The Reference Department deals with an extremely wide range of enquiries. A glance at the record of enquiries reveals information ranging from the address of the General Electric Co. in Pretoria, through details of the mathematical formula for the area of a sphere to a request for the address of the University of Lesotho. The Department stocks a wide range of trade directories for Europe, the USA and Southern Africa, together with a comprehensive selection of educational reference books, and the Library makes a significant contribution to business development in Bulawayo by making available information about trade opportunities locally and abroad.
In the educational field, we have been assisted greatly by the United States Information Service and the British Council which have kindly donated current reference books on educational opportunities in their respective countries, and the Zimbabwe Book Development Council and Book Aid International have given valuable help by donating current copies of the "World Book Encyclopaedia" and "Encyclopaedia Britannica", for which we are extremely grateful.
The Reference Department contains what is probably the largest database of general information available anywhere in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Unfortunately it tends to be taken for granted by grant aiding bodies such as local and national government and the significant contribution which it has made to commercial and educational advancement in the city seems to be overlooked when local grant funds are allocated. The service remains effective only because of significant donated inputs by overseas donor agencies.
Joseph Rowntree Study Room
This Department provides '0' and 'A' level textbooks to local students. This is not normally a function of public libraries in the western world, but in Africa, where many students study outside formal schools, and many schools have inadequate numbers of vital textbooks, the textbook loan service is one of the most important and heavily used in the Library.
150 seats are provided for students to work in the Library, as most local students come from large families and live in small houses where it is difficult to find a quiet place to study - again, an unusual provision in a western public library, but a vital one for an African library service.
Students from local private training colleges form a large part of the Department's membership, but the opening of the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo has also generated considerable demand.
Although the Study Room was originally set up to cater principally for "O" level students, demand is now coming increasingly from "A" level students, and the book stock is steadily being widened to provide books for students in higher education. "O" level textbooks now more widely available due to local publication, and many students can now afford to buy their own books, but books at "A" level and above are all imported, often cost Z$500 or more for a single title, which is no doubt why demand in this area has increased.
The introduction of the Super-text books has brought some considerable revenue in the Study Room. The students are asked to pay extra for books that are on demand and are very hard to come by in the local bookshops. A supplementary charge of Z$5 is paid and the books are issued out on a one week loan. This service is now popular amongst students at tertiary level and "A" level. Inevitably, there are never enough textbooks to meet the demand, and the problem is exacerbated by greedy students who keep urgently required textbook for far longer than the official loan period. I a bid to reduce this problem, fines on overdue books have been increased considerably in a measure designed to encourage the return of outstanding textbooks at the end of courses, and thus reduce the huge backlog of outstanding books which has accumulated at the end of each school year in the past.
Many thanks to the British Council, The Ranfurly Library Service, and private donors too numerous to mention by name, for their generous support of the textbook collection for vital textbooks, and it is clear that the Library is providing an essential educational service without which many young people would have little chance of obtaining examination passes which are so essential to advancement in today's competitive environment.Young People's Library
The children's department caters for kids from kindergaten to primary school going age. The atmosphere is conducive for reading especially for children who stay far from the city center and need to wait for their parents to come and fetch them from the library.
The department has grown from just a tiny section of the main lending library, to a whole room in the basement, to due the demand for books that has arisen. Much of the success has been the result of active promotional activities organised by Miss Otilia Mabhiza, the Young People's Librarian. She has organised major exhibitions, which have been attend by many hundreds of children in class visits from local schools. The opportunity was taken to teach children how to handle books properly and how a library is arranged.
As a means of stimulating reading amoung children, an ongoing series of reading competitions has been organised during school holidays. Chldren are invited to read recommended books and to answer questions on them afterwards, with prizes of book tokens and certificates of participation being awarded at the end of each holiday. This activity has aroused tremendous interest among participants, to the extent that some children are reluctant to go home at the end of the day. There is little doubt that the enthusiasm for reading which is developed as a result of the competitions results in a continuing interest in books, and this activity will continue in future years.
Needless to say, the huge increase in demand for demand for books in the Department has necessitated the acquisation of large numbers of new books, almost all of which have been donated by Book Aid International ant the Aberdeen - Bulawayo Trust.Historic Reference Collection
This is one of the two national archives for Zimbabwe and provides access to printed archives to people in the southern part of the country. The Library has a statutory duty under the Printed Publications Act 1975 to receive , acknowledge, and preserve copies of all publications produced in Zimbabwe.
The principal development in this department over the years has been the ongoing project to microfilm the newspaper files in order to reduce the amount of handling received by fragile orinal dating back over a century. The project was initially funded by UNESCO, which also made available a modern microfilm reader.
The Historic Reference Collection now has an international reputation as the world's second largest collection of published records on the history of the country, and its importance may be gauged from the fact that no less than 9 695 persons made use of it during the last three years according to the triennial reports. Of these 309 were foriegn researchers, from Europe, the USA, Asia, and of course, other African countries. The Library has been active in finding help from utside bodies to fund the Collection, and Bulawayo City Council generously meets the cost of the accomodation which it occupies, while a private foundation pays the Archivist's salary, but unless Government is prepared to meet its own obligation to keep it open t the public, with serious consequences for a large number of local researchers.