ADVOCACY FOR SCHOOL LIBRARY DEVELOPMENT: Lessons learnt from Matenda School Library Project in Midlands Province – Zimbabwe
Paper Presented at the
Regional School Library Conference,
Masiyepambile College, Bulawayo.
8-9 February 2012
Midlands State University
P Bag 9055
+263-54-913 747 814
Successful advocacy is critical to a librarian’s ability to address the needs of his/her community. “Advocacy is a planned, deliberate, sustained effort to raise awareness of an issue. It’s an ongoing process in which support and understanding are built incrementally over an extended period of time and using a wide variety of marketing and public relations tools” (Canadian Association of Public Libraries 2001). In fact, advocacy is more than just lobbying for extra funding, or stating the importance of the role of the information professional within a school community, or seeking school-based support for an information skills/literacy programme. It involves advocating for excellent school library services, appropriate staffing and facilities in the context of advancing the educational opportunities of a school community. This paper chronicles my trials and tribulations as I endeavoured to develop a rural school library at Matenda School in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe.
Motivation to take on the challenge
My training and experience as a librarian enables me to see and respond to information or literacy needs of the community around me. Advocating for library development in my community has become part of me. I naturally believe in being proactive which involves the act of advocacy and playing an active role. Am I sounding crazy? Do you believe in school library development advocacy or is it a farfetched dream? Are you willing to freely offer your professional expertise in school library development for your community? Or maybe you want remuneration for such services. Your presence here today bears testimony that you share my passion for school and community library development. Coming from different political, economic, social and geographical backgrounds our cherished desire is to deliberate on how as professionals we can contribute to effective and efficient school library development. Well, as I stand before you I feel deeply honoured to present my paper.
Justification for school library development
More than 40 years ago De Perez (1971) viewed school libraries as one of the most effective ways of renovating education. De Perez’s view especially makes sense today when new technologies are threatening to reverse the literacy revolution achieved by education systems the world over. Due to the advent of technologies like laptops and social networking people rarely want to read. Resultantly, children in our schools face serious literacy and comprehension challenges. Literacy and comprehension challenges are most prevalent in Africa. The illiteracy situation is saddening in the rural communities in Zimbabwe where there is a dire lack of rural school libraries to provide reading materials for pupils and students in deprived communities. Sturges and Neill (1998, p 154) are right that there is a compelling argument within Africa’s educational system which calls for greater library involvement. It is, therefore undeniable, that in this decade our schools need assistance from libraries and librarians. School Libraries aid in uplifting student enquiry, comprehension and thinking skills. The role of a school library is further elaborated by the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto which states that school library offers learning services, books and resources that enable all members of the community to become critical thinkers and effective users of information in all formats and media.
History of Library Development in Zimbabwe
International voluntary organisations such Rural Libraries Resources Development Programme, Book Aid International, Rotary Club and Books for Africa initiated library development in Zimbabwe either through donations of books by institutions or prominent personalities teaming up to fund for construction of libraries. Though these efforts are greatly appreciated no attempt was made to assess progress made by the schools which received support from international voluntary organisations.
The Hard road to the establishment of Matenda School Library
In this section of the paper I chronicle my personal experience of conceptualising a rural school library, advocating for it and working with the local community to establish the cherished library. I conclude my paper by detailing lessons I learnt from embarking on this project.
Location of Matenda Rural School Library Project
Matenda School was built many years ago but without a School Library. Matenda School is a situated in rural Zvishavane, a distance of 80km from Gweru. According to local knowledge the school was built in 1927 and once sited at Danger near Chionekano range of mountains through which Lundi River passes. The School had once been under the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe like other schools in Zvishavane North, but is now under the Runde Rural District Council, falling now under local government. Matenda School is a cluster resource centre where six schools meet to discuss academic and sporting issues. It is also a ward centre where community leaders including traditional ones meet to discuss community problems and developmental strategies. The school has close to 500 pupils aged seven to thirteen years. There are grades one to seven classes who are all taught subjects like Mathematics, English, Shona, Science, Environmental and Religious Studies and History. Unfortunately, for all these years it has operated without a Library serve for an old storeroom where tattered textbooks, soccer and netball uniforms and marimba instruments were housed.
Rural Schools need school libraries to for student achievement. The International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) acknowledges in its School Library Manifesto (2001) that in rural areas the concept of a rural school library “is essential to every long-term strategy for literacy, education, information provision and economic, social and cultural development.” Educators the world over agree that once there is a rural school library, it will play an important and positive role in the curriculum; thereby facilitate quality education in the school. One scholar Zondi (1982) goes on to suggest that the school library is “an essential teaching aid” and “vital necessity” in rural schools. Guided by these important pointers to school library development, after lengthy communication and networking with a professional colleague and former pupil via e-mail I took up the initiative to go and establish a School Library at Matenda School.
