libraries in Tanzania        0  4776 reads

Introduction to public library services

The public library system of Tanzania is mainly managed and run by the Tanzania Library Service Board (TLSB); the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar, having their own public library programme The Board is a government agency established by Parliament through Act No. 6 of 1975. This Act repealed the earlier Act of 1963 giving more powers to the Board in terms of co-ordination and promotion of public libraries in the United Republic of Tanzania. The main mission of the TLSB, which is under the Ministry of Education and Culture, is to establish, equip, manage and operate libraries throughout the country. The mode of development is to start with regional libraries, then district libraries and finally village libraries. So far the Board provides its services in eighteen out of the twenty administrative regions of Tanzania (Pwani and Singida being the two without). There are also eleven district libraries and four divisional libraries.

The main objective of the public library system is to provide information resources to support education, culture and mental relaxation. Services offered at the National Central Library in Dar es Salaam, as well as at various service points, include:

Lending services - the lending library provides facilities for borrowing books for home reading. This service is provided to registered library members and is open to any user resident in the area served by the respective service point.

Reference services - most major regional libraries are equipped with reference resources and facilities which enable readers to use these for study purposes as well as to have their enquiries answered by professional librarians. Children's library - services to children include lending services, reference, audio-visual materials and story hours.

Textbook collections - these service mainly students in secondary schools as well as open university students. Bibliographic services - The National Central Library acts as the national bibliographic agency and plays the role of national bibliographic centre. The centre has been in existence for about 15 years. It has five major responsibilities:
- administration of ISBNs and ISSNs, whose data are sent regularly to the headquarters in Berlin and Paris;
- document procurement; - serials gathering and control; - description and processing of documents;
- production of the Tanzania National Bibliography Book mobile services
- mobile services/libraries were introduced in the early 1970s with the aim of providing books to people in rural areas. They were divided into two
- the first one being the rural mobile library service which provided services to Mwanza, Tanga, Mtwara and Coast (Pwani) regions; the second being a school mobile library service which offered services to secondary schools and colleges in Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Dodoma, Iringa and Mbeya regions. Both services were cut in the mid-1980s owing to financial constraints. Other services, such as documentation and consultancy, are offered at the National Central Library in Dar es Salaam.

The Tanzania Library Service is a legal depository. However, the provisions for legal deposit have been found to be rather inadequate. The penalty clause for non-compliance is not binding and there is no time limit for depositing publications. Given this state of affairs many publishers, printers, authors, etc., take advantage of this situation and are unwilling to deposit their products since there is no financial gain. The law on legal deposit needs to be revised to enforce some of the missing elements and to ensure that books are deposited on time.

Library resources

Library resources found in most public libraries in Tanzania are books, periodicals and newspapers. Audio-visual materials are found in libraries around Dar es Salaam, but there are few elsewhere. At June 1999, the total book stock in all the service points of Tanzania Library Service Board was 560,473 volumes. The Board has been unable to purchase new books from publishers both locally and overseas because of lack of funding. This has resulted in the TLS failing to satisfy users' needs. Most books added into the system are received as gifts and donations, in particular from Book Aid International (which supplies the vast majority), United Nations Agencies and the British Council.


The main supporter of public library development in Tanzania has been the central government. In the past, government funding through the Ministry of Education enabled the stocking of all regional and district libraries in Tanzania. Not only that, support to libraries featured highly among donors since they were accorded high priority within the national development plans. However, in the last ten years this picture has been changing and the development of public libraries has almost come to a standstill. The central government budget to libraries currently only meets staff salaries. There are few financial resources available for book stock development or for the operation of additional extension services. The limited budget provided by the central government is a reflection of the incapacity of most governments in developing countries to meet the appropriate social needs of their citizens. On the reorganization of TLS in 1994, an independent Planning and Projects Development Department was created. In addition to planning, this department also has responsibility for fund-raising activities. The recently inaugurated Multi-Media Centre in the Children and Schools Division funded by UNESCO is an illustration of its success in this sphere.

