This July our library had the pleasure of hosting a visiting librarian from Malawi. Alufeyo Manda is 29 years old and comes from Mzuzu near Lake Malawi. He is currently in his last semester studying for a Diploma in Library and Information Science at Mzuzu University. The library in which he works (at Mzuzu Technical College), however, is very small-scale and ‘low-tech’ compared with most libraries in the UK, having only around 5,000 outdated books in stock and no computers. It is therefore his earnest wish to advance the condition of libraries and librarians in Malawi, and seeing what libraries in the UK have to offer will help to inform that process.
Alufeyo was generously co-sponsored by Elmwood College and ALLCU (Association of Libraries in Land-based Colleges and Universities). The Royal Agricultural College is, of course, a member of ALLCU. During his trip he has visited a number of land-based Colleges, including Elmwood, Otley, Bicton, Hadlow and Harper Adams University College. He told us that this is his first opportunity to travel outside Malawi, and until this visit he had never been on a train or plane!
When he arrived at the Royal Agricultural College from Bicton on the 2nd July we gave him a tour of the library and campus, and talked about and showed him some of what we do in our jobs. The following day, he gave a presentation to library staff about his library work and study in Mzuzu. He felt a little overwhelmed by UK libraries’ technology and he told us some of the issues that Malawian libraries are facing such as the difficulties they have in obtaining books within Malawi and how expensive they are. In Malawi they also have very limited access to the internet (as well as daily power cuts), whereas we take internet access for granted. Another difference he noticed was that the library profession in Malawi is almost exclusively male in its makeup, whereas in the UK it is a perfectly acceptable profession for a woman.
On Wednesday Alufeyo visited Cirencester public library and had a look around the town. He was particularly impressed by the cheap clothing available in charity shops, as clothing can be very expensive in Malawi. Both visitor and hosts had a lot to learn from each other, and despite some marked cultural differences there was a lot of respect too. We hope that ALLCU will embrace further initiatives like this one for they have the potential to enrich the library profession both abroad and here at home. Alufeyo’s visit certainly brought home how well resourced we are compared with libraries in less-developed countries.