Government sees need to bring back library science degree

The imminent loss of important public documents due to poor archiving and inadequate library services has prompted the Rwandan government to facilitate the reintroduction of a library science degree programme which was scrapped five years ago.

In the past, the course was offered at the former Kigali Institute of Education, which later merged with other institutes to form the current University of Rwanda. It was scrapped in 2013 and sections of the programme were then offered to business administration students wishing to specialise in library management.

“One of the latest cabinet decisions resolved that library sciences should be taught as a programme, not a course per se. It means that eligible candidates can now apply to undertake the course and earn a degree, which was not the case before,” said Mike Karangwa the University of Rwanda spokesperson.

Karangwa said the College of Education enrolled students in year one in October last year and they would be taken through varied courses of the programme, after which they will graduate with a Bachelor of Library Sciences degree.

The latest development followed concerns expressed by legislators over the condition of the country’s public institution archiving systems, and by community libraries.

Rwanda has a total of 125 public and community libraries, although less than 50, including Kigali Public Library, have proper management in place and are equipped with necessary content, while the rest are in destitute conditions.

An outreach field trip conducted by senators over three months last year noted a range of problems, including poor shelving of important documents and books in both community and public institutional libraries, lack of space, unqualified staff, and financial constraints. According to senators’ feedback, many of the visited public institutions’ libraries did not have proper shelves which meant documents were being stuffed into bags, while some were accumulating dust and others were exposed to sunshine.

“The reintroduction of the courses will help to address, in the long run, some of these challenges and serious concerns, because many revolve around archiving, filing and shelving which need serious improvement,” said Senator Gallican Niyongana, chairperson of a committee that scrutinised the status of the libraries and national archives.

According to Niyongana, there was a serious risk that important documents could be lost, a situation that might cost the government in the future. He said the value of and procedures relating to archiving and library services were not clearly understood in many institutions, and professionals were needed to fill the gap.

It was found that in addition to unqualified librarians, there was a lack of coordination between libraries and the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA). RALSA was founded in 2014 after government consolidated two institutions – the National Archives and Rwanda Library Services.

Elias Kizari, director general of RALSA, said his office was aware of the challenges and the need for professionals. He said RALSA would benefit in the next five years from being able to recruit library services graduates.

“We are still challenged by lack of sufficient space to shelve the little content we have, but we are working with government to set up a modern facility that is set to be up and running in the next five years. Also we believe we shall have a better structure very soon because currently we lack personnel and more importantly qualified ones, and we work on a tight budget,” he said.

While Rwanda has made progress in the integration and the promotion of information communication technology in many sectors, digitalisation of materials for access in the future has lagged, with the exception of Gacaca (community justice) verdict copies.

Rwanda’s Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG) is one of few that has digitalised genocide-related materials and content at the rate of 80% and this is mainly due to efforts made by the government, according to the CNLG.