World Libraries

The Tanzania Library Service:
A Review of Recent Literature

floral device Abstract

Gives a history of the Tanzania Library Service (TLS, established 1975, succeeding the Tanganyika Library Services Board of 1963) and a summary of published writings about it from 1982–1993. TLS has authority over documentation services, training of librarians, public libraries, and literacy campaigns; and, it promotes indigenous literature. The National Central Library is included in the TLS domain. Six distinct public libraries and 14 regional or branch libraries are supervised. Librarians throughout the country receive centralized technical and bibliographical services. Recent writers have shown concern for library education, security of library materials, the need for libraries based on local needs, and the necessity of creating a publishing infrastructure.

This is a bibliographic essay in three parts: (1) a brief overview of Tanzania the country; (2) a report on the infrastructure of the Tanzania Library Service; and (3) a review of the recent (1982–93) literature on the library situation in Tanzania.

floral device Tanzania the Country

The attempts of the Portuguese to found an empire on the mainland opposite the island (Zanzibar) had long since come to nothing, and all the country inland, the territories we now know as Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and the Congo, was very largely an unmapped, unknown void. ... It was almost as remote and strange as outer space is today. [1]

Tanganyika became a German colony in 1884 and was later incorporated into German East Africa, which included present–day Burundi and Rwanda. The Germans built two railroads, conducted agricultural experiments and geological surveys, and developed rubber and cotton plantations. However, it was an uneasy coexistence between the colonial power and the native peoples. After World War I, Germany’s surrender brought Tanganyika under a League of Nations mandate with the United Kingdom acting as the administering power. This situation lasted until December 9,1962, when Tanganyika became a republic with Julius Nyerere as the first president. The merger with Zanzibar in 1964 formed the United Republic of Tanzania (Bates 1991). Ever since then, Tanzania has had intermittent periods of government instability, with minor uprisings, political arrests, and clashes between Muslims and Africans.

Tanzania covers an area of 364,898 square miles, roughly the size of Italy, France, Holland, and Belgium, or a tenth the land area of the United States. The present population of 28,359,000 (UNESCO 1993) increased annually at the rate of 3.1% from 1980 to 1991. Primary education (ages 7–14) is both free and compulsory. Enrollment in 1990 was 47% of the children in the relevant age group. The rate of adult literacy rose from 33% in 1967 to 85% in 1994 (World Almanac). Tanzania’s economy has been based largely on subsistence farming, which accounts for 40% of the gross national product. Coffee is the main export of Tanzania, and cloves are the principal crop of Zanzibar. Tourism is an important growth sector (Bates 1991). The United Kingdom was the principal source of imports in 1988 with the Federal Republic of Germany the leading recipient of exports in the same year (Europa 1993). There are eight major publishers, including the government publishing house.

floral device The Tanzania Library Service (TLS)

Julius Nyerere opened the National Central Library in Dar es Salaam in 1967, saying that “the real importance to our nation of this Central Library derives from the fact that it is the hub of a wheel, from which spokes will reach out to towns and villages throughout mainland Tanzania.” The president was an enthusiastic advocate of the Tanzania Library Service (TLS) and envisioned it as a great umbrella under which all types of libraries would be encompassed. He also wanted libraries to be educational and cultural centers: places where both readers and writers could be nurtured. In that way, books in native Kiswahili would eventually fill the library shelves.

History of the TLS

The TLS has had a short but distinctive history. It was the first East African library system to accept the recommendations of the Hockey Report (Sidney W. Hockey was commissioned in 1960 by the British Council to assess the needs and make recommendations for developing East African libraries); the first to empower a board to implement the report; the first to appoint a Director of Library Services (E.M. Broome, a British Library expert); the first to start coordinating library services for schools and government departments; and the first to build a National Central Library (Kaungamno and Ilomo 1979).

In 1963, the Tanganyika Library Services Board Act was passed, empowering the board by law to promote, establish, equip, manage, maintain, and develop libraries in mainland Tanzania. In 1975, a new act replaced the 1963 act. The new act established the Tanzania Library Services Board with extended functions and powers in the framework of UNESCO’s NATIS concept. From the beginning, the TLS had domain over most types of libraries, as recommended by the Hockey Report (Kaungamno 1975). TLS and academic libraries were established to function independent of each other. The new act broadened the power of the centralized TLS by giving it supervision of “documentation services, the training of librarians, control and supervision over public libraries, promotion of literacy campaigns, stimulation of public interest in Tanzanian literature, promotion and development of indigenous literature and other allied functions in relation to libraries and literature” (1975 Tanzania Library Services Board Act).

