Who Is Who In Literacy – Meet The Bookery
7 December, 2017
In a country where access to books is a huge challenge, school libraries can play a key role in connecting learners to age-appropriate reading resources. Sadly 90% of government schools in South Africa do not have functional libraries.
In our latest edition of Who Is Who In Literacy, we interview Lesley Byram of The Bookery, an organisation that’s tackling the lack of functional school libraries head on.
You’ve been connecting children to books since 2010. Can you tell us more about how you got started?
The Bookery was initially started by Equal Education as part of its “1 School, 1 Library, 1 Librarian” campaign. To focus more on the delivery and support of libraries outside of Equal Education’s more structured campaigns, The Bookery was registered as an independent NGO in 2013. We have stayed in touch with our roots though and have Equal Education representation on our Trust Board.
What challenges do South African schools face with regards to libraries and access to books, and how are you working to address this?
With only 8% of South African government schools having libraries, the challenges are huge and can be overwhelming. Our focus is not only on opening libraries but ensuring they are fully functional and engaging spaces in which children who haven’t previously had access to books can develop a love of reading.
Initially, in our enthusiasm, we strived to open as many libraries as possible. We soon realised, however, that a library is not a library without the right person to run it and ensure it is the exciting, constantly changing space it should be. As a result, our focus turned to building the library support pillar, which is proving very successful.
We have now divided our schools into geographic clusters and appointed cluster co-ordinators for each. Among these co-ordinators are an experienced teacher and librarian who offer support and guidance to the library assistants. They are in regular contact via WhatsApp groups and meet on a monthly basis to share resources and practice their techniques in a friendly and relaxed environment.
Do you provide training for community members or teachers to be librarians?
Yes, we do. Once the library assistant has been chosen, our team of dedicated volunteers oversee their training. This includes training for the computer system we use as well as teaching and storytelling techniques. To assist in their personal development we are also setting up a programme with a focus on life skills training.
How can more librarians make their library a fun place that encourages children to read?
As part of our Library Support Pillar, one of the things we do is encourage the library assistants to constantly ensure their children are stimulated in the library space. Through shared resources and ideas, they are encouraged to share information and set up displays related to either the curriculum or special occasions and public holidays. Some of our libraries have also started reading clubs, which participate in our annual quiz. Connecting them to best practices from around the world ensures that they are constantly challenged and motivated. Various activities that add a local context also ensure that interventions speak to the local community and have a much better chance of success.
How do you ensure the sustainability of the libraries that you help establish?
We have found that the key to sustainability is starting off with a long-term strategy. Our partnership selection criteria sets out a joint plan towards a future where the library is fully owned and adequately supported by the school. The Bookery then manages the library for the first three to four years, with the school gradually taking ownership and responsibility. By the fourth year, a library so supported, has become part of the culture of the school.
How can other organisations support and be supported by The Bookery’s efforts?
We believe in partnerships and collaborations with other NGOs. Some of our best successes are through joint efforts where another organisation’s strengths are combined with our own. Some organisations have built great rapport with schools and The Bookery can then build on that relationship by setting up a library there. NGOs can run book drives for The Bookery – knowing that we can only accept books in excellent condition, that are age-appropriate and relevant to our communities.
As an NGO, fundraising is an ongoing challenge so we appreciate the support of organisations that have contacts that can financially underwrite our work.
Most importantly, we ask people to spread the word about our work among their networks. That is the easiest way to support our work.
If you’d like to find out more about The Bookery, visit their website here.
Registered Non-Profit 063-979 PBO 930027054 UK Charity Reg No. 1109567