Friday, August 29, 2008

Airing dirty laundry....

Hey, I know I am not supposed to do this... will discourage donors, right? The libraries are always perfect and children are smiling and everyone has a favorite book that they read fifty times. "In your face!" as my son is now fond of saying. It's true for some, but the reality is that developing a reading culture and a widespread support for reading is hard even in very literate societies (our neighboring county of Salinas in the United States almost closed all its public libraries!). So in the spirit of letting blog readers know how things really work, and what we at FAVL spend our time doing, here's a"slightly redacted" version of an email I sent to our Ghanaian partner NGO, CESRUD.
Hi Rex,

Sorry to be so late in sending you back some comments from my visit in July. It was nice to meet you for dinner and I hope the next time we can have more time to chat!

I understand that you are having a librarian meeting tomorrow, so there is one thing that I feel important to mention and that I hope you can engage the librarians, particularly X and Y (Z I do not know enough about, but she seemed very enthusiastic). I have the feeling that over the past several years a number of volunteers have come through the libraries, and done storytimes, art sessions, origami (paper folding) and other activities. But somehow the librarians do not seem to incorporate these activities into their own work. They seem to see them as something that volunteers do, but not the librarian. But the point of the volunteers is to be training the librarians by example, and especially training them by example in "taking initiative". The goal of a librarian, and the measure of their effectiveness, is not whether they can preserve the library exactly as they found it, but rather if they can make it better.

To give you a specific example that disappointed me. Outside one library was a piece of paper with the "rules and regulations" The paper was poorly taped to the wall, very unattractive. Part was typed, part was hand-written. Some of the rules were repeated. It looked like little thought had gone into preparing an attractive sign, or a sign that tried to help the library patron understand the rules. One of the rules was to please reshelve the books. When I asked X about the sign, he said that a volunteer had helped them make a better sign of the rules and regulations and simplified it. And indeed there was a nice-looking sign in the interior of the library. That sign, however, said that when looking at a book the patron *should not* reshelf it. (I it may have been the reverse). The point is the signs contradicted each other, but X seemingly had never bothered to fix this very basic thing.

I mention that because small things like that are a sign that there are bigger problems with motivation and interest. When I asked X what books he enjoyed and liked reading, it seemed like he had not been reading any of the books in the library! A librarian's first duty is to know the books in the collection and be reading himself or herself, so that he or she can help the readers.

I think we (you, myself, and Lucas) need to be more forceful with our management and raise expectations of what the librarian should be doing. In Burkina we have increasingly been letting the librarians know that their salary increases are dependent on performance. We issue warning letters to librarians who are absent when a coordinator or other staff member comes to visit. Librarians are told they must inform the coordinator of late opening, early closure or absence. if the coordinator comes by and the library is closed, a warning letter will be issued. Libraries are not to be opened and managed by a younger brother or a friend.

So I wanted to let you know it is something I was concerned about, and I look forward to continuing to work with you and CESRUD on this matter. Lucas is very important in the role of overseeing the librarian work. He needs to set good expectations and example for the librarians. I feel it is important to have an open discussion- our work at the libraries is about improving things and making sure everyone feels like they are part of the team.

I think we have a good relationship, so I know you won't interpret this as criticism but rather as what I see as the area we need to work on to improve. Anything I can do to help, that is what I am here for!

All the best,


1 comment:

JeniB said...

I have been working in the developing areas of Mozambique for over 10 years. We are involved in local language development, and literacy initiatives. I've been frustrated with the lack of interest in reading in general in our city of over 50,000! Of course, if there is nothing to read, why learn to read in the first place? The city hasn't even got a bookstore.

I have been interested in building a library for a long time. We now have a few interested Mozambicans, and we have some funding promised from Sweden! We are excited!

On a practical point, though... how do we know how big we need to build? Where do we get books in Portuguese? Any ideas welcome!