BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe – Its imposing exterior is deceptive of its true condition. In quite simple terms, the Bulawayo Public Library is in very dire straits.
Mr Mendson Mpofu, the Bulawayo Public Library's chief fund raiser with library Secretary Mrs Letshani Ndlovu in the building's courtyard.
Established 5 September, 1896, the library moved into its present premises situated at the corner of Fort Street and Eighth Avenue on 31 March, 1898, from its former location at the Empire House on 6th Avenue and Main Street.
The Institution offers a wide range of services comprising a well stocked children’s library, Braille library, and study and reference areas. In addition, the main section houses a very comprehensive range of books covering a wide choice of subjects. There is also a division
that lends out audio and visual material in electronic form. A very popular feature at the library is the Internet Cafe which is predominantly utilised by students.
The Bulawayo Public Library has branches that cater for all age groups in several of the City’s high and low density suburbs. To augment these services, it runs a mobile service commonly known as The Book Bus, which covers areas within the City Limits where no libraries exist. In
addition a Historical Reference Collection is located at the City Hall under the clock, where materials in terms of the Legal Depository Act are housed.
The Library also has partnerships with several players in the information dissemination fraternity, such as international organisation, Book Aids and Education USA. The former gives books to needy libraries globally, while the latter is an establishment in the United States of America which provides scholarships for disadvantaged students to study at universities in that country. Assistance given by these well-wishers does not include financial aid.
As a means of maintaining these various services, the Institution has in the past, had to rely upon subsidies from well-wishers, chief of which is the City of Bulawayo, in order to swell the low fees it charges. The negative national economic situation that prevailed during the past decade has put paid to such assistance and therein lies the crux of the Library’s woes.
A source of income that the Bulawayo Public Library could rely on in the past was the complex of offices situated on the building’s upper floor that used to be leased out to business entities. These have since been condemned as a health hazard by the National Social Security Authority, the body that monitors health and safety conditions pertaining to infrastructural issues. Consequently no income is being accrued from that particular project.
Without the vital support it previously had in order to meet expenses, the Library is faced with the real possibility of having to withdraw the very essential services it provides to the public. It becomes very obvious that the worst affected in such a situation would be the underprivileged, who have over the years benefited from the Institution’s subsidised services.
Most saddening of all is the fact that the Institution’s complement of dedicated staff members has gone for months without proper remuneration due to lack of adequate funding flowing into the Library’s coffers. They remain only because they are driven by loyalty to the public who have relied on their committed service over the years.
Today there are precious few options for the Institution’s administration to recoup costs. One of these is the Library Hall which occasionally receives enquiries for lease by Businesses, institutions or members of the public. This facility is however, underutilised. The Library internet cafe which once enjoyed popular subscribership from the public is now a pale shadow of its former self; a result of mobile phone technology which now includes internet services.
The one other source of support that can be relied upon, though it remains sadly inadequate, is derived through subscriptions received from members of the public. Since the Library, which is a registered charitable organisation, provides its services in the form of a public assistance programme, it may not charge marketable fees, hence the practice of resorting to subsidies.
But staff at the Institution is not sitting idly by in the face of these seemingly insurmountable challenges. Plans are in the offing that will hopefully ensure continuance of services provided. Probably one that could prove most viable among these is the intention to do away with the troublesome internet cafe and establish a fully equipped modern research centre for the use of tertiary students. However, in order for this to become a reality essential funding will be needed.
Making an impassioned plea to well-wishers during a recent visit to the facility, Cllr. E. Manning of Ward One, in which the Library is situated said, “My urgent request to willing helpers is; please don’t let this vital institution die. The most affected of all, in such an eventuality, will be residents of Bulawayo, who would be poorer without the essential services offered by this world renowned Institution.” These are apt sentiments indeed.
You can assist in the noble effort of restoring the Bulawayo Public Library by using the following contact details:
The Chief Librarian, The Bulawayo Public Library, P. O. Box 586, Corner Eighth Avenue and Fort Street, (100 Fort Street), Bulawayo. Zimbabwe.
Alternatively you may contact the Editor at Email: