University of Dar es Salaam Library Journal

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User fees in public libraries: perspectives, opportunities and challenges in Tanzania\'s libraries

Doris S. Matovelo, Mugyabuso J. F. Lwehabura


The user fee practiced in public libraries in Tanzania since 1996 and implications of the fee are examined in relation to the role of libraries in economic development. The paper aims at stimulating discussions among professionals and other stakeholders regarding the effects and controversies of the issue. Based on a survey of literature, brief and informal discussions with eight library users and librarians in three public libraries in Tanzania, it looks into the fee concept and discusses the experiences and implications of the fee to both the public and public libraries that so far are not optimally used. In addition, charged services in four public university libraries have been examined for possible lessons to be learnt. While recognizing the growing pressure to commercialize access to information resources as a strategy for coping with economic difficulties in the public sectors, the paper cautions that the practice may have more disadvantages than advantages. It is observed that while there may be other reasons preventing the public from using libraries, the fee may actually be a hindrance to developing positive attitudes towards use of libraries by the public for their socio-economic development. The authors see the existence of an opportunity for librarians to make tangible contribution in the society's development process by promoting the use of easily accessible information through public libraries rather than supporting restrictive rules. It is concluded that paying for basic library services may not necessarily be a solution to the library's economic constraints across the board. For this reason, Tanzania's libraries should consider the present period as a period for promotion, advocacy, and investment in the value and role of information for economic growth and in the expansion as well as creation of public library clientele. Among the recommendations put forward is the need for conducting in-depth studies that would profile the actual users of these libraries, determine membership trend and find out user opinion and attitude towards fee practices in Tanzania. The paper also recommends the use of participatory methods in order to make fair decision regarding access, use and sustainability of public libraries. The paper finally suggests some possible alternatives for economic sustainability of the libraries.
University of Dar es Salaam Library Journal Vol.6(2) 2004: 13-31
AJOL African Journals Online