Stages of Implementation
The implementation program began in July 2007, and involved visiting Matenda School, meeting the Head and Staff. However economic and political challenges seriously derailed our implementation schedule.
Stage 1: Meeting School Authorities
I gathered information on the transport network to this school. One needs to go on a rural ride to arrive at this school. What would be the focus of this project? My professional colleagues left all professional and social responsibility in my hands. To facilitate the initial breakthrough, I had to consult with the School Head. Working with the rural community is not an easy task; rather it calls for deep understanding of the social, political and cultural background of the community. Most often development should be locally owned, in this instance I had to seek approval from District Education Offices, however I overcame that hurdle. Thus on arrival at Matenda on 22 May 2007, I met the School Head and after a few introductions with a clear focus on this Project I pointed the main objective of my visit being:
To encourage the school to establish a school library, and thus develop a resource centre for the benefit of the Matenda community.
After meeting the Headmaster a meeting was convened. Purpose and goal of this Project was highlighted in the presence of all School Staff. A library committee consisting of Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer and four teachers, with the Deputy Head being the ex-officio member was established. The responsibility of the committee would look into the stages towards achieving the successful establishment of the School Library. But there were challenges though, being at a time when political campaigns were hotting up in rural Zimbabwe, my presence as one teacher would confess later on, was viewed with suspicion as being seen as a political agent who would leave them in deep trouble. Inwardly, I learned that as I would continue to meet new people and other different stakeholders, questions would be asked, answers would be needed to justify and fully convince them that this Project was not a thinly disguised political manipulation of the rural folk. Travelling up and down also had its challenges, like the experience of missing out the only bus plying this route. I learnt that it only requires unwavering zeal, and I remember vividly travelling one night in dark the night a distance of 25km carrying a Book Donation, risking my life at a time when political violence was at its peak in rural Zimbabwe. But those are professional hazards, were one can look back and marvel at the rewards, a successful, eventual and information rich School Library to overcome information poverty.
Stage 2: Announcing the Matenda School Library Project
The next stage of project implementation was to make it known to the Matenda community at large. Accepting the platform as Guest of Honour on 31 July 2007’s School Prize Giving Day, presented me with immense challenge. For a school to attain good results it would need to be equipped with books in all subjects, ranging from fictional, non-fiction, like short story books, atlases, dictionaries to enrich textbooks and other teaching materials. It is true that when librarians and teachers work together, pupils achieve higher levels of literacy, learning, problem-solving. I emphasised that the school library and the services would be provided to all members of the school community, regardless of age, gender, language and race. Being in a rural setting this occasion helped to sensitize other local stakeholders, like the chief, councillor, headmen, parents and the School Development Association about this Project, thus it helped to manage individual perceptions where this Project might have been misconstrued as a hidden political agenda. I learnt that after presenting the case to kick-start this Project, this occasion was to be used as a campaign opportunity. As an information professional my ability to bring all people from different backgrounds to see and value and take ownership of this Project won me many hearts.
Stage 3: Deciding on the Library Setup and inputs from Library Committee
To implement this Project we decided on the following:
Who would manage the School Library
Would there be any need for training
What materials and equipment would be required
What type of resources would be acquired
What criteria would be used to buy books
Who would buy the books
The Library Committee members provided expert help in choice of library material, taking special consideration to age, level, relevancy and literacy as well as language. They also gave input on the local availability of skilled workers for the construction of the library bookshelves. To boost the ego of Library Committee members I highlighted the need to provide pupils with access to local, regional, national and global resources and opportunities that expose learners to diverse ideas, experiences and opinions. Also developing and sustaining in children the habit and enjoyment of reading and learning and the use of libraries throughout their life. Most rural schools do not have libraries, so none would volunteer to be given the custodianship of books, and the question of training came up. Even a general picture of an ideal library was non-existent in their minds, so would be the question of criterion to use in book purchases, and how to exercise a democratic approach to choice of subject to be prioritised.
Stage 4: Donations Presentation – International and Local Connections
Few book donations I presented on Prize Giving Day brought hope and expectation for better things to come. On the international scene, my colleague and former pupil of Matenda went on an appeal for library books in New Zealand. This all was aided by reports and photos about Matenda I sent to convince potential donors. On my part I convinced a friend working for Africa Book Collectives in the UK about the Project and need for local relevant books to meet local needs. She offered a credit line worth US$200 for purchase of books from Weaver Press. The 23rd of November 2007 saw me purchase 50 books mostly by local authors, and the Publisher of Weaver Press gave a donation of 20 more books. Apart from these donors, other donors included Darien Book Aid Plan all the way from United States. All this was happening at a time when the country was experiencing one of the harshest economic hardships in living memory, with soaring inflation that stalled the development of any activity in schools. Early in March, we received great news that a consignment of books was on its way ironically sourced from New Zealand. These books were sourced by Wainciomata Intermediate School, New Zealand and sourced by Nanetta Meadows and after being bought at local Rotary Club Community Book Fair. The 18 boxes of books arrived at the School in March 2008. This was followed by a book presentation at the school, with the local chief present to grace the occasion.