Organization of the TLS

The TLS operates under Ministry of Education, whose budget in 1988/89 was 6,338,000 TShs (Europa 1993). Recurrent budget funds for the TLS were 1,475,609 TShs for 1980/81(Ilomo 1985). Tanzanian government administration became decentralized in 1972 and the TLS revised its policy on financing libraries. Prior to 1972, the central government, along with assistance from several European countries, had built the National Central Library and branch libraries in different regions. Local authorities had been required to pay the maintenance, staffing, and administrative costs. The TLS had been responsible for the bookstock. Even though a form of financing was initiated, many local authorities were too poor to meet their expenses. After the 1972 decentralization, the local authorities had the power to decide how money should be used for regional development. In addition, they were responsible for erecting library buildings and for rural mobile libraries. The TLS board was responsible for preparing and implementing plans, buying the bookstock, and staffing and administrative costs (Kaungamno and Ilomo 1979). Most of the first branch libraries had been built from foreign funding and grants. Local authorities did not have the necessary capital needed to embark on building libraries. As a result, 14 branch or regional libraries have been built, in addition to six district libraries. Included in this number is the National Central Library, which serves as both a national as well as a public library (Kaungamno, 1979; Sitzman, 1988). The committees of TLS include:

  1. The Staff and Training Committee;
  2. The School Library Service Committee;
  3. The Dar es Salaam Public Library Services Committee;
  4. The Special Library Services Committee;
  5. Branch Library Advisory Committees at each town library (Ilomo 1985).

The TLS performs the following national functions:

  1. It conducts the National Library Assistants’ Certification course;
  2. It conducts higher standard library examinations for the civil service;
  3. It has established the Tanzania National Documentation centre (TANDOC), which is responsible for producing Agricultural Abstracts, Industrial Abstracts, and Education Abstracts (Kaungamno 1993);
  4. It houses an East African collection, a reference and research collec tion;
  5. It compiles the Tanzania National Bibliography;
  6. It acts as an advisory council to the government on library and information policy, legislation, and training;
  7. It is a depository library for the publications of a number of international organizations. The NCL is a legal depository library (Ilomo 1985).

Public Libraries

The National Central Library (NCL) in Dar es Salaam, the largest public library in Tanzania, has a reference service and a free lending service for both adults and children. It also provides these services:

  1. Administrative and accounting services:
    1. Planning, development, and administration of a nationwide public library service including manpower planning, recruitment, placement, training, and development;
    2. Accounting, budgeting, and financial control;
    3. Printing and purchasing of stationary for all service points;
    4. Purchasing of furniture and equipment;
  2. Professional services:
    1. Centralized book purchasing;
    2. Centralized subscription to periodicals;
    3. Centralized classification, cataloguing and processing of books and non–book materials;
    4. Binding of Kiswahili books, periodicals, back issues of periodicals, magazines, and newspapers;
    5. Exchange of publications with other libraries at home and overseas;
    6. Provision of documentation services;
    7. The Acquisitions and Cataloguing Department is responsible for running a book–box exchange service. Collections of books are loaned free of charge to a variety of centers all over Tanzania, including Ujamaa (communal) villages, prisons, community centers, etc.;
    8. The Lending Library Department operates a nationwide postal library service. It is free and designed to provide library services to those people who live in areas without a service point (90% of the population live in rural areas).
  3. Bibliographic services:
    1. Production of in–house publications including accession lists, reading lists, book lists, book selection lists and retrospective bibliographies, including the national bibliography. It also allocates ISBNs and ISSNs to local publishers;
    2. Production of abstracting and indexing bulletins prepared by the Documentation Unit (TANDOC);
  4. Consulting and advisory services:
    1. Studies the library needs of individual organizations and prepares reports for implementation;
    2. Advises ministries and parastatal units on training library staff, building design, collection building and other professional matters;
  5. Book production:
    1. Encourages authors to write books relevant to Tanzania;
    2. Collects information on authors and publishes an authors’ directory;
    3. Publishes Kiswahili books for primary and adult education (Ilomo 1985).

