy influx of new borrowers. These are mostly school children. The total stock of MNLS is estimated at 339,478 and includes all kinds of books that as far as possible reflect the community's diverse requirements. There are estimated 4,528 documents in the World Bank collection to date.

General statistics


Year No. of readers Books loaned Books added
1997/98 n.a. 289,115 36,275
1996/97 7,490 221,844 30,737
1995/96 9,217 244,914 22,488
1994/95 10,264 237,126 26,525

The future

The future of the MNLS is linked to the needs and resources of the Malawian society rather than to internationally accepted professional strategies or beliefs. Services are geared to meet user needs, geared to a specific target rather than to acquisition in general and is more service- and user-oriented. This has resulted in the trimming down of some structures and staff, but the benefits are now more measurable and meet expressed needs. As it is now smaller and more focused, it is hoped it can be more easily financed. The development of professional and human resources will be linked to real needs. If the result of meeting user needs means that the profession of librarianship becomes less distinct from other professions, then so be it.


The Malawi National Library Service has succeeded in avoiding the disastrous decline that has happened elsewhere in Africa because of its ability to create a system of branch libraries and library centres which ably provide access to books and other reading and learning materials to the people who need to read and study.

George Kishindo
Malawi National Library Service
P.O. Box 30314, Lilongwe 3
Fax: +265 781616
Country Reports – Malawi

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