Academic journal article Alexandria

The National Library of Uganda: Its Beginnings, Services, Challenges and Future Prospects

Academic journal article Alexandria

The National Library of Uganda: Its Beginnings, Services, Challenges and Future Prospects

Article excerpt


In the past, and for a long time, repositories of African knowledge were in the minds of the Africans themselves. Knowledge, norms and values were passed on from generation to generation through oral traditions. In some communities this aspect of African society existed, and continues to exist, alongside the ancient and the more recently established libraries of Africa. Well-known African libraries include the Great Library of Alexandria, which existed from around the third century BC to the fourth century AD, the private libraries of Timbuktu, which are said to have existed in the fourteenth century, the South African Library which was established in Cape Town in 1818, as well as the National Library of Algeria whose origins date back to 1835. In Ethiopia, the National Archives and Library of Ethiopia was inaugurated in 1944 by Emperor Haile Selassie and made a legal deposit centre in 1976. In the rest of subsanaran Africa, the then emerging independent nations legislated for the establishment of their national libraries in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these libraries such as the Tanzania Library Services Board, established in 1963, the Kenya National Library Service, established in 1964, and the Swaziland National Library Service, formally established in 2002 by the National Library Service Act (Mkhwanazi, 2010), serve the dual mandate of national repositories as well as public library systems.


Libraries for the public (1923-1964)

The first library in Uganda was opened in Entebbe, the then seat of government, by the Uganda Literary and Scientific Society. This became the Uganda Society in 1933. The library was exclusively for the society's members who were mostly expatriates. It is not clear whether the library existed from the beginning in the 1920s when the society was formed and based in Entebbe, or was established in the 1930s with the shift of the society to Kampala, the capital. Nevertheless, the Uganda Society library located on the Uganda Museum premises, by virtue of the scholarly nature of the society membership, collected and still holds many items of historical and research value. The first truly public library services were initiated more than a decade later when in 1948 the East African Common Services Organization created the East African Literature Bureau with the aim of boosting literacy in East Africa. As part of this effort, the Bureau established public library services in the urban areas and provided book box and postal library services to institutions and individuals far away from where the libraries were operating.

Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962 and the public library services under the East African Literature Bureau became the Uganda Library Services, which on 1 April 1964 were handed over to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development. Parliament then passed the Public Libraries Act on 26 September 1964 and the Public Libraries Board was created 'to establish, equip, manage and maintain libraries in Uganda' (Uganda, 1964). It took over the Uganda Library Services which consisted of eleven branch libraries, a book box service and a postal library service.

The creation of Uganda's repositories 1890s-2003

The collection, preservation and use of Uganda's tangible heritage in the form of manuscripts, published documents, photographs and artefacts is catered for by various pieces of legislation which have led to the creation of several institutions. The combined collections in these institutions and those in non-government institutions such as the Catholic and the Anglican churches form a significant part of Uganda's tangible cultural heritage. The National Library of Uganda (NLU) is part of this collective heritage. It is therefore important, before discussing the NLU's history, its services, challenges and future prospects, to outline briefly the context within which it operates by describing the various institutions whose work and services are related to its work. …

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