Rural Library Service

Originally, bookmobiles provided service to rural areas; however, they faced a myriad of problems, such as high fuel and maintenance costs because of the large land area to cover; poor roads; intermittent and sparse rural attendance at designated stops because of local activities, farming schedules, and adverse weather conditions; lack of sufficient Kiswahili titles; and the negligence of the rural borrowers to return books (Ilomo 1985). Due to economic reasons, bookmobile services to rural areas was halted (Kaungamno 1985).

Rural library service is deemed imperative by the government so that new literates do not lapse back into illiteracy for lack of reading materials. Tanzania has over 3,000 village libraries with about 400 titles available in each (Sturges and Neill 1989). Since card catalogs, shelving, or any of the usual library tools are absent, these libraries would be better classified as reading rooms. They are under the supervision of the local adult education coordinator, and may be located in schools, clinics, court houses, or other available buildings. They are staffed by the village librarian who is selected by the local education committee. This person, who typically has no more than a primary education, receives a stipend for organizing discussion groups and supervising the reading room. The librarian attends a one–month training session at the Folk Development College. Again, a lack of Kiswahili reading material is one of the biggest obstacles. However, the reading room concept is another genuine effort by the government to improve the lives of its citizens.

Libraries and reading rooms are encompassed in the Committee for Educational, Cultural, and Social Affairs. Villages are referred to as Ujamaa villages, which means they act communally to produce goods and agricultural products. Likewise, they benefit communally in the provision for services, such as water, hospitals, libraries, electricity, etc. (see diagram).

The national literacy campaign in Tanzania in the early 1970s recognized the need for printed materials to eradicate illiteracy. So in 1974, Unesco and a Norwegian agency funded a monthly rural newspaper called Elimu haima mwisho (Education has no end) and experienced instant success. It has a standard format of four pages: national news, local news, miscellany, and practical matters; and has a circulation of about 100,000. Production has not been without problems, including such stumbling blocks as outside printers, editorial control, and distribution. However, it is another step toward literacy (Sturges and Neill 1989). It was this writer’s observation while visiting Tanzania in 1993, that the rural children knew and requested materials about Michael Jordan. This reading material was sent, but it remains unknown as to whether it as ever received.

Village Government Chart

School Libraries

The development of school libraries faced a monumental task. Tanzania has well over 10,000 primary schools and 140 secondary schools. Six model secondary school libraries in different regions were developed, as well as a school mobile library service, which delivers books two to three times a year to students and teachers (Ilomo 1985). It is planned to establish a model school library in each of the 20 regions (Kaungamno and Ilomo 1979). Very few primary schools have libraries of any consequence and many rely heavily on the NCL for borrowing materials. It is thought that in the future teachers will depend less on textbooks and more on supplementary materials, and when that happens more school libraries will be developed.

Government Libraries

The government libraries of Tanzania are the most poorly developed of all the types. Most of them have no professional librarian; however, they do have trained library assistants. Because they are located in different areas of the country, communication is also a problem. Government libraries which are more efficient include those of the ministries of finance, development planning, commerce and industry, natural resources and tourism, agriculture, water and energy, and minerals; plus the High Court of Tanzania. The mineral resources library is one of the best in Africa (Ilomo 1985).

Special Libraries

The TLS provides support and personnel on request to special libraries. There were 120 special libraries in Tanzania in 1922 (Unesco 1993). They vary in size and effectiveness. Some of the better examples include the libraries belonging to the National Development Corporation, the Bank of Tanzania, and the National Audio–Visual Institute (Kaungamno 1980).

The University of Dar es Salaam became an independent university in 1970, and, although not under the jurisdiction of the TLS, it is dedicated to the implementation of the national policies of Tanzania. It has a main library on campus and one satellite library of medicine at Muhimbili (Kaungamno 1980). The main library is open to the public; however, its location outside of the city makes it difficult to reach. It also has a large number of Tanzanian government documents acquired under the Library (Deposit of Books) Act of 1962; as well as publications from major international organizations like the UN and WHO. There are other libraries at teacher training colleges, but these are not as well developed.


