Libraries for All!

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Libraries for All!
How to Start and Run a Basic Library

General Information Programme and UNISIST

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Paris, 1998

Recommended catalogue entry:

Wendell, Laura
Libraries for all: how to start and run a basic library / prepared by Laura Wendell [for the General Information Programme and UNISIST]. - Paris : UNESCO, 1998. - v, 108p.; 30 cm. -(CII/INF-98/WS/08)
I - Title

II - UNESCO, General Information Programme and UNISIST

© - UNESCO, 1998


Table of Figures

Preface: Who is this Manual for and What is it All About?

This book is for community leaders, librarians, library committees, volunteers, aid workers and others who are interested in the practical aspect of starting and maintaining a successful library. Throughout the developing world, countless dedicated people respond to the pressing need for information in their communities by helping to start a library. They often have no formal training in library science and overcome enormous difficulties to establish collections of resources that enrich their communities. This is a practical guide to help communities meet the challenges of setting up and running a library. It was inspired by my own experiences setting up a library with a community in West Africa and shaped by letters from hundreds of other aid workers and community librarians from around the globe. First-hand experience with the frustrations, challenges and rewards of setting up a library has given me a deep sense of respect for and solidarity with community librarians facing similar challenges. Like many of them, I am not a librarian by training and had to be very resourceful in seeking help and advice, which I have been fortunate to receive from many people and organisations.

This book was made possible by funding from UNESCO within the framework of the UNESCO Network of Associated Libraries (UNAL), which is dedicated to promoting international co-operation and understanding between libraries (see the Resource Guide at the back of this book for more information about UNAL). I would like to thank Joie Springer, Coordinator of UNAL, for her invaluable help during this project. The book was written at the World Library Partnership (WLP) headquarters with much support and guidance from the board of directors. I would like to give special thanks to WLP President Peggy Hull for reviewing several versions of the manuscript.

To ensure that the information in this book has the widest possible relevance, it has been reviewed and field tested in eleven countries. I would like to thank the following reviewers for their insightful comments: Dr. Kingo Mchombu of the University of Namibia, Margaret Myers, U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer working with the National Library Service of Botswana, Carol Priestley of INASP (see Bibliography) and various staff of UNESCO's Division of Information and Informatics. I also want to express my sincere gratitude to Gail Wadsworth for her ongoing mentoring throughout this and many other projects. Her extensive comments in red ink helped me to develop many of the book's finer points. The following field testers provided critical feedback from the book's target audience: Midekeasa Degaga, Christopher Frederick, Sister Frances Kersjes, Roberta Overman, Pheny Birungi and Sam Werberger. I would also like to thank Norbert Adewuho for the honour of working with him on the Yikpa Community Library project. Finally, thank you to my husband for his loving support and skilful editing.How to Use This Book

The introduction to this manual focuses on specific issues that the community and the library founder(s) need to address before establishing a library. The second and third sections focus on establishing and managing a library. Each section is divided into several parts. There is a list of "action steps" at the end of each part summarizing what needs to be done at each stage of planning and running a library. It is best to read through the entire manual once before carrying out the action steps for each part. It may be helpful to set a target date for completing each action step and make a list of who is responsible for each task.

At the back of this book, there is a Resource Guide listing programmes that can assist communities, library committees and librarians to carry out the action steps and manage their libraries. References in the text point readers to sections of the Resource Guide that are particularly relevant for each part of the manual. Although most technical terms are explained in the text, there is a list of key words at the end of the manual immediately preceding the Resource Guide.
Laura Wendell

The World Library Partnership

Introduction: Does your Community Really Need a Library?

Those of you working in established libraries may be tempted to skip this section. However, if you are having problems with community support and involvement, you might find some good ideas here (and under Community Involvement below). This chapter can help you rethink your library service, and if necessary, make plans to change it or even shut it down.

