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Mary Pierce, VSO, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Mary Pierce

I volunteered with VSO on Pemba Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania from January 1994 to January 1996. English is the language of education at secondary level in Zanzibar and some years before my arrival, a public library had ben opened in Zanzibar town on the main island (Unguja). A need was therefore identified to set up a similar facility on Pemba to support the students and general population there, so I was recruited to do that, facilitated by VSO. The British Council based in Dar es Salaam coordinated the project and it was funded by the British ODA (now DFD).

As a qualified librarian, my role was to organise and stock the library, train the staff and open it to the public. An old school building had been donated by the Ministry of Education in Chake Chake (the main town), metal shelving and teaching staff seconded from local schools to work in the library. I arrived on Pemba in March 1994, viewed the building and met the staff. The next number of months involved having refurbishment works done on the library building, for example, netting had to be placed on the windows to minimise insect access and furniture was ordered and made by local carpenters.
The staff members were enthusiastic and had be be trained in the use of the Dewey Decimal Classification System. Some books were already in stock having been ordered before my arrival by Mr Yahyah, the librarian on Unguja. During these months, a lot of time was spent in reviewing book catalogues and ordering books, mainly from suppliers in Britain. Logistical difficulties had to be overcome in organising their dispatch from Britain, their arrival in Dar es Salaam and subsequent delivery to Mkoani, the main port on Pemba and then their delivery by road, to Chake Chake and the library.
Great assistance in the selection of the books was provided by volunteers (non-local) and staff working in the schools and generally in education on Pemba. Supporting the local community was also deemed important and emphasis was place on children’s book, general fiction and also health-related books to support the work and training going on in local hospitals.and the Ministry of Health.

As the books arrived, they were catalogued and labelled as per Dewey, and shelved. It has earlier been decided, based on the facilities, that there would be two libraries, one for children and one for adults and there was also separate space for an office and a store room.

The books were shelved as we went along and the Chake Chake Public Library (Maktaba Kuu Chake Chake) was officially opened in November 1994 by the then British High Commissioner, this was regarded as a very important occasion by Pemban officials.
In acknowledgement of the significance of the event, the High Commissioner awarded funding to the staff to study librarianship in both Dar es Salaam and in the National Library College in Tanga and the staff members took the opportunity and completed the relevant courses.

In addition, before my appointment, a local teacher, Abdullah Omar Masood, has been selected and was sponsored by the ODA to do a degree in librarianship in London. He returned to Pemba during his summer holidays and assisted in the development of the library and the training of the staff. When he finished his degree in 1995, he returned and took up the role of librarian in Chake Chake where he still works.From the opening of the library until I left Pemba, membership was constantly increasing, both in the adult and children’s libraries and the library soon became a place where children came to do their homework and people came to relax, read and catch up on news.

At on stage contact was made with a British organisation called Bookaid International which also donated books and one of their officials came from Britain to visit the library. It was soon clear though that although the main purpose was to support English language education, there was also a need for books in Swahili so on a visit to Nairobi I sourced and bought such books, especially for the children, whose medium of education was Swahili in the primary schools. I was also sponsored by the British Council and attended the International Book Fair in Harare in Zimbabwe, where more Swahili language and African publications were sourced and bought.

In my second year on Pemba, working on conjunction with the Ministry of Education, mobile book boxes were compiled and moved from school to school at regular intervals, aimed chiefly at primary schools in locations remote from Chake Chake.
In general, it was great project to be involved in as it epitomised what development should be about – in effect I was made redundant as the local staff became skilled and a qualified, local librarian, took over from me. I returned to Pemba a couple of times and the library was working well and as far as I am aware, it still is.

When I returned home in February 1996 I got a job in the exams office in DIT for both the summer and repeat exams and spent the time between in the USA. I then got a job for six weeks with Aer Rianta at Dublin Airport – the purpose being to establish a staff library. I served a number of contracts at the airport and was subsequently made permanent. I still work there (now the Dublin Airport Authority) and have always worked in the management and provision of information. I am currently the Document Control Manager in the Airside Operations Department.