I guess it is about time to explain what the hell I am doing in Mwanza, Tanzania.
Back in February of this year, a man named Bob Gough contact Librarians Without Boarders UWO about assisting some undergrads with a medical textbook drive for a private sector health training institution in Tanzania. I volunteered to assist with the project because in October 2013, Bob came to speak to my “Global Development and Information” class about Western Heads East. From that talk, I got it into my head that I would want to go if I could figure out a way to make it work. So when the textbook drive came along I volunteered to go with the books to Mwanza to help catalogue them and set up the library and my application was accepted.
So now that I am in Mwanza, even though the books are only arriving in August, I have been working at the library for a few weeks now. There are two other librarians, Frida and Margret. They both have formal library training in Dar and actually were in the same graduating class. However, we have all been a bit lost here at TIHEST since we are all so new. Margret started a week before me and Frida and I started the same day. Nevertheless, I think we have all adjusted pretty quickly.
The library itself is a single room and is relatively large. We have a lot of students come in to study and even though this school has ~500 students, the library has about 15 regulars. Most of the students aren’t confident enough in their English to talk to me but most are very friendly.
The library currently has one very old computer (circa 2004) and terrible chairs in it (they are meant for a classroom). The computer works but the power does go out a lot so that does create some problems. I have completed cataloguing the 104 books the library currently holds using Readerware software. Readerware is cheap and adequate for a this collection.
Students are allowed to take books out for 3 days, however most do not. Most of the books in the library are photocopies of old textbooks bound with duct tape and staples. It will be a great day when all the ~700 books and ~300 journals from UWO arrive.
I have organized everything there is to in this library by now, so most of my days are spent talking to the librarians, and exchanging stories. I am really bad at having nothing to do so I think I am going to start bringing my Kindle to work and catch up on all the pleasure reading I have missed during my MLIS.
I am pleased to see students using the resources TIHEST currently has because I know that there will be great interest in the library once all the new books arrive. I also think the library may be getting a few more patrons than before because of my presence and the students trying to figure out what this Canadian is doing at the school.
The library does get hot during the day, especially when the power goes out and the fans stop. I don’t think most westerns would be able to study in this heat because I think my mind is having a lot of problems adjusting. However, I hope this is only temporary. I am glad that TIHEST is willing to invest in the library and the school is showing a lot of interesting in improving. So ordering cataloguing supplies and requesting new furniture has been relatively successful.
The library operating hours are long, Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 10:00 pm, Saturday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. I would say I work 5 days a week, sometimes Saturdays, from around 9:00 am to maybe 4:30 pm, which is a lot shorter than Frida and Margret, but like they keep saying, I am not getting paid for this so any time I spend the school should be happy. And I am happy to spend my days there.
Sometimes I feel like I am living a librarians dream being able to step into a library and build everything from scratch. It is really exciting but stressful because I don’t know if I am doing anything right. The other librarians look to me for advice since I almost have a MLIS and am a westerner but I know I don’t know any better than them. We are all new librarians, with a new library, at a new school, trying to figure it out together and I don’t want my voice to be any louder than theirs. However, they do ask me to do all the hard stuff because they think administration will listen to me more, which I am fine with. (I don’t need to worry about losing my job, if we have to be a bit demanding).
I look forward to seeing this library grow and learning from the other librarians. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I can’t thank Western Heads East enough for allowing me to come to Mwanza.