Whilst the main responsibility for developing public library services in the country has previously fallen on the TLSB, it is the intention of recent legislation (1997) to introduce the decentralization of library services, to increase local government involvement and costsharing in any future development, and the expansion of the public library systems at national, regional, district and village levels. As a consequence it is expected that the role of the TLS will eventually be reduced to one of co-ordination and supervision tasks. The success of this initiative, however, will largely depend on the quality of staff. Training and re-training of information personnel (including regional librarians) who can cope with new challenges and demands from a wider variety of information-seekers at various levels will be of paramount importance. Also, since local authorities unfortunately find it difficult to collect adequate revenue to support the majority of their major activities, it is unlikely even with the creation of local library boards consisting of members of the local communities, that they will be able to be in a position to respond satisfactorily to the need for library development in their respective areas.

Membership enrolment fees were introduced in mid-1990 to support the government policy of encouraging public institutions and organizations to be self-reliant and to enable the libraries to identify serious and potential library users. It was also seen as a means of raising funds, since the government subvention has been reduced since the end of the 1980s. It was intended that the funds raised from the exercise should be used to improve the services provided to users; but, unfortunately, the level of funding raised in this manner has been insufficient to make more than a small impression on the amount required to fully meet the needs of the public libraries.


The total number of registered users, both adults and juniors, at all TLS service points as at June 1999 was 30,051. This number went down drastically when membership enrolment fees were introduced. Most of the users were scared away as they could not afford the fee; however, people are now beginning to return.

The membership fee is Tsh.3,000 for adults, Tsh.1,000 for students and Tsh.10,000 for institutions. The membership fee is paid annually and the identity card needs to be renewed yearly. A temporary membership fee of Tsh.500 is non-refundable and payment is made upon entry to the library. Since the membership registration procedure was introduced in February 1996, the National Central Library has so far managed to register a total of 2,104 permanent members and 1,896 temporary members, from whom a total of Tsh.3,612,000 has been collected.


TLS realizes the importance of educating and training its staff. In the past it has supported ten staff each year for further training at the School of Library, Archives and Documentation Studies in Bagamoyo. However, with the present financial difficulties, the Board cannot manage to sustain this training commitment. Also not a single person has been sent abroad for further studies since 1991. Thus, service points, sections and departments are more often than not staffed by members of staff who cannot articulate the needs and problems facing their users.

To date, Tanzania Library Service Board has a total of 505 employees, there are 44 librarians, 72 library assistants, 254 library attendants, 41 typists, 43 cleaners/gardeners, 46 watchmen and 5 drivers. The actual employee requirements for public library to date are 64 librarians, 106 library assistants, 100 library attendants, 59 typists, 35 cleaners/gardeners, 60 watchmen, 2 drivers - a total of 426. This shows that TLS has excess staff in the lower cadre, while at the same time there is a shortage of librarians and library assistants.

Problems and limitations

The main problem facing the public library service in Tanzania is lack of funds. This situation has seriously affected the TLSB in many ways such as:
- lack of adequate, up-to-date and relevant reading materials for public/general users;
- lack of vigilance in public relations and publicity on the side of professional librarians, and thus a poor response from potential donors;
- training of library staff in new skills has not been possible;
- unavailability of working tools like paper, catalogue cards, typewriters, vehicles, etc.;
- renovation of existing building has been impossible, particularly the regional libraries in Morogoro, Mbeya, Kagera, Iringa and Ruvuma. Furniture is worn out as a result of a lack of maintenance;
- lack of motivation has forced library professionals to resign and look for greener pastures inside and outside the country;
- the Board has been unable to raise the standard of the library school in order to satisfy the needs of the country;
- most development projects have remained incomplete;
- TLS has been unable to update its services because of the lack of funds to buy adequate computers and other modern equipment.

Conclusion and recommendations

Although there are many problems affecting library development in Tanzania, every effort is being made to increase accessibility to library and information services by the majority of the population, as well as collecting and preserving the national imprint for present and future generation. The Board's future plans for library development include advice and coordination of the very many libraries which exist in government ministries, departments, and public and private institutions so as to achieve uniformity in the country's library system. The new procedure for membership enrolment is proving successful. Actually it has reduced the congestion of users and many library users are now feeling responsible for the library facilities. Finally, it is the anticipation of most librarians that by improving their services and facilities, they will attract more members as they move ahead. With regard to bibliographic services there is an urgent need to create a computerized bibliographic database which will provide information contained in national publications, journals and official reports. As we enter the next millennium, access to education, books and knowledge will play a vital role in improving human quality. Nowhere is the improvement of human quality of life critical as in many Third World countries.

Theophilus E. Mlaki
Director of Information and Documentation
Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology
P.O. Box 4302, Dar es Salaam

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