Teacher/library training was ambitiously undertaken in 1962 under the terms of the United States Agency for International Development/Tanzania Project (USAID), more commonly known as the Kent State University Project (KSU). The areas of library science, audio–visual education, and health education were to be emphasized at the Dar es Salaam Teachers College. Instruction in library basics was offered in courses for teachers, by a KSU library specialist. Unfortunately, after the USAID funding was phased out in 1966, library training was discontinued for lack of funding. However, the KSU project did have the permanent result of establishing the Teacher Training College. Now, the TLS has the responsibility of developing library service for all teacher colleges (Kaungamno 1980). A new (undergraduate) library school was established at the University of Dar es Salaam in 1989 (Nawe 1992).

The TLS recruits trainees from the following educational levels:

  1. Students with 12 years of schooling — subprofessional library assistant posts;
  2. Students with 14 years of schooling — professional diploma courses;
  3. University graduates — professional library posts.

Students in the first level are trained locally through the National Library Assistants Course. This program is limited to 40 candidates per year. Diploma students train either at the University of Dar es Salaam, which admits 30 candidates per year, or in Botswana or Ethiopia. There has been discussion about establishing a graduate school of library science at the University of Dar es Salaam; however, until that comes to pass, students in the third level are sent either to Botswana or overseas. Many library positions have been filled by Tanzanians, including that of the TLS director, Ezekial E. Kaungamno, who earned his M.L.S. at Kent State (Kaungamno 1980). Staffing problems still exist because of a lack of foreign exchange and a decrease in available scholarship funds (Kaungamno 1985).

Professional Organizations

The Tanzania Library Association (TLA) was formed in 1965. It had been a branch of the East African Library Association since 1956. The TLA publishes a semiannual journal called Someni (Read) and a monthly newsletter Matukio (Events). Its purpose is to unite all people working or interested in library work; to advance libraries and service; and to improve the standard of librarianship (Kaungamno 1980 and 1983).


Tanzania has built up some publishing capability (Altbach 1993), but still experiences a myriad of obstacles, such as lack of paper, ink, and offset plates (Sturges and Neill 1989). Kaungamno cites several factors aggravating this situation. Local writers are inexperienced and produce mainly fiction. Those who do produce a quality piece often send it out of the country for publication because of a lack of indigenous publishing facilities, and to acquire fame outside of Tanzania. Most printing presses are outdated, and those that are modern lack the necessary raw materials needed for printing. Finally, book distribution is poor (Kaungamno 1985). However, the TLS does encourage aspiring authors and also publishes Kiswahili books for primary and adult education (Ilomo 1985).

Recent Literature on Tanzanian Libraries

It is patently sad that American libraries exist to meet the needs of Americans, and British libraries to meet the needs of the British, while African libraries — because they are both American and British — have neither an African clientele nor services (Amadi 1981).

Much of the recent literature written about the Tanzanian library situation professes this same tone, although some not as pessimistically. African libraries may need the time of at least three generations after independence to develop a middle class sufficiently large and vocal to demand library services. (Havard–Williams and Marco 1991). The emergence of information services must reflect the nature of developing country itself; solutions should be sought within the country, without dependence on foreign aid (Mchombu 1982).

Many journal articles demonstrate concern about training personnel, man–power shortages,and university librarians (Nawe 1992 and 1991; Mohamedali 1982; Newa 1989). As mentioned earlier, most library posts have been filled by Tanzanians however, there is growing concern that once degree students leave the country for overseas training, they may not return because of discouragement with local situations.

Mutilation of periodicals was a concern expressed by two writers, who recommended that teachers change their assignments from rote copying, which encourages stealing articles, to those which are analytical in nature (Nawe 1988; Msuya 1991).

Lastly, the problem of publishing in Africa has been discussed at length (Kaungamno 1985; Altbach 1993). Altbach cites Africa as the least developed continent in terms of publishing worldwide. Kaungamno enumerates many problems: a lack of experienced writers, inadequate publishing facilities, lack of raw materials, and poor distribution. All of these factors are detrimental to the existence of libraries.

The Tanzanian Library Service has always been an ambitious enterprise. Its accomplishments under difficult conditions have been impressive. There is good reason to expect TLS to continue providing valuable resource to the government and people of Tanzania.

floral device Note

[1.] Alan Moorehead, The White Nile (New York: Harper, 1960), p. 9.

floral device References

Altbach 1993 — Altbach, Philip G. “Perspectives on Publishing in Africa.” Publishing Research Quarterly 9 (Spring 1993): 44–62.

