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Library And Literacy Project – Following up

In addition to the Sounds of English training, given by Sue in Gonder, and myself in Bishoftu, earlier this term, the librarian, director (headteacher) and a few teachers form each Library and Literacy Project school were given library training by SEDFA’s Mark Smith.

This was a two day course that sought to make the best possible use of the school’s libraries.  From making sure they have appropriate facilities, displays and basic facilities for lending books to setting up the library for teaching reading, establishing reading clubs, performing case studies of library users, and getting local community members and parents involved in their students library.  The aim is to ensure a) that schools have well equipped libraries and b) that they use them to engender an infectious enthusiasm for reading in their pupils.  In short, the project seeks to inculcate reading.

The project funding provides a grant of 2,000 birr (only around £70, but that goes quite a way here) for library improvement.  With this and the two sets of training happening right at the start of the year, it’s important that early momentum and enthusiasm is not lost, but maintained not only this year, but into the next years.

To help with this, we have arranged regular visits, every two months, to each of the libraries.  During these we assess the libraries progress on a set of criteria based on 3 increasingly difficult and sophisticated levels; bronze, silver and gold.  We arrange a meeting with the librarian and a senior teacher responsible for the library, during which assess each of the criteria at one level.  The presence of a senior teacher is to make sure the librarian gets support from the school, and chiding where necessary.  Furthermore, the libraries must be integrated parts of the pupils’ education.  There’s little point having a library with every bell and whistle allowed in your average library if it exists almost in isolation from the rest of the school and its teaching.

The bronze silver and gold criteria allows us to give the libraries clear targets for what to improve, while giving us clear information about what stages each of the libraries are at and the data to track their progress.

It’s a surprisingly tough job.  We have to be clear in whether the targets are met, which involves encouraging the librarians who need it, and not letting who could do more blag their way to a certificate. Finding the line between offering an easy ride that leaves the libraries unchanged day-to-day without helping the pupils, and a ruthless hard-line approach to each target that disheartens overworked and underpaid staff, is harder than it seemed from writing criteria in Link’s walled garden in Northern Bishoftu.  We also don’t want to be constrained or blinkered by the targets. As we’re often told, cat skinning can be done in multiple ways and we must be aware of the limitations of our criteria.

Our visits to date have been promising.  Most of the librarians and schools have been welcoming and grateful, not irritated by the interference of outsiders without formal library training presenting them with extra work.  Only a small minority took each missed target as a significant personal blow and one proved tricky to track down (we finally corned the librarian at Foka school on our 4th visit, but once there, he turned out to be excellent).

The motivation is mostly a better library, better literacy and better educated pupils, but we dangle certificates in front of them too.  Just as the ‘Sounds of English’ course shows teachers will still do more things than you’d have expected for a sweet, so far librarians have shown a similar soft spot for certificates.

The visits will continue through 2014, building to a reading competition between the local schools in Bishoftu and Gonder at the end of the school year in June.  There, we hope to celebrate and announce the achievements of the project while showcasing reading as the laudable pleasure it should be.  Although our visits and the competition won’t alone ensure sustainability, they should keep reading at the top of the local agenda.