The Role of Public Libraries in the Transformation of African Society

A Case Study of Kabwe Town in Zambia

Case Study, 2020

13 Pages, Grade: 1


Abstract: Libraries are the purveyor of information, custodian of knowledge, and the house of learning and play a vital role in the development of any society by catering for information needs of thousands of people within a particular community. (Abdulsalami, L.T. & et al, 2013). Reding (2005) adds that libraries in our societies are stewards of our heritage, organisers of the knowledge in the books they collect, they take the knowledge of the past and present and lay it down for the future. Libraries are considered to be agents of educational, social, economic and political changes or revolutions in the community and their doors are now open to all who need them. The present study examines the role of five public libraries in Kabwe whether they have lived up to their expected roles. The study is a case study using a qualitative paradigm and data was collected through physical visitation to the libraries. Data collection instruments used were observation guide and a semi-structured interview guide. 5 library staff were interviewed, one from each library while 3 library users were interviewed from each library, giving us a total of 15 library users interviewed. The study revealed there was understaffing in the libraries coupled with demotivation. Presence of outdated books and lack of publicity on the existence of the libraries resulted in a low number of patrons to the libraries. Those who visited the libraries were either using their own materials or simply went to access newspapers to learn about current affairs. The study further revealed that there was an average of 15 people per day who accessed the library. Further, none of the interviewed library users visited the library for recreational reading but to prepare for exams or read the newspaper for current affairs. However, the library authorities were in the process of putting in place plans to encourage the communities to appreciate the existence of the libraries. Some plans underway included library commemoration activities in June 2019 whose theme is "Library =(is equal) to strong communities" and the introduction of a pre-school at Makululu compound Environmental Public Information Centre (EPIC) among others. In view of the above findings, the paper argues that the role of the libraries in transformation communities in Kabwe still remains an illusion as a lot needs to be done if the book has to leave a footprint in society. The study further argues that the absence of the latest materials that also caters all fields the community cannot be inspired to visit the library. Ultimately, produce a cadre of people who do not put premium in reading thereby breed a society that is not critical. One of the major footprints of the book is that people become educated and learn how to conform to their behaviours. Perhaps this explains why most youths in Kabwe indulge themselves in alcohol abuse because libraries do not exist in their minds as recreational centres.

Keywords: Public Library, Transformation, Roles, Communities, Kabwe, Readi, footprint.


More than a century and a half ago it was said that ‘' the true university of these days is a collection of books'', while even earlier it was said that ‘'without books God is silent, justice dormant, natural science at a stand, philosophy lame, letters dumb, and all things involved in utter darkness''. Libraries hold resources that can help everybody to improve their lives.(M.O. E.,1996).

The policy document further states that, the ministry of education will seek to make books and other literature more easily available in order to promote open learning and literacy. Its strategy is to recognize the responsibility of the Zambia library service (ZLS) to support literacy and reading culture throughout the country, the ministry will improve funding to enable ZLS to increase access to reading materials in rural areas, and facilitate it in establishing more public libraries.(M.O.E.,1996).

Despite this recognition by the ministry of education in its policy document ‘'Educating our Future'' that libraries are important, the current situation is that library facilities in Zambia and Kabwe, in particular, are scarce, at both institutional and public levels. The public libraries in Kabwe are Kabwe Public Library, Bwacha Public Library, Katondo Environmental Public Information Centre, Makululu Epic Library and Kasanda Epic Library. And the aspect of them performing their roles highly debatable.

It is ironic that technology that has magnified the opportunities for gaining access to more information has also been responsible for making the boundaries of the public library less distinct, thereby raising questions about the necessity of such institutions, at best, and prompting refusals to pay for the services, at worst. While most public libraries today are struggling with role identification, what has remained constant is the librarian's determination to provide a useful service to the community. At stake, though, is the fundamental question of what the library actually does within the community. What role does it play? What role should it play? If the interest lies in providing needed information to all citizens, are there not ways of doing that without establishing public libraries? Ways that are less expensive, less bureaucratic?

Deanna B. Marcum (1996) wonders to say, 'If the vision of the ministry of education that every citizen will have access to the information superhighway is realized, will not the many problems associated with keeping public libraries open and fully functioning simply disappear? Changes are taking place in the library world almost faster than anyone can measure and certainly faster than anyone can predict. Dramatic developments are occurring in public libraries across the globe? Developments that are altering the ways that libraries deliver information to patrons and interact with their communities. As the information revolution gains momentum, nationally and internationally, public libraries have a unique opportunity to harness electronic technology for their own purposes and provide resources to patrons and users that were unimaginable only a few short years ago. The Internet and the World Wide Web have effected changes in the way that public libraries do business, but the power of technology and its ability to draw people and communities together goes beyond the 'Net or the Web. Communities are being linked together? And linked to the outside world? By wires, cables, and fibre optics, but in many places, it is the public library that stands as the real information nexus within the community.