Stage 5: Library Setup
With books now available next stage was setting up the Library. A budget was worked out for construction of shelves in Room 14, a classroom that had been set aside for Remedial Lessons. With my own financial assistance, funding from a colleague from New Zealand, and the former pupil a local carpenter did a quotation and material was purchased. Local material was used in the construction phase. A Library Setup Committee decided on the different sections of the library, Reference Section, Textbook Section, HIV/AIDS Section, Fiction Section, Non-Fiction Section and Adult Readers’ Section. The School was privileged to receive posters, promotional and informational materials from a School Librarian based in the UK, as well as Non-governmental organisations such as SAfAIDS and local Book Publishers.
Stage 6: Matenda School Library Launch
The Matenda School Library Project has been a hard road to travel. Having thrived against all odds, the School Library was finally launched on 16 July 2010. Some hiccups here and there have characterised the road we have travelled. The political standoff and economic meltdown slowed progress. The Zimbabwe dollar suffered major slump resulting cash flow problems most felt in rural areas, thus the Library Committee agreed in principle to Holt the Project. With the sudden turnaround of the economy, 2010 saw plans now being made to launch the Matenda School Library. The prelude to the launch saw me hold meetings with the Library Committee, and inviting the School Development Committee, the Councillor, the Headman, and Chief Matenda. A deliberation revolved around the Library launch to coincide with the Prize Giving Ceremony. There were lessons learnt, the Chief gave his blessings and got approval to invite other Chiefs to grace the occasion. Purely, the essence of the launch would provide flavour of the local community to come and celebrate an achievement never seen before. On the honoured day a lot of activities were lined up, a Speech by the Local Chief, Local Councillor, School Head, the Guest of Honour, me as facilitator of the Project and a Vote of Thanks from a neighbouring School Head. Also lined were songs, poems by pupils, drama and entertainment was provided by the School Marimba Group. The former pupil of the school acknowledged the hard work I had done in mobilising, the school authorities and convincing them to accept the noble cause. He also deeply appreciated my understanding of respect for the local community, the parents and the elderly, especially seeking their approval of the local chief in every step throughout the Project phases. Looking back, it may seem like the final gathering and presence of all stakeholders to witness the event was all that counted, but there are lots of lessons lent.
Lessons learnt from My Personal Experience of Developing a School Library
My personal experience of developing Matenda Rural School taught me several things about school library development. First, to successfully establish a library involves standing out for the cause or felt need of the stakeholders (in this case the community). Second, one has take full personal responsibility, believing in self, and voluntarily going out all the way to sell out libraries and ourselves as librarians with felt need for Schools at heart. Despite being aware that advocacy implies being mindful of the real or key stakeholders, at first it was no easy stroll to capture interest of the community and also accommodating their expressed needs. Ahead of me I would meet up with challenges and trials in fighting the rural populace’s perception of the role of the library. I discovered that I had to fight the myth that the library would not stock any political information but included relevant and locally produced education materials to put them at ease on the specific agenda of the Library Project.
There are particular lessons which have been learnt as a librarian:-
– I could tell the community had many unanswered questions to ask, like who are we? What do we stand for?
-I discovered that to be truly proactive in school library development one has lead by putting values up front, as well as spreading the good word, the myth and the story of change of the mindset whilst remaining truly professional.
-In Africa’s rural setting I discovered that when you are an outsider you are accepted and accommodated. Thus my professional neutrality enabled me to accommodate views of different stakeholders.
-The role of the Library Committee is critical. Being chair I had to encourage discussion and maintain the Committee’s focus while keeping the objectives of the Project in mind.
-I had to fight divergent individual perceptions of the members as some sought reward while I held on to the principle of volunteerism and the spirit of togetherness to achieve the intended goal, establish a School Library.
-Coming up with an ideal School Library presented great challenge, there being no money and time to train in basic School Library Management, like book accessioning, knowledge organisation, circulation procedures and custodianship.
-However for effective Project implementation core groups and chairperson need to have incentives to participate actively. Relying on goodwill is, in the long run, unsustainable. Remuneration for core group might be a consideration.
-Proper allocation of time, budget and personal resources to Project successful implementation needs strong emphasises.
The success of rural school library development can come to if and when there is government involvement and a blueprint to re-establish the School Library Service in the relevant Ministry. In the process standards will have to be looked at to ensure that school libraries are established throughout rural Zimbabwe. Also, basic requirements in every school library in terms of infrastructure, material resources, and appropriate manpower will need to be spelt out. For Matenda School it is envisaged that a well-stocked School Library will be put in place to support the teaching and learning process. The School looks forward to mobilise for provision of relevant locally produced books to address the needs of their local community and to encourage a culture of reading among pupils and teachers to help nurture reading skills.
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