Council’s 2015 report on housing and community services that was tabled to council in November, noted there was a marked decrease in the number of people using council libraries.
Harare has nine operational libraries, but it is sad to note that most of these precious facilities are rapidly becoming redundant and foot traffic has diminished to an alarming degree. Teacher, Samuel Govha from Glen View, said most students were now shunning public libraries as book stocks were out of date and going un-replenished.
“In the past, students at various levels of study used to rely on public libraries for resources, but now libraries no-longer have the relevant books,” said Govha.
Govha’s sentiments were also echoed by Sandra Muchemeni (20), an accounting student from Hatfield, who said most council-owned libraries were now run down in both infrastructure and selection.
“Most council-owned public libraries no-longer provide an environment that is conducive for serious study. The libraries lack basic books, furniture, and the buildings are neglected. As a student, I prefer donor-run libraries and embassy libraries because they have much better resources,” said Muchemeni.
Trymore Shoko, who teaches at a private college in Budiriro, believes all physical libraries are slowly becoming irrelevant in the education system due to technological advancements.
“Physical libraries are slowly being phased out by computers. Students can now access educational resources easily and cheaply online, and often from home, so practically there is no longer a reason for visiting the library,” explained Shoko.
Shoko’s sentiments are reinforced by statistics from all over the world. Bookshops have been experiencing lower turnover as many readers migrate to e-readers for digital copies. Locally, many authors have started distributing their writings through social media platforms such as Whatsapp and Facebook.
However, others such as Shuvai Goronga (35), from Avondale, believe that physical libraries are still relevant and that Harare’s public libraries can reinvent themselves by going digital.
“Public libraries can only become relevant again by making the latest titles available alongside research tools such as the internet. Only by availing relevant material can council hope to re-invigorate a reading culture,” suggested Goronga.
In a positive step two years ago, the main Harare City Library digitalised, installing dozens of computers, among other improvements. This is in line with the increased use of online resources by students undertaking any area of study. The move has reportedly seen an increase in foot traffic to the high-profile facility.