The blog of Beth Cramer, doctoral candidate and librarian at Appalachian State University, documenting her visit to Lusaka, Zambia, November 19-29, 2010, where she will be observing and working as a volunteer at the international library development program, the Lubuto Library Project.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving with Eleni Coromvli and Mary Wagner

After my visit to Unza's Library I headed over to the Consulate of Greece to meet with Eleni Coromvli, the Regional Program Director and architect of the Lubuto Libraries. Eleni told me about the early years of Lubuto, when Jane still lived in Zambia and ideas were forming. We discussed the challenges of creating sustainable libraries and the need for children's librarian training in Zambia. The majority of library professionals in Zambia are interested in career advancement in the universities and private corporate libraries. Children's librarianship is not even included in the Library Science curriculum. This is a big reason why Lubuto is interested in bringing in a volunteer for an extended stay, in order to provide training to local teachers and library staff.

Eleni also shared with me some of the challenges in running an international charitable program. Competition for grants and other funds; locating and training library staff; and transparency (or lack of) in financial interactions with other organizations or local communities. But even with these difficulties, Eleni displayed a dedication to both the Fountain of Hope and the Lubuto Libraries. It was a joy to speak with her and I regret not getting a photo.

Eleni was kind enough to offer me a ride to visit Mary Wagner, a Fulbright Scholar in Lusaka. Mary is a professor at Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul, here in Lusaka as a visiting lecturer at the Unza Library Science program. Her first three weeks in Lusaka were spent trying to obtain the proper paper work to straighten out her position as a visiting scholar and getting her visa extended. Only on the day before her three week visa expired did she receive the official letter from Unza verifying her teaching position, allowing her to receive her lengthier visa. Her original plan was to teach children's librarianship, but in reality, she will probably be teaching courses on information technology as the library science curriculum here has a definite technical focus. Mary and I spoke about various international library development programs, our concerns about sustainability, the need for additional ILD research, and our love of travel.

Mary was kind to meet with me today, being Thanksgiving and all. I got to meet her husband, Bill and on of her daughters, Lebo. I also got to see the beautiful pumpkin pies they made that morning (squash, condensed milk, sugar, seasoning, and pastry shell) as well as the beginnings of a full Thanksgiving meal with chicken, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. I really enjoyed sharing a bit of Thanksgiving with Mary and her family. Later in the evening I even got to share Thanksgiving dinner with my family back in North Carolina via Skype and a laptop on the dining room table. : )

University of Zambia Library

On Thursday morning (Thanksgiving!) I visited the University of Zambia (Unza) Library. Unfortunately, due to semester break, the only students on campus were the distance learners and many of the library staff were away as well. I did have the chance to speak with one of the librarians and learned additional information from the internet and discussions with others.

The Unza Library has more than 170,000 volumes and is a circulating library. Browsing the stacks I saw some pleasant surprises. Due to lack of funds most of the collection was older books but I did find, sprinkled throughout, books with publication dates of 2000 or later. I am guessing they have received recent donations, perhaps from BAI. I also saw the phenomenon of multiple copies, 5-10 copies of the same publication donated en mass by publishers. In a report written by the University Librarian (2000?), he wrote that most of the collection was old due to lack of budget and that no books or periodicals had been purchased for eight years. Amazing, especially when one considers that this library is the designated National Reference Library of Zambia.

The catalog is fully automated, converted in 1995. A computer lab operates in the lower floors but sadly only 4 of the 10 computers are functioning. In addition to the computer lab, computers for internet access and the online catalog are available near the circulation desk, kept securely behind the gates shown in the photos.

There were many students studying for exams within the Library, at least 200. The only staff I met were security (5 persons), one circulation staff member, one additional staff member in Special Collections, and a cataloger, Mr. NKatya Clikwekwe. I have always have the best of luck meeting fellow catalogers. We had a good time talking LC, member copy, and CIP. He had a stack of new publications he was cataloging for the collection, shown in photo. The most up to date publications are from international agencies such as the United Nations, IMF, etc.

