After seven months of renovation and upgrading, Harare City Library (HCL) reopened last month. What used to rank among the many shabby worn out buildings in the city has been resurrected as a top of the range information centre.
HCL, a 50-year-old building which won a bronze medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1962, had become seriously dilapidated over the years. The renovations that commenced in April saw a complete revamp of floors, sealing of roof leaks, changing windows, upgrading of the plumbing and electrical systems and reviving the outside landscape. This was all made possible by a million dollar donation from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), administered by the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust.
Speaking at a completion ceremony at the library Mike Curling, chairman of the volunteer HCL committee said: “65% of the money was spent on rehabilitation of library infrastructure.” The rest was channelled towards bringing the library’s book stock up-to-date with new books, particularly those for students. Also included was the provision of 60 networked computers with connection to the internet. This has been supplemented by the purchase of electronic reference materials with funds raised by the British Embassy. Wi-Fi technology is also now available for patrons who would like to surf the internet from their own portable devices such as laptops. All this will draw attention to a library suffering neglect as people prefer to visit internet cafés to access information.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Sports Arts and Culture Dr Thokozile Chitepo says: “We have a very big job in making sure that this space is fully utilised to serve its purpose.”
“We need to change the way traditional libraries worked. They should be turned into a centre of innovation and empowerment.” She challenged the custodians of HCL to use it as a venue for different activities including theatre, storytelling, art exhibitions and other performing art.
SIDA director general Charlotte Petri Gornitzka says: “We want people who have never been to this library visiting; we want them to have information at their disposal, not forgetting the use of internet and social media.”
Gornitzka, however, challenged the government and the City of Harare (CoH) to contribute to the continued conservation of the library. The library once received grant-in-aid from central and local government but has not done so for many years. Its sole income has come from fees charged to members and by renting out part of the building to the Zimbabwe Open University. This has barely been enough to meet the essential wage bill of the lowly paid staff and the rates and utility bills.
HCL is not the only library that has suffered neglect in this era of technological advancement. Satellite institutions in Highlands, Mount Pleasant, Mabelreign, Hatfield and Greendale are in the same predicament. They average 15 visitors per day during schools examination periods and less than eight the rest of the year. If the project is successful, these libraries should also benefit and be connected to the internet.
Not all of the new books, particularly those that can be borrowed, have been registered into HCL’s system yet. There is also need to process the existing stock and weed out what is no longer needed. This will still take several months.
In the meantime, it’s worth heading downtown to Rotten Row to explore Harare’s revamped community facility!