Visiting libraries in Uganda

Kate Parry visited a couple of UgCLA libraries on a recent trip to the west of Uganda. One, at Bundibugyo, behind the Ruwenzori Mountains, is new and, so far, well funded. They’ve set it up very nicely, with low shelves for the children’s books and little chairs for children to sit in. They run a children’s program every Saturday afternoon and debates and quizzes rather less frequently for secondary school students. Most of their books come from Books For Africa, glossy new American publications with far too many copies of some titles (which I advised the librarian, Morris, to pass on to other libraries), but they do have some Ugandan textbooks as well. Local language books are complicated for them since no fewer than three languages are used regularly in the community, none of which has any literature to speak of.

The second library visited, at Kasese, is a much older, and less well funded, establishment. But the man in charge, Patrick Isingoma, works tirelessly to keep the place going. His present project is a fish pond, at which he was working when I arrived, leaving his daughter in charge of the library. They don’t have any new books, as far as I could see, and their technological equipment has mostly broken down—which is sad, because they used to show videos regularly for children. It’s a fine example of the problem of sustainability, though the library is still in good enough shape to manage a grant if we could get one for it.

One outcome of UgCLA’s conference and annual general meeting in July was that those present agree to a higher annual subscription for UgCLA and a higher conference contribution, without which UgCLA simply can’t do the conference. The trouble is that those who so voted were the ones who could pay, since the others, like Patrick, hadn’t come because they couldn’t afford to. Problem of sustainability again. One thing the conference did achieve, though, was to bring UgCLA’s libraries to the attention of the Minister of State for Primary Education and to make the point that it would be an efficient use of funds to invest in librarians’ salaries.