2 February 2013

Tanzania: Conventional Libraries Crucial Than Ever

librarian and the former employee of US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Mr Mwinyihija Mwinyihija to visit the Tanganyika Library Services (TLS) to learn more about their operations.

This week I dropped by to see for myself what has changed in terms of their services since 1992 when I last visited the facility. At that time I was tasked by my supervisor from an international organisation to go look for some business information. In those days (80's and 90's) when the internet was still a novice in the world, especially in developing countries like Tanzania, conventional libraries were used as a major source of information.

When I visited the central library recently, I established that nothing much has changed in terms of technology - the facility which is located on Bibi Titi Road is still conventional. The day at this library starts with filing and shelving of reference materials, preparing issues and serving customers who want to use the facility.

Librarians' key roles include arranging materials which consist of books, periodicals, research papers, newspapers and other publications in their respective catalogues according to subject. Frequent users of libraries include students, researchers, lawyers and journalists. However, with the ever growing access and use of the internet many people prefer to look for information from the numerous online sources.

I therefore observed during my visit that conventional libraries are still very much used by the students, who have no access to internet. But some students still see the importance of reading printed copies of book for reliable information. "It is always easy to pull down extensive information on various issues from the internet but the problem is how to verify that information," says Rajab Muhammad, who is studying at one of the Islamic seminaries in Dar es Salaam.

Another student from Muslim University of Morogoro, Shukran Khamis said that it was not easy to access electronic libraries which need subscription. If one wants a reliable information one ought to go to search engines such as Lexus Nexus which are paid for. Through free search engines one can come across a lot of unverified information which in this case makes conventional libraries much more reliable especially in third world.

When I was a student at the University of Maryland in the US, I enjoyed access to educational materials from the Lexus Nexus resources which the university was subscribed to. The same existed at the University of Maine also in the US, where I attended training on new media. But let us look at the qualities of a good librarian. It always starts with a mentor. Between the 1960's and 1980's some schools had a culture of promoting readership.

Students were required to volunteer in libraries where mentorship took place under the supervision of a librarian. Challenges always existed and Mr Mwinyihija shares some of them which include how students divided their time for library volunteering and attending normal studies. He gives his own experience that: "Sometimes you are needed at the library at a preparation time...it is like you are torn between the two worlds." Another problem facing conventional libraries is the issue of defaulters.

Librarians are still facing problems over students mischief of removing chapters from books, stealing popular books and overdue returns of literatures. If someone thinks of joining the librarian career therefore it is important to heed to Mr Mwinyihija's advice. It is important for students who are at Universities and other learning institutions to volunteer in such libraries. Modern libraries comprise both electronic and conventional books. During his career as a librarian Mr Mwinyihija worked and gain experience from different organisations.

According to him, a librarian is supposed to be on top of every literature and should take time to peruse such books to be informed and therefore be able to serve clients well. For example Mr Mwinyihija says when he was employed by the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), he had to do everything in terms of research for the doctors. He says at times a doctor could be busy with a patient and yet wants to research about his client's ailment.

"In such a situation I would rush to the librarian and task him to look for a jorunal or literature on that disease," he says. In this case, he says a librarian had no other option but to read read extensively. He goes on saying that if a librarian has a culture of reading it is easy for such a person to promote the culture of reading. "At TLS there is a lot of story telling programmes for kids.

We used to task them to read stories on Saturdays. We had children programmes," says Mr Mwinyihija. The former Librarian is concerned by the dwindling reading culture. He says the trend may be due to the prevailing situations where by everyone is busy trying to make ends meet. In those good old days (60's, 70's) people were not as occupied as they are today.

So it was easy for many to allocate time for reading and doing research," he said. Mr Mwinyihija says those who believe that the new media will replace the conventional one are proved wrong today. "When the new media came we were scared that books were to be replaced by electronic libraries and internet. But this is not totally true because even those who use the internet eventually go back into making reference from printed books

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