Libraries are important because they guarantee access to information by citizens which is critical to the many social and economic challenges facing our country today. A well-supported and functional public library infrastructure in our country can contribute to the sustainable social and economic development and the country's national agenda such as the Vision 2030.

Libraries also give opportunities to citizens who have been excluded from formal educational institutions to achieve their goals and improve their quality of life through life-long learning. Libraries are, therefore, a cornerstone in any society. In both learning institutions and ordinary communities, they help support literacy activities among ordinary citizens and learners, offer recreational and important information needed for citizens to make informed decisions. Citizens who are well informed are well placed to make better decisions on issues affecting them and their communities than those who are not. (Mubanga, 2018)

However, many public libraries in Zambia and Kabwe, in particular, continue to face numerous challenges such as limited distribution of facilities across the country; majority of libraries in Zambia are only concentrated in major towns and cities along the line of rail, the lack of awareness among the general public on their right to access information, the elitist perception of libraries by many people, i.e. that libraries are only for the educated in society, low literacy levels among many people and the high cost of locally published materials, lack of funds to purchase information resources that are relavant to the needs of a community they intend to serve.

Another challenge is that Zambia has not yet put up a legal or policy framework to support public library infrastructure. This has, therefore, resulted in public libraries to merely exist in a vacuum. The lack of public library legislation, thus, means public library services in the country are both inadequate and inappropriate for the information needs of the communities they intend to serve. This is because the lack of both legislation and policy framework does not define the role that public libraries can play in meeting the challenges of the present information needs of society. As a result, public libraries have failed to make any significant contribution to the social and economic development of our country. (Mubanga, 2018).

He furthers states that, in Zambia, many public library services are uncoordinated, and in most cases, local libraries are unable to share resources, characterised by inadequate bibliographic control and the low levels of information and communications technology (ICT) usage and application. This has also been compounded by the lack of standardisation and compatibility of library systems in the country. Thus, having a legal and policy framework on public libraries can create the much-needed institutional, administrative and financial support to meet many of the challenges faced by most public library services in the country (Mubanga, 2017).

Dada (2016) echoes that promotion of sustainable development in the 21st century demands access to information: information professionals consult information for research and discovery, farmers need information to connect to new markets, entrepreneurs need information to find capital to start business, girls and women require information for their vocational skills acquisition, and health workers need to research and provide current data care to patients. With the increasing need for information, the diverse needs of every individual can be solved and attended to once there is free access to information, which libraries can support through traditional and electronic media.

Varheim (2007) further argues that, “It is important to understand that today; the service provided by the public libraries remain underutilized by most people.” This is due to the fact that the concept of community information is poorly applied, and that the situation of public libraries in Zambia has been deteriorating with respect to the decline of the economy of the country. There is great need for the country to increase the process of introducing community information and enhance awareness among the people about the importance of public libraries and develop library legislation in order to reinforce the services in the society.

Lack of library legislation has affected the growth and expansion of most public libraries in Zambia. However, efforts are currently being made by Library and Information Association of Zambia (LIAZ) to have Library Legislation enacted. Legislation plays an important role in the provision of national and public library services and it can also be used as a means to reinforce national library development . Initially, it was not possible for LIAZ as an association to have library legislation enacted; instead, plans are currently underway in draft form to establish an Act to enable the Associaation operate as a professional body which will create a conducive environment to enact library legislation.

Around the world, access to opportunity begins with access to information and knowledge. Public access to information enables people to make informed decisions that can improve their lives. Communities that have access to timely and relevant information for all are better positioned to eradicate poverty and inequality, improve agriculture, provide quality education, and support people's health, culture, research, and innovation (IFLA, 2014). As stated in target 16.10: a well-informed society contributes significantly to the development of the nation as the availability of information resources would promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (Bradley, 2014).as cited by Munsanje (2018)

Review of Related Literature

A study done by Osuigwe and Muilndwa (2018) revealed that public libraries have always been linked with literacy efforts, particularly in Africa. However, the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA) is empowering innovations and expanding the purpose for the existence of African libraries so as to include development projects in various projects like health, environmental sustainability, gender issues, and agriculture in different communities in selected African countries.