I love the design of the Library, with its interior ramps leading to different areas of the collection. The architecture of Unza and the Library are quite like a maze. MC Escher must surely have been the architect. I followed paths that lead to dead ends, walked across bridges of concrete built over slopes in the sidewalk, and up winding ramps. And huge masses of concrete. Someone told me that the British built many such structure as they departed in the 1960s. Not British design and definitely not African. Perhaps "Early Post-Colonial" is the best description.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Meeting Jennifer Campbell, Lubuto Volunteer

After visiting the Lusaka Public Library, I went back to the Lubuto Library at Fountain of Hope to meet up with Jennifer, a recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence University, now working at Lubuto Library as a volunteer. Jennifer arrived last April and will stay a total of ten months. Visiting her during the Thanksgiving holidays is her friend from the states, Kristen.

Kristen read books to a large group of children while Jennifer met with local teachers working in the OLPC Zambian Language Literacy Programming Project. The program is funded by a grant from the Gates Foundation and involves the use of OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) laptops to create games and programs to teach reading in Zambian languages. Before we left the Lubuto Library at the Fountain of Hope, Jennifer and I also got a chance to discuss the various projects happening at Lubuto, the constant ongoing challenge of finding funds and grants, and a bit about her personal experiences a a volunteer.

Then Kristen, Jennifer, and I headed out in a taxi to visit Lubuto's new library in the Garden District of Lusaka, housed within the Ngwerere Basic School compound. This new library celebrated its grand opening earlier this November and is still receiving finishing touches. Jennifer told me that it was the government that contacted Jane Meyers about building a library here, in the Ngwerere school compound.

Jennifer explained to me that, essentially, the library and all the books now belong to the school. It will be the Ministry of Education that pays the salaries of the teachers serving as librarians, although Lubuto is hoping to find a volunteer to help with training and interacting with the children. All of these factors contribute to the sustainability of the library, insuring its continuance through the efforts of the local community and The Zambia Ministry Of Education.

The buildings are the same style as the Lubuto Library at the Fountain of Hope. The collection of books is beautiful, most of the books look new, including several large picture books on Africa and a full set of the World Book encyclopedia. There are fewer books in local languages than at Fountain of Hope, Jennifer explains that not many books are published in the local languages and it is a challenge to locate those few available. Further illustration for the need of such projects as the OLPC project described above.

Lusaka Public Library, Downtown

Just around the corner from my hotel is the Lusaka Public Library where I met Stella Muntanga, one of the Lusaka Public librarians. She was very helpful in giving me background about the library, its collection, and the state of librarianship and public libraries in Zambia.
Stella tells me that libraries in Zambia receive very little funding as the government fails to make them a priority. When I asked her what does the government make a priority she gave me a simple smile but no reply. Change of subject.

The library building itself is very attractive with an interesting design. Stella tells me it was built in the 1940s, in the era of colonialism, although the style reminds me more of the 1960s. Most definitely, as Stella mentions, the library is in need of renovation. Inside the library are an estimated 50 college students studying for university exams.

The majority of books in the library have been received as donations from the British Consul and BAI (Book Aid International). Recently a representative from BAI came to Lusaka Public Library and had the staff fill out a form requesting materials. More than 2,000 new requested titles have arrived and now await cataloging.

The library is a circulating collection and Stella tells me that the residents of Lusaka do check out books for pleasure reading. The problem is that many of the books are not returned and when the overdue notices are mailed out they often come back, stamped addressee no longer at residence.

The Lusaka Public Library does have a children's library. It is a room with a large open space in the center, about ten small chairs for the children, book carts holdings picture books and textbooks, as well as a work station and newer materials kept on shelves behind the staff member.
Stella tells me that children are dropped off by their parents, especially during
the holidays, and are eager to read the books. She
also stresses that this is not a residential area and that the two library branches in the suburbs have more expansive children's collections. By Western standards, the children's library would not be recognizable as such. But I have also visited countries where the concept of childrens' libraries with picture books is non-existent.

Gladys Lilanda, sister cataloger, Lusaka Public Library.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Visual Arts Program, Lubuto Library

After our walk through the streets of Lusaka, we returned to Lubuto Library where I visited the painting students in the Arts Center. The Visual Arts Program began in 2007 and gives a core group of ten students the chance to attend weekly painting classes and to work independently throughout the week in the studio.

