Libro Futuro

School librarian in Zimbabwe. Mario Coffa interviews Jerry Mathema

Intervista in italiano

Jerry Mathema is School Library Media Specialist at Masiyephambili College at Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and School Library Consultant and facilitator. Certificate in skills Development and Lifelong Learning, Developing Union Policies and Strategies and actions. He has a Master of Science in Library and Information Science and a postgraduate diploma in Library and Information Science.

Jerry, to begin with, where did your passion for libraries come from and what prompted you to choose this profession?

It started when I was very young and was doing grade 1. I played around with books a lot and had a makeshift library at home. One day, my grown up neighbor requested me to escourt him to the library and get more books to add to my collection. When we got there, he implored me to steal this very catchy and interesting children’s book and hide it in my inside blazer pocket, and we exited the library without any detection. When I got home, my mother asked me where I got the book, and I told her I got it from the library. She was not convinced because the book was not properly checked out and it had no return date stamped on the date due slip. She ordered me to return the book and join the library. I was an avid reader during my teen years and when I got employed at a leather factory, the love for reading temporarily fizzled out when I got employed in the leather industry but was later rekindled by the professional leather journals we had at work. My late best friend, who was a lecturer at the local polytechnic, encouraged me to enroll in a course in librarianship, and I hesitantly did so. Since then, I have never looked back and my career in librarianship has been very fruitful and rewarding. I have travelled the whole world because of school librarianship. 

Is the profession of librarian legally recognized in Zimbabwe? What does it mean to be a librarian in your beautiful country? 

Yes, librarianship, like any other profession, is legally recognized through the enactment of the National Library and Documentation Service ACT of 1985 (NLDS ACT). This ACT is now archaic and needs to be reviewed and amended. The Zimbabwe Library Association is the national association and was formed in 1947. Very few people are aware of what librarianship entails and its importance to society and the economy at large. Library qualifications offered by polytechnics and universities such as the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) and Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) are recognized by the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZimCHE). Teacher-librarianship in Zimbabwe is nonexistent and the Education Act [Chapter 25:04] makes no mention of that position within the school organogram. It’s either you have a qualification in librarianship or you have a qualification in teaching. You rarely find school librarians with dual qualifications. They are just a minority, and in such instances, they are assigned to teach in the classroom. In some instances, unqualified personnel man school libraries. The ministry of primary and secondary education has no position for a school librarian in its structures. It was scrapped a long time ago. Most administrators are ignorant of what transpires in the library, the librarian’s role, and the role of the library in general. Hence, very few schools have qualified librarians. The situation is different in teachers colleges, polytechnics, and universities, where you find only highly qualified library personnel. Higher Education Library standards refer to ZimCHE ACT Chapter 25:27, 6 (d) (iv). Progressive schools are the ones that employ school librarians, and most of them are independent or private schools, as well as Association of Trust Schools, International Schools, and Mission Schools. To a lesser extent, we have school librarians in government schools. All government schools built before independence have purpose-built libraries that have now been turned into classrooms due to over enrolment and a shortage of classrooms. School librarians are more prevalent in high schools than in many primary schools.

The tragic experience of the pandemic has shaken the digital process by compensating for the forced closure of libraries. How have libraries in your country reacted to these last two years in this regard? 

Our innovative and creative librarians switched to free digital library resources, but the challenge was that not every librarian or pupil has access to the internet off campus. School librarians then decided to use cheaper methods of disseminating information through social media such as Whatsapp. WhatsApp is easier to use and it is a relatively cheaper method of sharing documents and eBooks. In wealthier schools, they bought scanners and digitized most of the reading material. These were then uploaded to school learning portals such as Google Classroom and institutional websites. Please note that internet connectivity in developing countries is not up to standard. Data charges are also steep and highly inhibitive for most pupils and librarians.

I was very impressed with your article entitled “It Is a Long, Long Walk To Books And Very Far Away From Information Access and Delivery: Stories From School Librarians In Zimbabwe”. Can you explain us briefly?

This is about the challenges that school librarian’s face in Zimbabwe, such as a lack of funding for school libraries, old and irrelevant library materials, lack of internet connectivity, ignoramus school administrators and steep data charges. Librarians are doing all they can possibly do, but no one is recognizing or rewarding their efforts.

You deal with libraries in schools. It is something wonderful to have children and teenagers as users. What do you think the library can do to meet the needs of this part of the community?

School libraries must shift away from being warehouses of books to vibrant maker spaces that allow pupils to be innovative and creative. Let the pupils bring out their expertise and libraries, which in turn hone and nurture the artistic and aesthetic skills that our learners possess.

This project, the Library World Tour, is based on sharing in order to create this great international network among library professionals. Do you think this, the sharing of experiences and more, could be useful for the mission of librarianship at a universal level?

Yes, it’s very useful because we get to know what is happening globally. We share ideas and net work with like-minded professionals and get tips that might be replicated in our own native countries. The world is now a small global village. With the click of a button, I can communicate and learn from others in the diaspora.

What would you recommend to a young boy who would like to become a librarian one day? 

He must be very smart, have an encyclopedic mind, be abreast with what is happening globally, be very active and knowledgeable, have facts and be ready to assist regardless of the environment where they work. Information, media and digital literacy, analysis and dissemination are key and are the mainstay of any progressive nation.




Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa archivista e bibliotecario, laureato in Conservazione dei Beni Culturali presso l’Università degli Studi di Perugia (2005) e diplomato in Archivistica e Paleografia presso la Scuola di Archivistica dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (2010). Dal 2010 Lavora per CAeB (Cooperativa Archivistica e Bibliotecaria) presso le biblioteche dell’Università di Perugia come bibliotecario e come archivista presso l'Archivio Storico del Comune di Gubbio. Si occupa di Biblioteche Digitali e formazione in ambito di biblioteconomia digitale. Nel 2014 membro del Comitato Esecutivo Regionale dell’Associazione Italiana Biblioteche (AIB) sezione Umbria, membro del gruppo AIB sul portfolio professionale e nel triennio 2017-2020 Presidente eletto di AIB Umbria. Dal 2020 membro dell'Osservatorio Formazione dell'Associazione Italiana Biblioteche. Autore di diversi articoli e interviste per Insula Europea sul tema degli archivi, delle biblioteche e del digital lending.


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