IT was once a fountain of knowledge for many students who thronged it to partake of the wisdom in its many books. But the passage of time saw the Harare City Library slowly falling apart, both in infrastructure and reading materials.
Report by Michelle Chifamba
Although many students can be seen reading at the library’s premises, some of them complain that most of the books were now outdated.
Technological advancements that have seen Zimbabwe evolve into a “knowledge society” have also been harsh on the library.
The Deputy Minister of Education, Lazarus Dokora, recently said despite the technological advancements that have taken place in the world where people could now use electronic books, the printed word was still important.
“There has been transformation on what constitutes a book. It makes sense that if the written word has staying power to preserve the space where it can be stored and used,” he said.
All hope, however, is not lost. Last month, the Swedish government poured over $1,2 million into the renovation of the library under their cultural exchange programme because they recognised the significance of libraries in communities.
Speaking during the project commissioning ceremony where he was the guest of honour, Swedish ambassador Lars Ronnas said although renovations and purchasing of buildings was not part of their mandate, this was an exception.
“Renovating or purchasing buildings is not important in our cultural exchange programme, but this is necessary. We recognise the importance of libraries,” he said.
As the world slowly drifts and gradually becoming technologically equipped, the libraries have been neglected and abandoned only to remain an edifice of their former self.
A case study carried out by NewsDay revealed a sad of state of affairs for most libraries scattered around the capital. The majestic buildings constructed as cellars of academic knowledge lie lifeless, abandoned and neglected as their outside walls tell the better part of the dwindling state of affairs inside.
Leaking roofs and broken window panes abound while the toilets are in a sorry state and give the impression of an eroded heritage.
While some Zimbabweans fear that country’s reading culture has been destroyed, others feel that the technological tide which has taken over in some countries is slowly engulfing this country too.
A Harare social scientist, Wilfred Tozvireva, said as the country faces a booming technological industry, libraries must be furnished with modern-day technological gadgets and Internet-enabled computers.
“There is need to come up with innovative techniques to resuscitate the young generation’s interest in libraries,” said Tozvireva.
The libraries, like many other public facilities, seem to have been abandoned by the relevant authorities although a subscription fee which ranges from US$2,00 is required before one can enter and use the facility.
Books have suffered wear and tear while most of them have missing pages or pages hanging precariously. Some of the academic textbooks are now irrelevant and are yet to be replaced by latest editions neither have they been restocked. People therefore wonder why the council demands subscription fees when they are failing to closely monitor and improve their upkeep.
“Glen Norah Library used to be a full house with students from all schools jostling for place and queuing at the facility early in the morning. The library has since lost its glamour, especially with the open- air joint called PaFarai which has been established nearby. A strong stench of stale urine pervades the facility as people relieve themselves on the nearby buses,” said Talent Nyausha from Glen Norah.
An official who has worked at Waterfalls Library for more than 20 years said that it had become a common sight at most of the municipal libraries to have lost their glory and glamour as the new generation of students were shunning using the facilities.
“Over the years we have seen the number of secondary and tertiary students who visit these premises dwindling. The major reason can be attributed to the gradual change in technology. Many people are on the Internet and they use it to research their work. I think it would be wise if our libraries replace these piles of books with computers to enable students to research through the Internet.
It seems Zimbabwe is lagging behind in terms of improving the reading culture to move along with the changing times. Kuwadzana Library is still to see the light of day and for more than 15 years it has stood erect but empty.
Member of Parliament for Kuwadzana Nelson Chamisa has promised the people in his constituency to make the library a first of its kind which will be equipped with the state-of-the-art technical equipment.
“We are going to make this library a first of its own kind, instead of using books the people will be using computers, ipads and podcasts to for the researches,” Chamisa said early this year.
According to Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda, council has been failing to maintain library infrastructure as a result of council’s financial position.
“Council had to start from scratch when there was the introduction of the multiple currency system and that affected our budgeting and as a result we have not been allocating annual grants to the libraries. However, a management board of volunteers was recently set up to resuscitate the libraries,” said Masunda.