In an effort to improve the literacy levels, the Public Libraries Act of 1964 was passed, leading to the establishment of the Public Libraries Board (PLB) charged with establishing, equipping, managing and maintaining public libraries.
Since then, only 14 libraries exist out of the 21 libraries that were under PLB. Mbarara Municipal Council’s public library however has a different story explains its formation. Agnes Ninsiima, a senior librarian at library explains that after the expulsion of the Indians in 1971, they we forced to carry most things home with them except for the books they had. These books were then locked in one of their shops until when the Office of the Prime Minister came to establish a refugee desk in Mbarara.
The Municipal council then offered land the OPM which gave birth to the advantage of constructing a public library. After the structure was put up, the books that were earlier abandoned by the Indians prior to their expulsion were then shifted to the newly constructed public library.
“It’s like giving birth to a child without a proper plan. You’ll always tend to think about that child last,” the Senior Librarian Agnes Ninsiima said.
With a lot of challenges besieging their way of work, Maureen, the Deputy Librarian at the Mbarara Municipal Council Public Library told The Observer in an interview that indeed a lot of funding is needed to help them deliver on their objectives.
Maureen further added that most books are gathering dusts in the shelves because they are often irrelevant to be life changing to society.
“We largely depend on donated books but what we receive is sometimes not relevant. Yet there are many books produced locally and culturally that are relevant to our users” she said.
“To show you that there is less priority accorded to us, even this computer you see me seated on was donated to us. So previously we used to go to secretarial bureaus in case we needed to type either a report or keep records,” Ninsiima explained.
With most users sampled as Primary, Secondary and University students, the library is under stocked on books that meet the needs of these users. The Uganda National Library (UNL) is on the spotlight for always sending books they have weeded out of their own to this congested library.
Most books in stock at the Mbarara Municipal Public library are majorly from the disciplines of Generalities, Philosophy & Phycology, Religion, Social Sciences, Languages, Natural Sciences and Maths, Applied Sciences, Arts & Literature and Geography and History.
Commenting on the funding, the Librarian Agnes Ninsiima said in defence that the Municipal council plans to set aside a self-help annual budget to always help the library conduct its own activities like purchase of important books and computers.
Agnes added that the library is incapable of effecting changes like production of an ICT based system due to other limitations like inadequate space.
“I would like my readers to get some useful information from the internet and I had lobbied for the computers already but I can’t get them because I don’t even have where to put them,” she said.
In a contrary argument, the Town Clerk of Mbarara Municipality defended the council over the allegations of lack to give the library the priority bit deserves in terms of funding and expansion. He instead admitted that the funding could be little but it’s not true that the library is not given priority.
“Public means unlimited so it’s hard to make room enough for the public. The other thing is that the library has seasonal users that sometimes when I visit, I find the place absolutely empty and when one visits a week later, the place is boggy full,” Mr Baryantuma Johnson Munono explained.
In the issue of the books, the Town Clerk said that he is working out the nature of the relationship between the National Library Board and Mbarara Municipal Council Public library so that the supply of books can be instated as the case is with the other libraries.
The library also lacks special sections like the Children’s section because of the challenge of inadequate space. Information reaching our desk has it that the Mbarara Municipal Council had planned to extend the library but later, this provision was without explanation scrapped off the budget.
When the librarian was asked to comment about the allegation, she declined saying the information was confidential.
“The only thing I know is that politics is in play. Whenever we propose to come up with a certain library charge to generate money for our own progress, councillors come around as the biggest limitation saying we shouldn’t charge their voters.”
She also added that the library premises are barely guarded therefore leaving the place vulnerable to attacks. It’s important to check people upon entry and exit of the library to avoid theft of library material or unauthorised access of the premises for purposes of safety.
What users say?
Aruho Marvin, a student doing Business Administration at Mbarara University of Science and Technology says “the library needs to stock books in fields of Business, Economics and Entrepreneurship if its aim is to equip the society with knowledge and skills of self-survival.”
Anthony Otushabire Tibyangye a Journalist with Daily Monitor says, “I don’t know much about other public libraries but all I know is that they only have very old books in stock which mostly are rich in history and philosophy failing to match the dynamism of today’s societal livelihood”
Muhwezi Francis, an S.6 hopeful from Mbarara Central High School says, “I’m fine with the way things are looking. The chairs are enough and the place is awfully quite which is good for individual concentration.”
Kyang Lee Samson, another S.6 finalist from Eden International School says, “This place is good for concentration but we wouldn’t mind internet being made available as well. Furthermore, 16 physics students can’t use one Abbott so clearly, more books are needed.”