Research findings have shown that 80% of the public believe libraries provide the opportunity to acquire new skills.
Previously, libraries were thought to be a place for revision by students but findings in a recent report ‘Perceptions of Public Libraries in Uganda’ show that some library users consider libraries a source of news and information on topics like agriculture, health and employment.
The director of the National Library of Uganda, Gertrude Kayaga Mulindwa, notes: “We have very few people using the libraries. Our peak season is examination time when students come to revise.”
An NLU board member believes that the library architecture puts off the public from frequenting the libraries.
“Some of our buildings are dusty and are built in this old Indian style that smacks of old age and decay and so, people stay away.”
Monika Elbert, who works for a non-profit organisation dedicated to enabling access to knowledge through libraries, says it is lack of support and awareness that keeps people from accessing libraries.
“More awareness and support is needed for library services to go beyond providing books and places of study,” says Elbert.
Libraries have, therefore, designed strategies to attract ordinary Ugandans. Mulindwa says they are building a database of 1,000 youths from Kampala, Lira and Masindi who will be notified about employment opportunities.
In Kenya for example, two libraries in Kisumu and Eldoret have positioned themselves as vital links in the chain of health information. Librarians trained over 1,600 health workers, students and members of the public to access online health information resources.
As Elbert points out, “There is a lot of rubbish on the internet and there is need for a gatekeeper, in the form of a librarian, to show members of the public which information is useful and which information is not.”
As examples from countries like Kenya and Ghana show, when harnessed, libraries have the potential to spur development through provision of development information and through tapping other areas like training youths in ICT; improving on their social skills and boosting their confidence.