Monday, September 4, 2017

Zambia revives Open Door Children’s Corners in public libraries

By Raymond Sikanyika

Services to children and youth are at the heart of what it means to be a responsive public librarian in
A newly rehabilitated children’s corner
[Photo: Brian Chileshe] 
Zambia, where children and youth make up more than half of the national population. Access to information is a fundamental human right. Public libraries, as institutions mandated to provide equal information access to people from all walks of life, have a particularly significant role to play in advancing this right. Public libraries, by nature of their functions, play a key role in national development.

Children and youth are among the important categories of people who need ready access to information as well as other quality library services.

For a long time in Zambia, most public libraries did not have desirable spaces designated for children’s library services. This situation did not motivate children to seek library services as they should.

Zambia was privileged to receive support from Book Aid International (BAI). This was through a partnership between the Ministry of General Education through Zambia Library Service and BAI. This partnership saw six provincial libraries; Mansa, Chipata, Mongu, Solwezi, Kasama and Choma receive support to rehabilitate the children’s corners and also received grants for the purchase of books with particular emphasis on local content. In addition, public librarians in the provincial libraries received training on the management of children’s library services.

Kitwe Public Library, under the Ministry of Local Government received support from Book Bus to improve the services in the children’s corner in the Kitwe City Council Library. The Book Bus is a unique mobile literacy service that promotes reading skills and spreads the joy of storybooks. It was founded by publisher Tom Maschler with the aim of supplying books and making them accessible to children to help get more children reading and therefore be able to make more choices about their own lives. The Book Bus aims to improve child literacy rates in Africa, Asia and South America by providing children with books and the inspiration to read them.

Out of a desire to build the national capacity of the profession in relation to children’s services, Library and Information Association of Zambia collaborated on the development of a national survey for public librarians, including both council libraries and provincial libraries, to identify how public libraries in Zambia are currently serving children and youths. Based on gaps and challenges that emerged from this survey, LIAZ and Lubuto Library Partners (LLP), an NGO that provides an open system of libraries and accessible services, and works with professional colleagues to build capacity to serve young people through public libraries, decided to team up in the development of a training program for public librarians that would address the critical need for support in relation to children’s services and programming, children’s collection development, and other areas of collective interest. This study was conducted as a result of the need to improve the provision of library services in public libraries in Zambia.

A public librarian conducting a children’s session
[Photo: Brian Chileshe] 
LLP and LIAZ collaboratively planned, scheduled, and funded a week-long training opportunity for provincial and council librarians from 20 – 24th March 2017, that was held in Monze, Southern Province. The training attracted public librarians from across the country. A total of 26 public librarians including representatives from partner organizations participated in the training.

This training was to complement the support from BAI and Book Bus to ensure that the rehabilitated children’s corners were effectively made use of. Public librarians in Zambia acquired various skills that are cardinal for providing quality children’s library services in public libraries.

In Zambia, each public library in now servicing an average of about 250 children per month. The trained librarians provide various quality library services and in addition conduct outreach programmes in their communities.

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