In December 2015, Mzuzu University Library in Malawi was tragically destroyed in a fire. The building and its entire book stock – around 45,000 volumes – were consumed along with all equipment and furniture.
The loss of this library, described by the Malawi Library Association as ‘a model library’ and ‘one of the richest reservoirs of knowledge in Malawi’ will impact not only the university’s staff and students but the wider community also.
The university cannot quickly replace all that was destroyed but it has already created a temporary library in the main student assembly hall.
University staff spent much of their Christmas holiday developing plans to manage the situation in order that the new semester could start on time in March. It was decided that the main student assembly hall would be used for a temporary library and a contractor was appointed to fit it out using shelves and tables donated by the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.
Meanwhile, Felix Majawa, University Librarian at Mzuzu University, and his team worked with the library’s national and international partners to begin the process of restocking. But a collection of 45,000 volumes cannot be quickly replaced.
Book Aid International has been proud to supply Mzuzu University Library with new books for its collection for nearly 20 years, so when our distribution partner the Malawi National Library Service got in touch with an appeal for help, we of course wanted to do all we could.
As an initial response, we dispatched over 800 books from our current stock which closely matched the university’s list of urgently needed titles, including many higher education and medicine and healthcare texts.
The books we sent reached the university in March and combined with donations from other partners, were enough to enable the semester to begin that month as planned. Library staff organised a short loan collection for students to use while they waited for the temporary library space to be completed.
The temporary library is now complete and open to staff and students. It has seating for 250 and provides a short and long loan service as well as reference and e-resource access. With over 4000 students attending the university, this arrangement is only temporary.
The university is now planning a new library and Felix is keen that it includes mechanisms for disaster prevention.
We intend to send the university thousands more books in our scheduled shipments to Malawi this year including a large proportion of a bulk delivery from the United States division of world-leading scientific, medical and technical publisher, Elsevier. We will also use generous funding provided by the Beit Trust, donated specifically for the purchase of books that we are unable to source through publisher donations, to purchase the highest priority 30-40 titles lost.
While the fire has been catastrophic, we hope that the combination of a brand new collection and new building will see the students, lecturers and community of Mzuzu flourish.
If you are a publisher and would like to donate new books to help us support the restocking of Mzuzu University Library, please contact Stevie Russell: firstname.lastname@example.org.