Research in the Developing World

After the flood, rebuilding a university library

How a science library in Zimbabwe is using donated books to rebuild its collection

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Library staff at the University of Zimbabwe offload boxes of Elsevier books. (Photo by British Council personnel)

Flooding at the main entrance of the Astra Campus of Bindura University of Science Education (Photo courtesy of Bindura University of Science Education Information Office).In January, flash floods hit the Astra Campus of the Bindura University of Science Education in Zimbabwe. They destroyed the science and computer laboratories, lecture halls and staff offices along with the campus library and over 3,000 books – nearly one fifth of its collection.

The library had served around 3,000 students from three of the five university faculties in agriculture, science and humanities. Because of the economic situation in Zimbabwe, students rely heavily on the university libraries for all their reading materials – including textbooks – as many cannot afford to purchase books of their own. Increasing student enrollment at Bindura University was making it difficult for the university’s libraries to meet demand for books even before the floods. The devastation from the floods was therefore a major blow to students and staff alike, made all the more painful by the fact that many of the ruined books were new and had only recently been added to the library’s collection.

Books damaged by the flood at Astra Campus Library (Photo courtesy of Bindura University of Science Education Information Office).At Book Aid International – the largest UK-based charity supporting library development in sub-Saharan Africa through book donations – we were contacted by the British Council in Zimbabwe to see if it could help Bindura University. The high cost of medical and science books means that the demand for these materials on our charity is almost always greater than the supply. We were able to send a shipment of relevant books, but many more were still needed. So when the RELX Group (Elsevier’s parent company) expanded its support of Book Aid International to include donations from Elsevier in the United States – with exactly the kind of books Bindura University so desperately needed – we decided the first shipment should go to Zimbabwe.

Book Aid International works in partnership with the Harare Distribution Committee to distribute books to over 100 libraries in Zimbabwe. The committee members were delighted when news of the unexpected donation reached them. To receive high-quality, high-value books in such a large quantity is a rarity and will not only help Bindura University but also other university libraries, especially in the medical field.

University of Zimbabwe Library staff begin to open the boxes. (Photo by British Council personnel)

“We are very happy with the books,” said Yeukai Chimuka, Chairperson of the Harare Distribution Committee. “They are very good books and very relevant.”

Some of the 8,069 books donated by Elsevier (Photo by British Council personnel)The distribution committee agreed that the university would get first refusal on up to 20 percent of Elsevier’s donation and awaited the arrival of the books with much anticipation. The first shipment, containing 8,069 books, left Elsevier’s warehouse in Missouri on June 10 carrying books in higher education, science and healthcare.

In the meantime, the Astra Campus Library remains closed. Bindura University is doing its best to maintain its services for the students who use this library: the books that survived the flooding were transferred to the Main Campus Library, where desks were removed to accommodate shelves for the relocated books, and the use of electronic resources has been promoted in order to minimize the impact the students’ studies. However, as Bindura University’s single remaining library, the Main Campus Library now has to serve all 7,150 students, and it only has seating for 48 because of the extra shelving. The library is therefore temporarily allowing students to borrow titles that were formally reference only, for use in their halls of residence and lecture halls.

Loss inspires plans for a new library

The situation is not as bleak as it sounds: the loss of the Astra Campus Library has led Bindura University to invest in the construction of a brand new library at the center of Bindura town. It will serve all five faculties and will be large enough to house 200,000 books (compared with the existing Main Campus Library, which holds 40,000 volumes) and will have seating for over 1,000 students. Building work has already begun and is expected to be completed by June 2016.

Construction of the new Bindura University of Science Education Library has begun, with plans for completion in June 2016. (Photo courtesy of Bindura University of Science Education Information Office).

The Harare Distribution Committee operates from the University of Zimbabwe Library, and more than 20 members of the library’s staff were there to receive Elsevier’s shipment when it arrived on 19 August. They then spent a week stamping and shelving the books.

Library staff from Bindura University of Science Education will soon visit the University of Zimbabwe Library to collect multiple copies of 379 Elsevier titles for their library, which amounts to 1,599 books in total – a significant proportion of the books lost in the flood. This includes titles on forensics, organic chemistry, renewable energy, tropical medicine, anatomy, nursing and information technology. These books will primarily benefit students in the Faculty of Science, in particular those studying Health and Nursing Sciences, Biological Science and Computer Science.

Audrey Mhlanga“It would be challenging for the University to finance the replacement of all the books we lost,” said Audrey Mhlanga, Librarian at Bindura University of Science Education, “so when we heard about the donation from Elsevier, we were very excited. The titles are relevant to the curriculum, they are current and though they are not exact title for title replacements, they provide alternative titles to the ones lost as well as new additions for courses and programs that are being introduced. Our health sciences program has been the greatest beneficiary of this donation.”

Knowing how valuable these books will be for their students’ studies, Bindura University will not wait for the new library to open before making Elsevier’s books available for use. The Faculty of Science will include the books on their course reading lists, and the Main Campus Library will temporarily withdraw books not in current circulation to make room for Elsevier’s donation on the shelves.

The remaining 80 percent of Elsevier’s US books will be split evenly between the Harare Distribution Committee and Book Aid International’s other Zimbabwean partner, the Bulawayo Distribution Committee. Over the next four weeks, the two committees will disseminate the books among the Chinhoyi University of Technology, Harare Institute of Technology, Zimbabwe Open University, Great Zimbabwe University, the University of Zimbabwe and nursing training schools.

For these institutions, Elsevier’s donation will be a lifeline: small library budgets lead to a shortage of reading materials for courses, and these books will help alleviate the shortage and ensure students are working with material which is relevant and up to date.

Book Aid international and Elsevier

Book Aid International works in partnership with libraries in sub-Saharan Africa, providing books, resources and training to support an environment in which reading for pleasure, study and lifelong learning can flourish. Every year, it provides up to 1 million new books, donated by UK publishers, to libraries in Africa. The organization also provides training for librarians to ensure that readers get the most from donated books, and grants for purchasing locally-published books and for library refurbishments.

The RELX Group, Elsevier’s parent company, has supported the work of Book Aid International since 2003. To date, it has donated over 770,000 books. The RELX Group has also funded special projects, including library and reading programs in Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia and Sierra Leone, and donated £2 for every person participating in the Elsevier online research survey. Employee volunteers have also given their time packing books in Book Aid International’s warehouse in London and Elsevier’s warehouse in Lynn, Missouri, and helped to refurbish a Children’s Corner in Cameroon.

To volunteer for Book Aid International

There are various opportunities to volunteer for Book Aid International, from stamping books to running, baking or speaking in schools. Learn more.

Elsevier Connect Contributors

Jenny Hayes shoots a video in Kenya.Jenny Hayes is Book Aid International’s Communications Executive. She joined the charity in October 2014 and has seven years of in-house publishing experience, five of which were spent on the Publicity Team. Jenny can be found tweeting at @Book_Aid.

Audrey Mhlanga and Yeukai Chimuka also contributed to this report.

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