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The Literacy Ledger Reflections, findings, stories and the lowdown

A New Model for Sharing

December 20, 2012 By

By Jessica Buster

Worldreader has been busy in the last couple of months! We have launched three new projects – two in countries that are new to us as well, Rwanda and Tanzania, and another in Kenya, where we’ve worked before. We’re very excited about these projects, as we are about all of our new programs, but we’re especially thrilled about the Rwinkwavu Community Library in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda and the Osborne Memorial Library project in Maai Mahiu, Kenya. These projects mark the beginning of a new model of e-reader deployment for us, in libraries instead of classrooms.

Of course everyone at Worldreader loves libraries – with our passion for books, how could we not? But while our e-readers are sometimes described as “a library that never closes, in the palm of your hand,” we were receiving many inquiries from brick-and-mortar libraries, asking to work with us!

Schools vs. Libraries: How do the models differ?

Worldreader’s programs are more than putting Kindles in the hands of students. We also train teachers on how to use them, and share with them some of the great ways we’ve found to incorporate the e-readers’ capabilities into their classroom curriculum. We encourage parents and the community to support the students’ reading by making time for them to read at home and after school. The schools hold reading quizzes and spelling bees outside of normal school hours. The full-time interface of school is perfect for this constant push to inspire a love of reading, so it becomes self-motivated, as you can see in any of these videos.

So how would we effect that same breadth of support in a library, where people come for books and then go away again? It turned out that we needed to start by rethinking the idea of how a library serves its community in this region.

Many of the libraries we’ve seen in sub-Saharan Africa are just buildings with books in them. Many of the books may be out-of-date or irrelevant to the subject matter that schools cover. There is very little community outreach. Both our new projects are in libraries that definitely refuse to stop at just books on a shelf.

Rwinkwavu’s Inception

The Rwinkwavu Community Library is funded and was built by an organization called Ready for Reading  which has been working on literacy and libraries in Rwanda for four years. Together with Partners in Health, and endorsed by PiH co-founder Paul Farmer, it has worked with libraries in Kigali, but Rwinkwavu is their biggest project to date.

As the physical structure neared completed, R4R recognized the immediacy of the need for books in Kinyarwanda, French and Kiswahili, including storybooks, textbooks, and, with a hospital nearby, medical reference material. E-readers offer the library the ability to provide a wide variety of digital books while expanding their collections at a fraction of the cost of paper books (although they have those, too).

Through a friend at Partners in Health, Ready for Reading connected with Worldreader. In a moment of wonderful kismet, the director of R4R, Betsy Dickey and a colleague were discussing the project and Worldreader’s involvement with it at a literacy event with Worldreader superstar author Mary Pope Osborne, who has donated more than 50 of her books to kids in our program. Mary was impressed by the project, and offered to fund the e-reader program. Thanks, Mary! The love of books brings people together to accomplish great things.

Kansas2Kenya in Maai Mahui

At Worldreader, we never try new things one at a time!

Just weeks after our launch in Rwinkwavu, our team also went to train the team at the Osborne Memorial Library in Maai Mahui, Kenya. This program is sponsored by Kansas2Kenya, a group pairing an Anglican church in Kansas to one in Kenya, which works to improve life in this region near Nairobi in a number of ways.

The beautiful new library and community center building is only one of their local efforts, and honors the memory of Gladys Marie & The Rev. H. Paul Osborne. The Library is built on the grounds of the Anglican church, which means it is very centrally located, and in a place the community already comes to regularly. K2K hopes that the library can be very much a community resource, with students bringing their parents to use the Kindles, as well.

How It Unfolds

In classroom programs, Worldreader trains teachers, who then train students. In the library model, teachers bring their students to the library, and the librarians serve as the central managers of the e-readers and their applications. The librarians train the teachers, and also present the e-readers to the larger community.

For example, Worldreader’s ‘students’ during the Maai Mahui training included Ronald, the program manager, Father Antony, the Anglican priest, and Samuel, who was our team’s driver and more. The love for reading was immediately evident when, after the first training module, Samuel disappeared… only to be found with his nose deep in a book!

These three, led by Ronald, went on to train local teachers and other adults in the community how to use the e-readers. Teachers from six or seven local schools came to the training at the Osborne Library, and on the day of the launch ceremony, many of their students and their parents came, as well. The e-readers will serve students in all of these schools, as their teachers will bring them to the library to use the e-readers on projects or for specific research.

In a classroom, all our e-readers are loaded with the same books, so all students have access to the same things. In a library setting, it seemed more useful to have several different ‘sets’ of e-readers in each library, and each set loaded with different texts for different uses. We expected other differences as well, including maybe more of a focus on leisure reading than textbooks, but the dearth of books in the local schools means that teachers are already scheduling to bring their students in when they need to use the research books on the e-readers. In Rwanda, the close proximity of a hospital run by Partners in Health meant that there was significant call for medical and health reference material, for use by doctors and other health professionals. The reading quizzes and spelling bees we encourage in schools elsewhere can still be held at the libraries, although their format is modified somewhat.

As always, we chose our partners and sponsors carefully. In both of these cases, the libraries were designed to be central and integral to the larger communities, and to be much more than just rooms of dusty books. In both communities, the libraries encouraged the community to be part of the opening ceremonies. In Kenya, the bishop and the local tribal chief attended the event, and both took a community pledge to support the reading programs. Parents also signed a pledge to help support their children in developing a love of reading, including bringing them to the library often. This mother, seen signing the pledge, stands with her children in the photo below. She promised to bring them every day. Now that’s a library serving its community!

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