The exciting news is that the Stella Jones Gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana, has invited the students to exhibit their work in June of 2011-- the same time as the annual conference of the American Library Association will be in the city. I am excited because I plan on attending the event. A chance to dress up, see some great paintings by Lubuto artists, and spend time with other Lubuto Library Project supporters.

A Walk Through Lusaka, Meeting the Street Kids

Today Memory, Elijah, and Vasco escorted me on a walk through the streets and markets of Lusaka. Vasco works at the Fountain of Hope, doing outreach to the street kids and working with the resident boys. I left my money and camera behind-- no pictures. I have discovered that in Africa, people are very wary of foreigners taking pictures of them and I have come to respect their concerns. How often I walk the streets, thinking of all the pictures I have missed. But I pity the poor tourist who points their camera at a market vendor without permission.

Instead of taking a taxi to Lusaka's centre, I requested we walk and see the sights. They were all good sports and we headed out, seeing some great sights including a market complete with butcher shops (always fun for the Western vegetarian), clothes, housewares, etc.; open braziers in narrow walkways; families going about their business taking care of babies, cooking, talking.

The primary objective of the walk was to meet some of the street kids that the Fountain of Hope and Lubuto Library are trying to help. We found about fifteen kids near the Soweto Market. Vasco woke some up, others approached us in greeting. Many had cloths in their hands soaked in a clear inhalant, obviously high.

I have to admit, I felt like a stranger walking into some one's house uninvited. I imagine Vasco's primary objective in the walk was fund-raising and social awareness. But Jennifer (Lubuto volunteer) gave me another perspective on the experience: the sole fact of my presence and giving my attention to these kids may help them feel of more value since the vast majority of the population treats them as undesirables. My hope is that my visit instigates some sort of change, either in myself, the lives of the children, or in the success of the Fountain of Hope and the Lubuto Library.

Monday, November 22, 2010

First Visit to Lubuto Library Project

This morning I was driven to Lubuto by Paul, taxi driver extraordinaire. The road leading to Lubuto was closed so Paul headed out on a dirt road and what a ride it was! It was nice to see a much more interesting side of Lubuto, as Cairo Road, Independence Avenue, and the (shudder) malls are a bit surface-level and sterile. Since the rainy season has begun, the roads were sometimes under water, slippery with mud, dipping, and curving. The area was full of people, open air markets, shanties, and other cars fighting for space on the one lane roads (I use the word loosely). Thanks to Paul.

Upon arrival to Lubuto, I met with the number one librarian (as he is the librarian of the first Lubuto Library), Elijah. A very kind and special person, Elijah. First thing we did is to tour the Fountain of Hope, a non-profit organization working to improve the lives of hundreds of street-kids in Zambia. Lubuto is one of many facilities available within the compound. Elijah showed me the classrooms, bunking quarters for resident boys, the kitchen and dining area, and medical clinic.

But the gem of the Fountain of Hope compound is the three structures of the Lubuto Library. Jane Meyers tells me that the entrance building is modeled after an "insaka," the traditional central gathering building in a village in this part of Africa. It has great significance in the ordering of people's lives in the village, where the elders gather to confer, etc. In the Lubuto Library, the insaka is a particular focal point for drama and storytelling, as well as a general meeting place. The library building is a cool, inviting place with bookshelves along the walls and a "talking circle" in the center. Art from the children hangs from the ceilings and on top of the bookshelves. In addition to the library, there is the art building where students paint on canvases and receive lessons from a painting instructor. This building is in constant use by aspiring artists, displaying an obvious love of painting.

The highlight of the day was meeting both Elijah and a young librarian volunteering at Lubuto, Memory. She is employed at the Copperbelt University Library and has taken two weeks of her vacation to work with the children of Lubuto and Fountain of Hope. What a pleasure it is to talk with Elijah and Memory about books, the importance of reading in gaining an education, and the future of African libraries. Oh, and they let this old cataloger help shelf-read the books and read to the smaller children. Just as in Ghana and the United States, Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar is a proven favorite.