Focussing on the national library of Uganda

It is the big changes in the library sector in Uganda, peaking in 2003 when the national library was established and a new library act was decided on, that is the research interest for Jane Kawalya. But the period of her study is longer that, from 1997 to 2007.
– I wanted to follow the whole process, starting when the government wanted to decentralise various services in society, among them the public libraries, to the local districts.
– One of the important questions to answer was of course why the national library was established and which measures led to the decision of the new library act – and what happened afterwards.

Among other things, it was the parliament members’ concern for the fact that libraries were low on the priority list in the local districts, to the benefit of roads, schools and hospitals that contributed to the establishment of the national library. The politicians also wanted an integrated system for the national library work and the two separate libraries that up till now had taken care of that, had become very outdated.

The decentralisation of the public libraries also led to an altered work situation for the staff at the PLB, Public Library Services, who nearly lost their jobs. Therefore, they initiated and proposed a bill for a national library that was passed to the government and there decided upon. In 2003, the National Library of Uganda was inaugurated.

Lack of recourses after the establishment

In her thesis, Jane Kawalya presents a number of problems that have occurred since the establishment of the national library.
– For example: the library is situated in a rented building that is too small. The premises where the collections are kept are already full. The government does not contribute enough to the rent either, which has had as a result that the library nearly was evicted. Another problem is the competence of the staff. The personnel is the same as those who earlier worked for the PLB and they need education in order to execute tasks that are connected to a national library.
– But of course the publishers are happy for the new library, where their books can be kept. At the same time they are worried. Formerly, there were two libraries to keep the books of the country, now there are three! So they think it will be expensive.

According to Jane Kawalya, there are plans for a new building for the national library.
– The government has bought land and UNESCO has contributed with the architect’s drawings. Now we are waiting and hoping for financial support in order to afford the building…

The public library in focus

In a week Jane Kawalya will change the cold here in the North for a warmer weather in her home in Uganda. She will be back in her position with the library at Makerere University, but of course she will not let go of research. Among other things, she will write more articles for international magazines, taking her point of departure in her thesis.
– There are probably just a few persons who will read the whole thesis. But if I make excerpts from it, it will be easier to make others read it, says Jane Kawalya and smiles a little.

She hopes that she will be able to teach a part of her time at the East African School of Library and Information Science at Makerere University, where she graduated from library school herself. She will also present her results in other connections at the university and to colleagues at the university library.
– I will also assist when SIDA organizes a presentation of the projects they have supported.

In her future research, she would like to continue her studies of the national library, but also examine the public library of Uganda.
– When the public libraries were built, we received everything from Great Britain: books, library systems, everything. They helped us get going. But then there was no question of what kind of books the public needed, what they wanted to read. And it is still like that. Books are bought, but nobody asks what the users what they want.
– So I think it is important to talk to the citizens and find out what kind of information they want at the libraries. Some want magazines, other radio. Many people want to read about issues that are important in Uganda, for example hiv/aids, agriculture, owning land or matters concerning children.

And the demand for books and information increases all the time, says Jane Kawalya. With free school education well into people’s old age and other measures in order to promote reading ability, it has increase by 56 percent in 1986 to 68 percent today.

Privileged in Sweden

Jane Kawalya is very grateful for her time in Borås and Sweden. Except one thing: the weather.
– I had been to many different countries before I came here, like USA, India and other African countries. I was in Great Britain when it was summer and there it is always a little warmer than here. But when I came here! It was ….. ah! Cold and almost no day light. It stressed me.
– No, I don’t like winter, but I like working conditions here. The research environment, all the resources the department granted me for free: administrative support, computers, faxes, printers, everything is good. Colleagues and seminars. To have three seminars on the way to disputation, to get feedback, comments and good advice, it is very, very good.

In comparison with doctoral students in Uganda she feels privileged. There conditions are different:
– They don’t have so many resources, sometimes no electricity, the Internet is slow or not available. It is difficult for them.
– And you know, for us in the African countries there are so many things that distract us. If I sit at home and work and somebody comes to visit – vi don’t decide on a date and time as you do – then I have to welcome and invite that person, otherwise I would be very, very rude. They would talk ill about me afterwards.
– So it is difficult socially, one cannot concentrate. And I have told my colleagues here: no interruption, everything available and on top of that you get to publish your thesis in the form of a book! And all the seminars and workshops: Tallinn, Tampere, Uppsala, when I had the chance to meet other doctoral students. It has been so good, she says with a broad smile.

It must have been hard to be away from home for so long?

– Nothing good comes easily to you. When you want something good, you have to fight! You have to sacrifice, for example leave your family at home. I have had had ups and downs, homesickness sometimes… but in the end I am happy that I have achieved what I wanted to achieve. I am very contented.