Books for African Readers: Borrowing Patterns at Kitengesa Community Library, Masaka, Uganda

Books for African Readers: Borrowing Patterns at Kitengesa Community Library, Masaka, Uganda

Kate Parry (Hunter College, City University of New York, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5043-5.ch004


This chapter addresses the question of what materials would be useful and enjoyable for the new readers emerging from Africa’s recently expanded education systems. The Kitengesa Community Library in Uganda is described, and the library’s records of which books were borrowed over 2004-5 are analyzed. According to various criteria, the most popular books were storybooks, especially those based on traditional African stories. Books about various aspects of social development were less popular but were nonetheless borrowed and presumably read. The study has limitations, but it provides an indication of what kinds of material are appropriate for community libraries in rural Africa.
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Methodological Issues

The question, however, is not at all easy to answer. Little work has been done on the reading preferences of African populations, and such as has been done has depended on surveys conducted with school children (Rasana, 2005). Such surveys are valuable, but, as Rasana notes with regard to her own survey research, they are limited by their respondents’ lack of experience in reading books outside the school curriculum. People cannot express preferences for genres or authors that they have never encountered—and in the case of Rasana’s study, even when they had encountered particular authors and titles, the respondents had often forgotten their names so were unable to register an opinion of them. The problem is obviously exacerbated when the population of interest has less education and thus even less experience than had the South African secondary school students with whom Rasana worked. Such is the case with the newly literate populations of Uganda. Paper and pencil surveys are unlikely to produce interpretable information, and if the information is collected orally, the responses may be unduly influenced by informants’ perceptions of what the interviewers expect.

The research on which this paper is based employs a different technique. It can be described as action research since it is closely tied to a development project, namely, the establishment and progressive expansion of the Kitengesa Community Library (Parry, 2009). Kitengesa is the name of a small trading centre in Masaka District of the central region of Uganda, about a kilometer away from which is a secondary school called Kitengesa Comprehensive Secondary School (KCSS). The library was founded with the strong support of the school’s director, and its core membership consists of people associated with the school; but it also reaches out to the community at large, offering borrowing privileges to anyone living in the area on payment of a small annual fee of 2,000 Uganda shillings (the price, at the time of the library’s founding, of two bottles of beer or four bottles of soda). In 2005 the majority of members—393 out of 493—were or had recently been KCSS students, and as such they represented the more successful, or luckier, graduates of the recently expanded primary schools. The other members included 40 teachers, from neighboring primary schools as well as from KCSS, 21 students from other secondary schools, and an assortment of people not then involved in formal education, who described themselves variously as builders, businesspeople, farmers, and cooks.

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