A library, whether it is a large building that accommodates different books or simply a reasonable collection of books in someone's house, is a great impetus for intellectual growth and lifelong learning. Libraries leave a lasting impact on a person's life. Yet even in the cities where they are readily available, libraries are usually looked down upon especially when they seem to have no academic purpose.
Inasmuch as libraries are publishers' customers, close friends in the reading campaigns, they are mainly concentrated in the cities and urban schools.
One can imagine the difficult circumstances under which a student or new writer in the countryside operates. Without a school or village library, students are denied the pleasure of reading.
Coming to the rescue of disadvantaged readers (such as the rural budding writer or student) is an organisation that has taken it upon itself to bridge the information gap between urban and rural communities.
Zimbabwe Library Association (ZIMLA), consisting of library and information professionals, has taken some of its reading development campaigns to rural areas such as Mwenezi, Mhondoro and Shurugwi.
In an interview, the vice-president of ZIMLA, Wadzanayi Ndlovu, said many rural students are giving up their creative talents due to shortage of reading resources.
"In urban areas, parents can easily buy books for their children.
"In the rural areas, the students are disadvantaged because there is nothing to read apart from the few textbooks available. Libraries train children to be innovative," said Ndlovu.
She said in order to meet needs of rural readers organisations such as the Zimbabwe Rural Schools Library Trust (ZRSLT) were formed to mobilise resources for the establishment of sustainable development of library services in identified underprivileged rural schools in Zimbabwe.
Working with various organisations ZRSLT, Ndlovu said ZIMLA is trying to promote reading culture by ensuring that libraries are well resourced, well staffed and used.
Harare City Library, which ZIMLA has also been working with together with Book Aid International, has sought ways to lure non-academic readers. Reading for pleasure has been its motto.
The library has been hosting cultural activities and recently extended opening hours.
It plans to conduct meet-the-author sessions and information literacy trainings. Last year, the HCL hosted one of the new Literature Festival (LitFest) events.
With also the late iconic writer Doris Lessing's huge book collection now housed at the library, creative writers are guaranteed of a mind-awakening reading experience.
The variety of subjects which constitutes Lessing's collection speaks of a guru who devoted her life to searching and searching for the meaning of humanity (and/or inhumanity).
Ndlovu said some sections of Zimbabwean society are yet to understand the significance of libraries and librarians. Companies, schools and institutions would rather employ a general hand than use a trained librarian or archivist because of the misunderstanding of the profession, said Ndlovu.
Government also needs to consult libraries at policy level, she said, giving an example of how libraries and related information professional bodies were sidelined at the e-Tech Africa Expo held from March 12 to 14 at the HICC.
The expo included a consultative workshop for the finalization of Zimbabwe's National ICT Policy but libraries, according to Ndlovu, were not being incorporated in the policy as significant drivers of ICT. South Africa, for example, is said to have passed a bill in support of libraries and activities of other information processing and dissemination institutions.
"Policy on libraries in every school is vital because libraries are agents of social change, community development and economic growth.
"Economies are now knowledge and information based and we need not lag behind," said Ndlovu.
Ndlovu highlighted that technology has not come to take over the traditional library but to enhance its activities.
"Technology is not taking over and obliterating the library but producing it anew.
"The traditional library system has benefited a lot from the emerging technological trends in information processing and dissemination," said Ndlovu.
Ndlovu, a qualified librarian and committee member of Harare City Library, said one of the challenges ZIMLA face in its mission to promote reading culture, among other objectives, is lack of books with relevance to the Zimbabwean child.
As recipient of books from donors at times ZIMLA has no choice but to pass on books that have nothing to do with local context.
However, Ndlovu said, every book is relevant to some extent but it would be good should our writers donate their works to rural schools and libraries so that children are exposed to both local and global ideas and cultures. Apart from promoting reading culture, ZIMLA also advocates for and stimulates awareness for the establishment of libraries, create strategic partners to resource libraries, and also aims to contribute and prioritises development in line with national agenda through the provision of information.