How can those of you who are thinking about establishing a library decide if your community really needs one? You can start by making a list of the information resources already available in your community. Your list might include newspapers, radio, community centres, or television. People are also great resources and your list should include people who provide the community with information. They could be taxi drivers or merchants who bring in news from other towns, nurses, pharmacists, older community members, extension agents, successful farmers, religious leaders, healers or anyone whose opinions are generally respected. Ask community members who they go to with questions about health, agriculture, sewing, child care or family problems. The answers may differ for older and younger people, men and women, and/or richer and poorer people. Remember that people with different educational, ethnic and religious backgrounds may also go to different people for help and advice. Be sure to talk with a variety of people to get a complete picture of the information resources in your community. Your community information resource list could be the first item for the new library!

The next step is to find out if the information resources you have discovered are meeting the community's needs. If people are generally satisfied with the information available to them, they may not see the point of a library. Often, however, people do want and need additional information that they cannot get from the existing resources. Sometimes they want specialized information, such as the plans for a composting latrine or a solar food drier, or specific information, such as the books required by an official school curriculum. They may also want entertaining books about other people, places and times (see the list of the advantages of a library below).

Some people may want new information resources because they feel excluded from the existing ones. For example, women may feel excluded from learning about current affairs if men gather to listen to the news on the radio while women are busy preparing meals. Someone who cannot afford a newspaper might also feel excluded. A library can make information available to everyone. If there are people in your community who want information that they cannot currently get, then a library could be a great way to meet their needs. Some of these people could be children who need storybooks, literacy students who need basic reading material, extension agents or professionals who need technical information, or students and teachers who need textbooks.

Once you have determined that people in your community want and need more information, the next step is to make sure that they understand what a library is, how it works and how it can benefit them. People who have never used a library may not know all the ways it could help them to get the information they need. Some people may be confused about the difference between a library and a bookshop. Others may think that library books belong to the librarian, not the community, and/or that they can only be used by certain people, such as teachers or professionals. You may need to explain the idea of borrowing and returning books (see Making the Rules below) or other aspects of how the library works.

Your first step in educating the community about the library could be to discuss it with some of the people it will benefit most directly, such as students, teachers, literacy classes and professionals. Many of them may have used a library at their school, agency or in another town. Those who have not may be quick to embrace the idea once you explain it to them. Ask them to help you promote the library by talking to parents, friends and colleagues about the idea.

If your community has a development committee, or other group that handles decisions about what projects get done in the community, be sure to talk to them about the library right from the start. You will need their help. The library will compete with other projects for space, money, time and resources. If the people who decide how those resources are used do not support the library, you will have a very hard time completing the project.

One good way to demonstrate what a library is and build community support for the project is to create a public display. Get together a few interesting books (you may even be able to borrow some from community members or bookshops) and display them on a shelf in a local shop, church, classroom or other public space. Ask the person responsible for that space to point out the books to people. You can post information about the proposed library near the books with a note to contact you for more information. When people ask what the books are for, explain that these are samples of books they might find in a library. Go on to explain that a library is a place where people can find books that will help them with their studies or jobs, or to read for entertainment. The books in a library are not for sale; they belong to the community and people either read them in the library or borrow them to read at home.

After most people have had a chance to look at the books, call a meeting to get the community involved in planning the library. Ask several people to help you organize the meeting and/or share their thoughts about the project. It is important that the community thinks of the library as "our project" not as "your project." Involving others right from the beginning is the best way to make this happen. At the meeting, start by explaining that the purpose of the library is to provide information and services to the community. Even people who have seen the books on display may still be unclear about how a library works. Explain that it is a place where people can read, study and research. It can also be a place for classes, story telling, exchanging news and other information. Librarians provide services such as help using the library, answers to technical questions and/or information about jobs, resources and education programmes. Libraries can also collect and preserve traditional stories and knowledge. Community members may be able to borrow the books to make reading more convenient. You can use a skit, song, poem or puppet show to demonstrate how a library works.

During your meeting, give examples of the information and services the library could offer. If you have found that some people are dissatisfied with the current information resources in the community, or are not able to use those resources, be sure to bring that up. Point out that the library may be able to serve their needs by lending them books, or through special programmes. Emphasize that a library, like a well, is a shared resource that benefits the whole community. Invite people to discuss how they would use the library, the books they would like and any concerns, questions or objections they have.

