“Should libraries in developing nations rely on donations and weeded books from developed nations?” This statement in this week’s module reminded me of a discussion in another course about what to do with weeded books. I am sure many teacher-librarians are like me and don’t like throwing anything out, but I think it is demeaning to expect that developing countries should be grateful for or rely upon our out-of-date, old, discarded books. This discussion also reminded me of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author who grew up reading American and British children’s books. Her views question whether or not it is appropriate for developed countries to simply provide new books to developing nations.
“At about the age of seven … I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather: how lovely it was that the sun had come out. This despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria; we didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Danger of a Single Story, TEDGlobal 2009.
The first 3 minutes of her TED Talk brings up the fact that though she enjoyed the foreign stories she read, the “unintended consequence” was that growing up she did not know that people like her could be in a story. (Though the rest of her talk is not related to our discussion, I highly recommend watching it if you have the time.)
Consequently, my online search focussed on how organizations support libraries and literacy in developing nations. Is it mostly through donations of books and materials from developed countries? Or do they work closely with countries to make sure their cultures are well represented in their own libraries?
The first organization I looked at was Room to Read. Room to Read was started by John Wood, ex-Microsoft executive, in 1998. The organization soon realized that “one of the greatest challenges to early adoption of the habit of reading in developing countries is a lack of high-quality, age-appropriate children’s books in the local language.” So in 2003 it started publishing books in the countries where it works. Of course, publishing takes longer than simply buying and donating, and to date, though about 14.5 million books have been distributed , just over 1000 have been published. A low ratio, but I think they are on the right track.
Another organization I found was Librarians Without Borders, working in Ghana and Guatemala. I was intrigued by this organization because I hadn’t heard of it before. It was started in 2005 by a group of librarians who wanted to do something about “the vast information resource inequity existing between different regions of the world.” Though its website has no statistics about their work, the values of LWB state that they “do not draw cultural or linguistic boundaries – diversity is embraced; we will work with our partners in their own cultural context and in their own languages.” Membership is free in Canada and gives individuals the opportunity to partner with community organizations to help in areas of need. I would like to look at this organization in more detail. I think it would be a great way to showcase in my own library how librarians are supporting literacy on a global scale, giving a way for my school community to support others.
Though digital technology has become an essential part of libraries in Canada, I couldn’t find information that these two organizations help provide it as part of their donations. Room to Read did not mention technology at all on their website (ironic from an ex-Microsoft executive?) and though LWB does provide access to digital content, it is unclear if donations help support the purchase of associated technology. I assume it does as technology is such an important part of library services. In reference to mobile technology, it makes sense that some areas in developing nations are bypassing traditional computers and opting for going mobile. It would be cheaper to install, allowing people in poorer areas without infrastructure in place, access to information, broadening their knowledge base, as well as providing them a voice on the global stage.
With my studies I have been mostly concerned with how I, as a teacher-librarian, can work with and be involved in my school community. Thinking about how I can contribute to others on a global scale had not become part of my dialogue yet. However, I appreciate the opportunity to broaden my perspective and find out how literacies are being supported around the world.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (2009). The Danger of a Single Story. TEDTalks. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
Librarians Without Borders (n.d.) About Us. Retrieved from http://lwb-online.org/about-us/
Room to Read (2013). Quality reading materials: A life-long love of reading starts with great children’s books. Retrieved from http://www.roomtoread.org/page.aspx?pid=463
Librarians Without Borders (n.d.) Events. Retrieved from http://lwb-online.org/category/events/