Zimbabwe Book Fair Gives Unique View of Africa

American Libraries, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Zimbabwe Book Fair Gives Unique View of Africa


The Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) offers a window into Africa, both physically and intellectually, through the writers represented. It is a journey of discovery undertaken this year by 11 U.S. librarians who attended the fair in Harare August 2-8.

Margaret Ling, agent for the ZIBF in Europe, North America, and the Caribbean, was the perfect host - warm, enthusiastic, and tireless. Through her, the delegation was introduced to a land of contrast and incredible beauty. Ingenious juxtaposition of the old and the new, dictated by practicality, took visitors from a complete university library to a donkey-cart bookmobile, fully equipped with solar panel, satellite dish, and a laptop, to go where no other vehicle had gone before.

The American contingent met a population committed to education and economic growth, and witnessed the disparity between a thriving city and rural life, where several small villages pooled very limited resources and built a library with their bare hands. One teacher-librarian was proud to point out that students' exam scores went up 100% soon after the library opened.

Held outdoors in the Sculpture Garden adjacent to the National Gallery, the fair accommodated 300 exhibitors from 50 African and European countries. Buyers from bookstores, libraries, and the general public were estimated at over 20,000. The materials, mostly in English, ranged from academic journals to general fiction and children's books. Several authors were on hand to sign their newest works.

The fair, however, featured more than books. It also included the component of a conference, comparable to ALA's but with a greater international dimension. During an orientation, Bonani Hadebe, of the Federation of African Librarians, pointed out that this year was the first time the conference had been dedicated to women. He invited delegates to visit the children's tent to see the ongoing programs of puppetry, storytelling, games, and grandmother-grandfather folk tales, or to visit the Literature Center, offering traditional songs and dances, poetry, plays, and readings by various authors.

Enoch Chipunza, chairman of the Zimbabwe Library Association, discussed the training of librarians and stressed the close international publishing ties with Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands in the hope that similar ties can be created with the United States, the most difficult market to enter.

ALA President Sarah Ann Long suggested that publishers send books for review to American journals, that they attend ALA conferences, and that they form partnerships such as ABC (the African Book Cooperative) to facilitate ordering and delivery.

Thelma Tate of Rutgers University Libraries agreed that African authors have little or no recognition in America and that we need to develop a mechanism to bring speakers, authors, and publishers to the States.

Nelson Masawi, librarian of the Zimbabwe Parliament, raised the issues of agency mission, professionalism, and pay equity.

Long reflected that as varied as our environments may be, the basic problems of access, technology, finances, and professional development are basically the same everywhere.

To replace dumping with vouchers

At a reception, U.S. Ambassador Tom McDonald expressed his pleasure in the American presence at the Book Fair, in view of the warming relationship between our two countries, and a wish that it continue and grow. Long pointed out that ALA's Sister Library program (AL, Aug., p. 7) and similar programs in other organizations are working in that direction.

Margaret Hire, vice-president of World Library Partnership, headquartered in North Carolina, is enthusiastically working on a book voucher plan as a practical alternative to "book dumping" (donations of used and often outdated, culturally inappropriate materials distributed at random), which, among other negative effects, undermines the indigenous publishing industry.

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