There is need to share Library Resources in Kenya Universities
By Maurice N. Amutabi
The library is the nerve centre of any learning institution. The way a library is stocked and manned can reveal the commitment of an institution to learning. A neglected and bad library is a clear indication that the institution does not value learning and research. This is the place that students are supposed to spend most of their life on campus and need to be comfortable and accommodating. In Kenya, many university and college libraries are in need of urgent attention because many are mere reading rooms and not libraries, because they do not have enough books.
Libraries in many Kenyan universities are wanting in many ways, largely due to inadequate allocations in the running budgets. Many university budgets do not rate library budgets high, unlike many universities in other parts of the world where libraries are used to showcase university resources. Many budgets of university libraries in Kenya are tiny compared to the North. Majority are allocated less than 10% percent of the total university budget. Private universities spend more on libraries compared to public ones. The recommended allocation of library expenditure is 10 percent of the total university budget, which very few meet.
Many university libraries in Kenya are full of empty shelves and dusty floors and rugged seats. Many are at different levels of dilapidation. Some Kenyan libraries still use the old fashioned card and paper catalogues yet libraries elsewhere have digitised catalogues. Some do not have enough space and readers are often crammed into tiny spaces.
Many universities and colleges in Kenya lack adequate learning resources, in the library. They have no access to internet, and catalogues are not on any kind of intranet – connected to each other. One computer terminal may show that an item is available only for another system to show that it is already borrowed out. If one wants to photocopy a document, the process is so long that it will be a better idea to order the book from elsewhere than attempting to photocopy. It is even worse if the book you would like to photocopy is a reference text.
Some of the libraries have large and impressive buildings without adequate books, journals, CD-ROMs and internet resources. University libraries lack current books and many of them have books which rather dated, already been superseded by more recent editions.
The problem is that Kenyan universities do not have interlibrary loan facilities where a student, say at the University of Nairobi can borrow a book at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa for say two weeks. In many countries, universities pull their resources together and students can access books available in other libraries. This way, they allow students to access books which are not in their collection.
Another problem is that many libraries in Kenyan universities serve members of the core university community only (staff and students), with several demanding some form of internal ID for entry. This is not only negative but also against the practice everywhere in the world where libraries, especially in public universities, should serve tax payers. There is a way the library can establish a mechanism of admitting genuine users from loafers or idlers. It is not hard to identity a loafer in a library, and who are likely to steal from library users, and throw them out, but this should not be a reason to lock out genuine users.
Many Kenyan universities are busy talking about creating global networks with universities elsewhere and yet they are not able to create local networks. If students from one university in Kenya cannot access books and journals at another university, what kind of networks are we talking about, yet this is supposed to be the most basic? Kenyan university libraries should create some network in which they can share books and journals. They can save a lot of money by subscribing to online journal compendiums such as JSTOR, jointly, and sharing the password among their member libraries. It will make a lot of economic sense in terms of economies of scale if they shared books and subscribed to online resources jointly.
Prof. Amutabi teaches Social Sciences at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. Amutabi@yahoo.com