ADVOCACY FOR RURAL SCHOOL LIBRARY DEVELOPMENT:
Lessons learnt from Matenda School Library Project in Midlands Province
by Hosea Tokwe: Chief Library Assistant
Midlands State University Library, Zimbabwe
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.
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.
Brief on 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. Way back the Ministry of Education used to run a School Library Service, but over the years the model library set up in the Ministry has been run down. In Zimbabwe except for College and Universities, School Libraries are still in dare straits in both urban and rural schools, such that there is no culture of reading as there are no ideal Libraries to support the teaching and learning process.
Rural School Library Development
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, an initiative was undertaken to establish a School Library at Matenda School.
Stages of Implementation in School Library at Matenda School
The implementation program began in July 2007, and involved visiting Matenda School, meeting the Head and Staff. However economic and political challenges seriously derailed implementation schedule.
Stage 1: Meeting School Authorities
In African rural schools where one is total stranger it is important to consult with the School Head, an honoured person in a rural community. It has to be borne in mind that 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 approval to visit the school had also to be sought from District Education Offices. These being Education Officers responsible for rural schools found in rural Zimbabwe. Meeting with the School Head paved the way for formation of
Library Committee comprising of Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer and four teachers, with the Deputy Head being the ex-officio member..
Stage 2: Announcing the Matenda School Library Project
The Matenda School Library Project was made know to the Matenda community at a gathering for the School’s Prize Giving Day late in 2007. 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 would benefit the entire Matenda community.
Stage 3: Library Setup
With books now available next stage was setting up the Library. Local material was used in the construction phase and the 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 4: Matenda School Library Launch
The Matenda School Library was finally launched on 16 July 2010. In a rural setting such an occasion drew a lot of people, School Heads from surrounding schools, Headman, the Chief, Councillors, Health Workers and local business people..
Some Personal Experience of Developing a School Library
First, to successfully establish a school library in a rural setting requires 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. Advocacy of course implies being mindful of the real or key stakeholders, but it is no easy stroll to capture interest of the community and also accommodating their expressed needs. What is needed is the will to provide and support rural communities locally produced educational materials to put them at ease on the specific agenda of the School Library.
The success of rural school library development can come to reality 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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