A few weeks ago, the senate approved the bill establishing Rwanda Archives and Library Authority for the first time in history of this country.
The approval of this agency follows another historical achievement by this government, two years ago when the first public library in the country was opened.
Whereas it’s hard to comprehend why the post colonial governments ignored this crucial sector of information preservation and provision, we now feel proud that the current government saw the light and the need to develop and invigorate this hitherto non-existent and underserved knowledge and information sector.
Public libraries are key public institutions that remain relevant in the 21st century because of their crucial role in serving public interest particularly in acquiring, preserving, disseminating and making documentary heritage and information accessible to the general public.
As public institutions, public libraries are meant to; to preserve the country’s heritage for the benefit of present and future generations, to be a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, contributing to the cultural, social and economic advancement of a given country, to facilitate individuals and communities involved in the acquisition, preservation and diffusion of knowledge and finally to serve as the continuing memory of the Government and its institutions and departments.
Particularly in our case, the archive and library services body has heavier challenges ahead.
One of the biggest challenges for this young institution is how it will fit in the government’s vision of having Rwanda as knowledge based economy by 2020.
The fundamental role of knowledge based society is the ability by members to be creative and enhance their critical thinking skills. One sure way of achieving such is when people appreciate the importance of reading and searching for relevant information.
In our society where the culture of reading is still minimal, indeed tough times still lie ahead for the newly created institution. In a country where public and community libraries are almost non-existent, there is need for this new body to get preferential funding from the government to establish public libraries across the country.
At least we should have one public library in every district to begin with. The private sector should also come to support this noble cause such that together we make one of the pillars of vision 2020 a reality.
My recent visit to the public library in Kacyiru last week gave me a lot of hope that there is no doubt this institution is changing our youngsters for the better.
There, I met a young girl in her late teens, who told me that visiting the library and reading some of the books has changed her vision and ambition in life.
She also told me that since she could hardly access internet at home, with free wi-fi at the public library, she is able to browse internet and make all the references she needed.
This young girl engaged me on the work of some of renowned authors like Zig Ziglar, Ben Carson and Stephen Covey. At the end of our discussion, I was so impressed and it gave me the first hand experience on the role of public libraries.
Although, there are still challenges in respect to limited funding, irrelevant books which are dumped in form of donations and a few qualified staff with library skills, among other challenges.
With the creation of the new agency, we hope some of the challenges will be addressed in the near future.
In the words of one scholar “what a country thinks about public libraries is a measure of what it feels about educnation”.
The writer is an educationist, author and publisher.