Since the Kigali Public Library commenced operations in 2012, the facility was run by the Government through the Ministry of Education until last year when management changed under a public-private partnership (PPP) model
The move to privatise the management of the library saw the ministry outsource the day-to-day operations from Innovation Village, a local creative firm.
At the time of the handover, the library membership stood at about 600, while few events and the service portfolio were rarely the conventional library services.
However, within one year, the library has been able to multiply its membership by nearly five times to about 2,895 with between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors monthly.
The new management of the library estimates that in the last one year, the facility attracted over 100,000 visitors, about a tenth of Kigali’s total population.
Oriane Ruzibiza, Innovation Village’s director, told The New Times that to increase the membership and ‘traffic’ of the library, they focused on opening up the facility to the wider public by easing procedures and increasing services offered.
“Just like a business, we started by segmenting our readers based on their age, initial understanding of their reading behaviour and learning needs. This not only allows offering the right package but also develops services and collection according to the needs of each category,” she said.
The firm also simplified registration by reducing it to a five-minute process.
Previously, a person interested in library membership would have to collect forms, fill them out, and pay fees at a bank before submitting the bank slip and filled-out forms.
“The new system allows individuals to apply, take their membership card pictures at the front desk and make direct payment either by cash at the front desk or by using visa payments or mobile money. Members can also apply online and receive their card when they visit,” she said.
The new management also redesigned the facility’s web site, making the entire catalogue available online, enabling members to confirm the availability of books they were interested in before visiting.
“Books are obviously essential in knowledge acquisition but they cannot suffice on their own. We believe in the power of communities to engage and provide inspiration and education,” Ruzibiza said.
“There are many ways of connecting people and sharing knowledge, which is why we cater for various communities, from writers, to poets, bloggers, speakers and organisations such as Youth Connekt, Abana writing workshop, Youli network and the Kigali Global Shapers. We opened up our space to accommodate all these communities by hosting their meetings, exhibition, film, and events.”
A boost in service
A section of the members The New Times spoke to said the library, previously seen as solely a book space, now allows for interactive sessions through creative platforms, exhibitions and meetings.
Sylvia Uwera, a Kigali resident, said the multiple activities across various subjects had seen her frequent the library, admitting that she had never visited it before.
“It’s more than just a book space as we knew it previously. There are exhibitions, poetry sessions, book readings, among others. This appeals to some of us who rarely visited in the past,” Uwera said.
The adjustments also saw the management change the skills set of employees of the facility from traditional librarians to service-centred staff.
“Instead of strictly traditional librarians, we also wanted to include more service-centred staff and develop their library skills. We also wanted to develop the technology aspect of the library, so we hired more IT proffesionals to build the infrastructure needed to support digital growth,” Ruzibiza said.
To remain relevant and scale up the performance of the facility, Innovation Village officials say they plan to expand the library into a digital library that will allow users access to hundreds of titles and plug in videos created through the firm’s video streaming platform.
The digital library, to be launched before September, will initially give members access to 377 titles, and 754 books.
“The digital model will function like the current physical library, enabling members to search for e-Books, audiobooks and videos online. It will be a great way to support learning institutions and students, and during the initial three-month pilot, we are partnering with University of Kigali to test the platform,” Ruzibiza said.
She said the turnaround for the public library was evidence that public-private partnerships if well implemented.
“We believe that where applicable, the public sector should take advantage of the expertise, innovation and management style that come with partnering with private sector,” Ruzibiza said.
She said it was proven that through effective collaboration with private sector innovation, efficiency can be achieved.
Other sectors in education where the Government has called for PPP include Internet rollout, solar energy installations and ICT inclusion in formal education.
According to the Ministry of Education, the PPP model has proven to be effective to improving service delivery.
Dr Celestin Ntivuguruzwa, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, said when entering the partnership agreement with the firm, the government had expectation to turn the public library into a modern learning and cultural hub.
“Our expectations were to realise our vision of turning Kigali Public Library into one of the city’s learning and cultural hubs that is not only accessible but a creative and tech-savvy platform that promotes literacy and innovation,” Dr Ntivuguruzwa said.
Evaluating the performance of the model so far, he said that it had brought in an array of resources and expertise that had greatly improved the facility.
“We provided the facility and funding for the library, Innovation Village provided investment for the roof-top innovation centre, which includes an art gallery, a mini theatre, a workshop and event space as well as a cafe. They create and host a range of free events open to the public and are involved in the development of digital library, whose pilot phase will start next month,” he added.
The permanent secretary said other areas in the education ministry that can be boosted by the PPP model include financing of tertiary education and incorporation of ICT in education.