Amadi 1981 — Amadi, A.O. African Libraries: Western Tradition and Colonial Brainwashing. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1981.

Bates 1991 — Encyclopedia Americana. Danbury, Conn.: Grolier, 1991. S.v. “Tanzania,” by Margaret L. Bates.

Europa 1993 — Europa World Yearbook 1993. London: Europa, 1992. S.v. “Tanzania.”

Havard–Williams and Marco 1991 — Havard–Williams, Peter, and Guy A. Marco. “Time, Development, Africa.” Alexandria 3 (1991): 81–87.

Ilomo 1985 —Ilomo, C.S. “The Tanzanian Library Service.” In Aspects of African Librarianship: A Collection of Writings, ed. Michael Wise. London: Mansell, 1985.

Kaungamno 1975 — Kaungamno, E. E. “The Functions and Activities of the Tanzania Library Service Within the NATIS Concept.” Unesco Bulletin for Libraries 29 (Sept.–Oct. 1975): 242–249.

Kaungamno 1980 — Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. New York: Dekker, 1980. S.v. “Tanzania, Libraries in,” by Ezekial E. Kaungamno.

Kaungamno 1985 — Kaungamno, E. E. “The Case of Tanzania Library Services.” Canadian Library Journal 42 (August 1985): 185–187.

Kaungamno 1993 — World Encyclopedia of Library and lnformation Services. 3rd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 1993. S.v. “Tanzania,” by E. E. Kaungamno.

Kaungamno and Ilomo 1979 — Kaungamno, E. E., and C. S. Ilomo. Books Build Nations. Dar es Salaam: Transafrica, 1979.

Kurian 1982 — Kurian, George Thomas, ed. Encyclopedia of the Third World. New York: Facts on File, 1982. S.v. “Tanzania.”

Mchombu 1982 — Mchombu, K. L. “On the Librarianship of Poverty.” Libri 32 (1982): 242–250.

Mohamedali 1982 — Mohamedali, O. N. “Tanzania Professional Library Manpower Survey.” Libri 32 (1982): 288–315.

Msuya 1991 — Msuya, Jangawe. “Serials Mutilation Hazard at the University of Dar es Salaam Library in Tanzania.” Library and Archival Security 11 (1991): 109–116.

Nawe 1984 — Nawe, Julita. “Tanzania Libraries: Library Cooperation.” Libri 34 (Dec. 1984): 318–332.

Nawe 1988 — Nawe, Julita. “The Impact of a Dwindling Budget on Library Services in Tanzania.” Library Review 37 (1988): 27–32.

Nawe 1991 — Nawe, Julita. “Need and Priority Areas for Continuing Education for Sub and Professional Information, Library and Archives Personnel in Tanzania.” IFLA Journal 17 (1991): 310–314.

Nawe 1992 — Nawe, Julita. “Library and Information Science: Training and Personnel Development in Tanzania.” Library Review 42 (1992): 65–72.

Newa 1989 — Newa, John M. “Academic Status for University Librarians in Tanzania: Challenges and Prospects.” Library Review 38 (1989): 19–35.

Sitzman 1988 — Sitzman, Glenn L. African Libraries. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1988.

Sturges and Neill 1989 — Sturges, Paul, and Richard Neill.The Quiet Struggle: Libraries and Information for Africa. London: Mansell, 1989.

Third World Guide 1989 — Third World Guide. Montevideo: Third World Editors, 1989. S.v. “Tanzania.”

Unesco 1992 —Unesco Statistical Yearbook. Paris: Unesco, 1992.

World Almanac 1994 — World Almanac and Book Facts 1994, New York: Pharos Books, 1993.

World Guide to Libraries 1989 — World Guide to Libraries. 9th ed. New York: Bowker, 1989.

About the Author

Cecilia Dahlgren is a recent M.L.S. from Rosary College; she also has an M.S. in Education from Northern Illinois University. She is librarian at East High School in Rockford, Illinois. Her professional interests are in secondary school libraries and international librarianship.

© 1994 Cecilia Dahlgren

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