A Special Librarian Creates a Special Library: What Started with a Broken Stove Led to a New Project to Bring Literature-And Literacy-To Children in Africa

By Spencer, Forrest Glenn | Information Outlook, May 2007 | Go to article overview

A Special Librarian Creates a Special Library: What Started with a Broken Stove Led to a New Project to Bring Literature-And Literacy-To Children in Africa


Spencer, Forrest Glenn, Information Outlook


There is hope under construction in sub-Saharan Africa. The first Lubuto Library is opening this spring in Lusaka, Zambia. It is an ambitious endeavor to give homeless children affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic a rich haven where they can read books and learn.

The disease has ravaged that nation and the parental core of its society. According to a 2002 survey, one in six Zambians ages 15 to 49 are infected with HIV; young women ages 15 to 24 are infected four times more than their male counterparts. It is estimated that 1 million Zambians are living with HIV; a Zambian's life expectancy is 38.1 years, one of the lowest in the world.

One result of the epidemic is that one in five children is orphaned, many living on the streets and without hope. These are the targets of the Lubuto Library Project.

The project is the brainchild of Jane Kinney Meyers, an SLA member in Washington, D.C., who has had a long association with that part of Africa. She is the president and board chair of the non-profit organization founded to give these children a place of learning and connection.

"It is a project is that is targeting the most vulnerable of children affected by HIV/AIDS who are primarily out of school because of the epidemic," Meyers described. "We are building publicly accessible libraries for them. There is no other project like this that is trying to reach those children and, at the same time, engaging U.S. children in the effort. The libraries will be initially stocked with a collection of books primarily--at this point--hat we gather here in the U.S. in programs working with schools, many other librarians, volunteers, and people involved with the publication of children's books."

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Each library is designed to hold a book collection of 10,000 volumes. At present, 5,000 books, all in English, are being sent initially from the U.S. The libraries will have a specialized classification scheme to provide access that is simple and sustainable. The project also is attempting to connect the children with traditional storytelling and indigenous tales in many local languages that are no longer in print.

A Lubuto library will be composed of three structures, based on indigenous architectural styles and following the traditional layout patterns of Zambian homesteads. There will be a reading room, an arts center, and an entrance structure.

"We'll have story-telling events," Meyers said. "We'll have children transcribe stories and make books for their own libraries. We'll have them tell their own stories. There's going to be much more enrichment ... that's very specifically tied to local culture. There's almost nothing for children in print in the Zambian languages. Zambia has seven main languages, and you could hold in one hand the number of books that are in print for children. It's very sad, and the reason this is important to our mission is that we want to build literacy, and it's easiest to learn to read in your original language."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

More Libraries Planned

The library opening this spring in Lusaka is the first of 100 libraries the project plans to build in Zambia and some neighboring countries, like Malawi. The plan is to open two more libraries in Zambia this year. The project selects sites where there are at least 500 children ages 5 to 18 within walking distance.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The collection will emphasize informational books.

"When people want to donate books, they generally give fiction," Meyers said. "We request donations of non-fiction, informational books. But if people insist on giving fiction we recommend sending us the classics, folk stories from different cultures, or beautifully illustrated picture books--that sort of thing because, by definition, classics transcend cultural differences.

"In Zambia, we added materials on HIV/AIDS and dealing with psychological trauma that some organizations are creating for an African audience. …

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