Here are some of the advantages of a library that you might mention at the meeting:

  1. The library will help students do better in school.

  2. It will give literacy students books to practice reading.

  3. It will bring new information and knowledge into the community.

  4. It can preserve the traditions, stories, music and ideas of the community.

  5. It will be a quiet place to study or hold adult education classes.

  6. It will give extension workers, health care providers and other professionals technical information to help them do their jobs better.

  7. It will be a source of entertainment.

It may take several weeks, months or longer to explain the library to the entire community, but your efforts will be well rewarded. Talking with individuals and community groups about the library will give you the chance to build awareness and support for the project and identify potential obstacles and problems. Only a well-informed community can make a responsible decision about starting a library. Taking the time in the beginning to make sure that as many people as possible know about the project will also make it easier to publicize the library once it is open.

If, after explaining and promoting the library, you find that there is a lot of community support for the project, your next step is to find out how high a priority the library is for the community. So many communities lack running water, health facilities, schools, latrines and other basic needs that many people, even the ones who really want more information, might prefer to spend their time working on these projects instead of a library. Make a list of a few projects, including the library, and ask people to rank them in order of importance. Different groups within the community may have different priorities, and it is important to get the opinions of a wide variety of people. The manual PACA: Participatory Analysis for Community Action (see bibliography) describes several good tools you can use to help groups reach a consensus on their priorities and discuss them with other groups. If most people think that other community projects are more important than the library, you might want to postpone the project. Otherwise, you may not be able to get the funds and volunteers you need. A library belongs to and serves the community and will only be successful with strong community support.

If community support for the library is not very great or the key officials are against it, there may be good reasons for their concern. Compared to many other projects, libraries are a lot of work. Unlike a latrine, which requires only basic maintenance after it is built, a library requires constant upkeep. If there are no funds available to hire a librarian, volunteers must be recruited to run the library (see Recruiting a Librarian). They may have to sacrifice other activities to do this. School officials may not want their teachers spending valuable time in the library. Others may fear that the library will turn people away from traditional information sources, such as government, religious and community leaders. New books must be purchased every year and the old ones repaired or people will quickly lose interest in the library. This may take funds away from other projects. You must look long and hard at these possible negative consequences of building the library. If you cannot find a solution to them, or encounter a lot of resistance to the project, you may want to consider alternatives to a traditional library.

If you decide that creating a true library is not practical, or if you are considering shutting an existing library due to lack of support, what can you do? One answer is to distribute resources throughout the community. Since the purpose of a library is to support education and learning, it makes sense to put books in the hands of the people who are working in these fields. Instead of having a central library open to the public, you may want to create specialized "mini-libraries" throughout the community. For example, you might give health books to the head of the clinic, textbooks to teachers, religious books to the church, etc. You can ask a local restaurant, bar or shopkeeper if you can put the fiction books on a shelf for their clients to read. Emphasize that this may improve business. Distributing the library will at least get the books off the shelves and into the hands of a few people.

Another way to bring books to the community without starting a formal library is to participate in a book box or mobile library programme co-ordinated by a library in another community. In a book box programme, a library lends a community a box of 50 or so books. The community exchanges the box periodically for a new one. In a mobile library programme, books are brought to the community by a book cart, van, truck, bicycle or other form of transportation. This "mobile library" visits the community regularly to lend out and pick up books. Either of these programmes can be a great way to get information to the community and promote an interest in reading without starting a formal library.

Action steps:

  1. Find out what information resources your community already has.

  2. Find out if people are satisfied with these resources.

  3. If possible, organize a visit to another successful library.

  4. Promote the library by discussing it with community members and leaders.

  5. If desired, create a display to demonstrate how the library will benefit the community.

  6. Hold a community meeting to explain the advantages of the library and to get people's reactions.

  7. Find out how high a priority the library is for community members in relation to other projects.

  8. Decide if you have enough community support to justify continuing with the library.

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