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Library offers students hope in Tanzania

By Lucie Morangi and Tang Ying in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-10 09:16
A local student surfs the internet at the library at University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. CHINA DAILY

China Aid helped build the $41 million university facility, the largest in Africa

Ernest Nyari vividly remembers the scramble that would ensue every morning when he opened the doors of the library at University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Students got stuck at the doorway as they rushed in, said the principal library officer.

The library didn't have enough space or books to serve the growing student population.

At a cost of $41.28 million, China helped Tanzania build an advanced two-story library at the university. The largest university library in Africa, the facility is described as heralding a new generation of libraries in the continent's higher education.

Funded by the China Aid program, the facility has leveraged on digital technology, meeting students and academia demand for access to information. The management may even open some of its unique repositories to the public.

This is poised to be a game-changer as such resources would offer immense support to the country's development goals, said Nyari.

The facility, manned by 147 librarians coupled with fast internet, has enabled the university secure subscriptions to journals and other scholarly resources based on electronic delivery. Researchers are therefore able access resources directly through the library.

Sitting on 20,000 square meters, which encompasses the Confucius Institute, the library can house 2,100 people. It boasts of 160 internet-connected computers including 30 customized for visually impaired students.

The library is expected to provide a new home for nearly 800,000 books and publications owned by the university. Students can also use their mobile phones, connected to the local network, to access the latest e-learning materials.

Presently, the library is in the process of digitizing its priceless collection, some handwritten, which date back to medieval times. It holds the Hans Corry collection, who was a sociologist in the government of Tanganyika and documented African knowledge in astronomy, poetry, religion and science. More than 1,180 titles have been copied to microfiche format.

That project is made possible by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. "The resources were collected from historical sites across the country. We are yet to determine modalities of access, but this would contribute to global research since many foreigners visit our institution to access them," said Nyari.

With a new vanguard audio listening room and a conference room, with audio-visual production equipment, Nyari believes that the new facility now has the ability to help students and the research community easily publish their work, hence increasing visibility both locally and globally. By using accessible resources, such as audio and visual equipment, students can now also contribute to global conversation.

Initially, the old library was a public university, located along Lumumba Road in downtown area. It was later relocated to the university grounds, about 13 kilometers from the central business district, at a time when it served only 14 students in the faculty of law.

However, the facility did not expand to match the burgeoning student population. In 1994, under a government directive to increase female representation in higher education, the university doubled its enrollment from 9,000 to 18,000 students. With additional faculties, three books were soon shared among 50 students.

Lack of space and facilities continued to persist. With no internet nor access to the digital repository, students were limited to hard copies during open hours.

"So every morning when I opened the doors at 8 am, there was a mad rush for books, which were on high demand. Sometimes, we would note delays in returning of these books or they would be hidden," Nyari said.

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