Thursday, April 10, 2008

Top five do's in helping community libraries in Africa, IMHO

This is my wisdom so far, not based on any scientific Evaluation 2.0 techniques...

1. Do include a decent selection of books authored by local or regional authors. In all areas we are experienced with, readers are far more likely to pick up a book by an African author, with a cover illustrating an African situation. This applies especially to secondary school material. This means some of your budget should be allocated for that- a hard choice when some organizations are able to ship U.S. or European books with a net cost of $.50 a book, and the African book costs $3.00. But a book read 6 times is better than 6 books never read, right?

2. Do have a credible plan for paying the salary of the librarian and for supervising the librarian. We fix salaries according to the salary (plus benefits) for local primary school teachers. (Many FAVL librarians work half-time so they get half the primary school teacher salary.) The librarian should have the right incentives. If the librarian is a volunteer helping his or her community, that is a fine ideal, but the reality is that after the initial enthusiasm the librarian will likely only open the library when people come to his or her house asking for a particular book. The librarian needs to know that there will be frequent "inspections" and that the library must be kept in good working order, else the salary will be terminated and someone else hired.

3. Do buy furniture that is tailored for children. Very often the initial impulse of the local committee is to buy furniture and shelving for adults, since that is who they think will be using the library. But small chairs and tables, low bookshelves that face outwards (like sandwich boards) are very important for changing the look of the library.

4. Invest some time and money into wall decorations that reflect and promote local culture: masks, woven material, wall carvings. In some of our libraries we have small wall "shelves" with local statuettes that are sold in the capital city to tourists as souvenirs- people in villages often have never seen things like that!

5. Plan for the long-term. Ask yourself what this library can and should look like ten years from now. Are you going to be helping it ten years from now? If you are going to be a friend of the library, then your commitment is in good times (ribbon cutting ceremony and opening day dancing) and bad times (the tedium of the days when nobody comes to the library- hey, it happens!) and your responsibility as a friend is to make sure the librarian and library management committee get more involved, more trained, more capable, year on year.

Note the discrepancy between point 5 and point 2. For the library to be long-run successful, you need to be a long-term volunteer, a friend. The librarian needs to be a long-term employee. That's very deliberate. In the long term you will be earning as a resident of the U.S. $40K+ per year. You can afford to be hard-working and unpaid.

1 comment:

yacoob said...

Public libraries have a place in my heart. its the first place I go to for information and research. I have never exploited the potential impacts of public libraries. I have a couple of things to share from my past experience in the public libraries like the way of shelving.