The study further revealed that African public libraries have always been perceived as part of the educational system which offers study materials and literacy services through building book collections, lending books, running story hour programs in the children's section, establishing book clubs, offering reference services. In order to help transform African communities by strengthening the public library sector, AfLIA,m in partnership with the Public Library Association of the American Library Association (PA-ALA) funded by Global Library Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation set up the AfLIA Leadership Academy (AfLIAc), a nine months leadership enhancement program so as to assist participants to be innovative and learn from each other. The main focus was to teach public librarians different perspectives of leadership that will transform their mindsets and equip them to respond to challenges in the community.

Furthermore, in a study done by Munsanje and Hagwelele (2018) which was conducted to determine the extent to which public libraries in Zambia were striving to transform themselves in keeping pace with the changing economic, social, and technological aspects; exploring the ways in which public libraries in Zambia were engaging their communities with the aim of providing relevant library services and further looked at how public libraries had collaborated with other partners to ensure that the library services provided improved the well-being of the communities they served.

It was revealed that about 82% of main public libraries in Zambia engaged themselves in some form of partnerships with other organizations or institutions. This is evident from Table 4 above. To a larger extent, most libraries working with partners had well-organized programmes being conducted and well-articulated library services being provided than those that did not have some form of partnerships. The study revealed that the major partnerships that benefited public libraries the most were those that were done by partners through Zambia Library Service (ZLS) as well as Library and Information Association of Zambia (LIAZ). Worldreader had a partnership with LIAZ that supported ten council libraries; six on the Copperbelt and four in Lusaka Province. Furthermore, Local Content for African Libraries project in Zambia (LOCAL) aimed to generate and deliver early childhood reading materials in local languages to the ten libraries.

However, in a study done by RIMEA (2016), which responded to one of the questions in the study; how can Libraries help promote African culture in Kenya? It was revealed that public libraries play a pivotal role in providing information and knowledge free of charge to communities for the purpose of research, to inspire lifelong learning, advanced knowledge, recreation and strengthening of communities.

Cultural information and materials such as Tribal folklore, cuisine, fashion, literature, art, culture, architecture, and songs of historical value should be collected, documented and preserved to be used for research and reference by the future generations as they try to establish their identity. Public libraries have the mandate of collecting and documenting cultural artifacts to help their communities to archive their past to be used in the future.

Furthermore, the study indicated that the use of Information Technology (IT) in public libraries has also contributed to transforming African societies. Generally, libraries and information centers have been greatly affected by changes in Information Technology (IT), and the rate of change is still accelerating in this era. IT is now able to create:

- New products, processes, and machines that can be used independently, customized information packages.
- External dependents, database online information system
- Cooperative library information networks and
- Electronic information processing systems such as electronic books.

In order to cope with the present development in IT and for the transformation of African societies, modern libraries are now adopting various electronic resources for its collection developments to fulfill the requirements of different users in a better way. There is, therefore, a need to select, evaluate and organize the e-resources in the best possible way as to provide maximum ease, both to the users and the staff for its access and retrieval at all times.

Lawson (2016) discussed the role of the public Library in today’s world and observed that to some people, the public library’s usefulness and relevance in today’s information rich, digital world has been depleted, or is quickly warning. Their view is that libraries everywhere are under threat and that they will experience the same demise book stores and other sectors facing the threat of extinction from massive disruption to their businesses. Lawson also oberved that to others, the public library is a fundamental part of their existence as it serves a community anchor and a critical lifeline to the vast information universe – both digital and print. He describes the public library is a civic and cultural engagement space, a place for workforce preparedness and educational pursuits, a safe place, and a center of community life. Hence, the public library is a vital intergenerational community resource they would be loath to lose. Lawson further indicates that the modern public library plays a role that mirrors its founding ideology – to serve as the community’s central demographic place – where anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, may have free access to information, recreational reading, a gathering space, and services and programmes to enhance their lives.


The study is a descriptive case study design using a qualitative paradigm and was found suitable to guide the study in data collection, presentation, and analysis. Data was collected through physical visitation to the libraries using observation guide and in-depth semi-structured interview guide as data collection instruments. 5 library staff were interviewed, one from each library while 3 library users were interviewed from each library, giving us a total of 15 library users interviewed. The data were analysed using a thematic approach.


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The Role of Public Libraries in the Transformation of African Society
A Case Study of Kabwe Town in Zambia
Kwame Nkrumah University
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role, public, libraries, transformation, african, society, case, study, kabwe, town, zambia
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Jive Lubbungu (Author), 2020, The Role of Public Libraries in the Transformation of African Society, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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