Management of University Libraries: Kenyan Case

By Otike Fredrick Wawire A library plays a central role in the University; their primary responsibility is to assist its users in the process of transforming information to knowledge. Despite their importance, the development of libraries and information services in developing countries is generally perceived to be inadequate and inputs into library development have been typically small scale, piecemeal and lacking in co-ordination. At the same time university libraries have remained central to the management of scholarly communication and for centuries they have been repository of the written record and a powerful symbol of human intellectual achievement. Although traditionally libraries have been the most important of the university facilities in supporting advanced scholarship, today, perhaps as never before fundamental questions are being raised concerning their nature and purpose as institutions. A number of issues are at play. First, there is the explosion in the quantity of desirable published material and secondly rapid escalation of unit prices of these items. These jeopardize the traditional research mission of the university library of creating and maintaining large self-sufficient collections for their users. The third is the rapid emergence and development of electronic information technologies which make it possible to envision radically more efficient ways of organizing and managing collections but which present a big challenge of adaptation. In Africa, it has been observed that the university library has become just one among the several sources of information available to the academic community. In a recent study, Rosenberg has observed that since mid 1980s, in Africa the relative value of local university libraries has declined to a near total loss of faith in their own existence, which has led to their marginalization from the teaching, learning and research process in the university. The state and prospects of university libraries in developing countries has been examined against a background of severe economic challenges facing the continent and in particular in the context of deterioration in the higher education sector. It is also noted that limited space and declining budget levels prevent universities from servicing the growing demand for education. As a result, universities in Sub-Saharan Africa suffer from low numbers of trained faculty, virtually non-existent levels of research, poor quality educational facilities including libraries, laboratories and outmoded programs.

In spite of the recognition that libraries play a key role in development and success of higher education, in many parts of the developing world there is a near total collapse of university library and information services. According to UNESCO, the economic situation in many developing countries is such that many libraries have not had the resources to purchase any books for the past five to ten years which has had very negative and damaging effect on training and research capacities and has also seriously limited the possibilities for good policy analysis and planning based on the most up to date information. Therefore in spite of the fact that there are many public institutions of higher education and others supported by international and private agencies in developing countries such as Kenya, they have to cope with the challenge of an increasing demand without compromising the quality and relevance of teaching and research. Increasingly, academics and in particular senior faculty members in Kenya have adopted strategies to obtain information, other than using the university library.8 These include: personal contacts in the first world to obtain reports and journal articles, writing for reprints, travel outside the country and development of personal libraries, the purchase of key texts and subscription to journals. For undergraduates there is increasing dependence on lecture notes and handouts as well as purchase of textbooks, methods that are felt to be in the end more reliable than depending on the university library. Amongst the academics in Kenyatta University (KU) and Moi University (MU) (Kenya) 50% and 75% respectively of the academic staff reportedly never enter the library.9 At the same time there is widely held opinion that the library remains highly cost-effective in providing information service to the university community especially in Africa.10 The alternative information strategies used in obtaining scholarly information among academicians in Kenya rely on “invisible funding”, the goodwill of friends in the first world and heavy cost of travel, which are both erratic and unsustainable. Although the senior academics are able to survive without library provision, for junior academics and students who have no network of research contacts life is obviously difficult. This apathy towards university libraries in Kenya has been partly attributed to the alienation and deteriorating quality of library services in the country resulting from poor funding by their parent organizations. This is true especially of public universities. Teaching methods, which do not support independent study by students and which devalue the role of libraries as well as poor management practices on the part of librarians have also been blamed for the poor state of affairs. The overall impact of deteriorating university libraries is poor teaching and research in the universities themselves and if the trend continues unchecked the quality of university education in Kenyan will be in jeopardy.

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