Due to my research obligations as a University of Oxford Department of Education affiliate, I have had to spend sometime this week at the University of Dar-es-Salaam main campus. This is the top university in Tanzania and one of the best, I hear, in Africa. The university’s significant number of high top successful alumni all over Africa is a powerful testimony to its credibility. The university has produced best lawyers in Africa, CEOs of successful companies, and high-top politicians. The current Tanzanian president is the university’s alumnus. It’s very likely that the next one will also have UDSM as his/her alma mater. In addition, the university is home to many of the best brains in the country.
However, in many ways, my observation at the University did not reflect the best of all or rather met my expectations based on the above. In this brief entry, I will only talk about the library- ‘maktaba’.
For the sake of understanding the context: I had to use the library because there was a power cut in the building where I was working. My friend, a lecturer in Economics, has been very generous to let me use his office desk whenever I am in the campus. But there was a power cut on Monday and then he advised me to work from the library because it has a working generator. I was very shocked and saddened that the University faculty block can go without power the whole day. This is not acceptable in the 21st century.
I gladly went to the library. I never mind working from the library. I did that often during my PhD research mainly for the sake of avoiding my office. My first impression after stepping to the ‘maktaba’ reception was another shock. Nothing is electronic. The security is physical. Anyone who enters the library has to leave his/her bag outside. I had to leave my bag and carried my laptop and wires with my hand. I couldn’t take anything else from my bag, which is always full of various staff prepared to facilitate my smooth working concentration. Students are forced to carry their laptops, book, papers, and pens with their hands. This gives them a limit to what they can carry inside hence distorting their concentration. For example, it is difficult for students to carry a snacks, drinks etc inside hence students can hardly stay for more than 3 hours without having to go out of the library. I did not see any snack/drink shops or vending machine inside the library. Even more challenging, the studying desks and chairs are bad and old. Uncomfortable. The architecture and working place is de-motivating. They are old and unfriendly. There is no library Wi-Fi and students depend on their own mobile Internet devices. Only a few students can afford those. In summary, it’s a very old fashioned library. My overall reaction was sadness.
I could not stop thinking of how universities are spending enormous resources in continuous improvement of their libraries. The improvements are meant to match with the constant changing world. To cut the long story short, I ask you (the reader) to read Claire Shaw’s article http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/aug/06/university-libraries-learning-shapes-design?CMP=twt_gu
I am aware and grateful that the Chinese are investing on a huge library in the university, however that should not be an excuse for leaving the ‘Maktaba’ as it is now. The university must keep up with the changes in the learning environment if it wants to keep producing smart graduates who can compete in the world. We need to remember that most of the students who go to UDSM are the best brains in the country and so we need to facilitate their learning environment so that they can utilize their potential.
Who can do that? ….You and I…!!! How?? Let’s think about that together…