libraries

“Access to information is the heart of any sustainable development effort, and it is therefore imperative that relevant stakeholders invest more in library development in African communities”: Interview with Damilare Oyedele, of Library Aid Africa

We are speaking with Damilare Oyedele, co-founder of Library Aid Africa, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to championing the need for school and community libraries in Africa as a vehicle for sustainable development and a better quality of life for all.

(Archivoz) What was your inspiration for Library Aid Africa?

(D.O.) As a young boy in my community, I did not have access to a library as the schools I attended never had one. As a matter of fact, I never knew anything called “library.” This denied me access to literature, the ability to use information independently, my reading culture was poor and I could not communicate fluently. This presented me with numerous challenges as I failed the national examination twice consecutively due to my poor reading skills.

My first real encounter with a library came upon my admission into an institution of higher learning to study Library and Information Science. I soon cultivated the habit of studying in the confines of a library, and I began to explore the merits a library had to offer. It was an amazing experience for me because, for the first time in my life, I had independent access to information and other intellectual property. This inspired me to create a platform that would facilitate equitable access to information for all.

My journey began at the age of 19, when I was still in school. I took it as my personal responsibility to do something about the dearth of libraries in Nigeria, with a view to expanding this vision to other African countries. I started by writing articles for various Nigerian daily newspapers, and after that I went into broadcasting with the same vision to use television to educate people about the importance of libraries.  Fortunately for me, I was granted an audience via a television series named “Library and You.” It featured documentaries and interviews with authors, librarians, and publishers discussing feasible solutions for resuscitation of libraries. This series lasted for three consecutive quarters in 2016.

I came to realize that the problems Africa faces have to do with the lack of or inadequate access to information. Information and knowledge empowers the mind of every individual. I realised that community engagement and initiatives are sacrosanct. This led to the establishment of Library Aid Africa (formerly known as ‘Library and You’), a not-for-profit organization with the mission to revamp libraries in Africa to increase their societal impact. The organization focuses on access to information through pragmatic initiatives, designed to create awareness and resuscitate libraries in schools and communities.

(Archivoz) How many countries participate in Library Aid Africa, and which ones are they?

(D.O.) Library Aid Africa operates from Nigeria, with partners and volunteer presence in over 10 African countries: Ghana, Namibia, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Togo, Republic of Benin, Mali, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Liberia, and Rwanda. Over the years, we have been able to build committed partners and volunteers in various African regions who share the same vision with us. Our vision is to resuscitate libraries in schools and communities.

(Archivoz) You have underlined the importance of a grassroots effort. Why is this so important?

(D.O.) We realised that grassroots efforts in rural areas and within communities are essential, as these communities needs development in many dimensions: literacy development, quality education, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, sustainable cities and communities, and gender equality, among many others. To achieve these, informed literate citizens are essential. Why? An informed mind is empowered, with the knowledge and skills to make informed choices that improve quality of life and contribute meaningfully to the decision-making processes of government. We also seek to mobilize citizens to drive advocacy for library development in their local communities, targeting community integration and promotion of local content and thereby realizing access to information for all.

(Archivoz) Tell us about some of your current and ongoing projects. What is topmost on your action list right now?

(D.O.) One of our topmost concerns is how libraries drive progress across the SDGs and AU Agenda 2063. These sustainable development plans are essential for Africa’s development, and access to information must play an important role if we are to achieve their targets. To this end, we are working with our partners across Africa to drive advocacy, projects and initiatives that will facilitate equitable access to information for all. These projects center on creating local impacts through library set-up and management in African communities. An informed literate mind is empowered to contribute to the attainment of these sustainable development plans. Libraries are eminent beyond comparison in achieving this because they create platforms that provides equitable access to information for all in print and electronic media.

In the past, we have partnered with the National Library of Nigeria to organize a Social Media Library Advocacy Awareness Program, an online sensitization that focused on educating the online community on how libraries drive progress across the SDGs.

More recently, Worldreader, in collaboration with Library Aid Africa, launched its Inspire Us Collection, a collection of digital books leveraging mobile technology and literature to redefine gender stereotypes and boost women’s and girls’ empowerment and assertiveness. The collection, encompassing fiction and non-fiction, include stories that clearly articulate women as protagonists, change agents, and leaders of the future.

Of course I must also mention our #libraryselfie series. This is an online initiative designed to create awareness about the importance of libraries as spaces for reading and learning. We had #libraryselfie2018 last year in Nigeria and we just concluded #libraryselfie2019 across six African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. We have 18 winners across those six countries, who we will engage as library champions who will drive advocacy for improved library development and usage in their local communities.

(Archivoz) How many public libraries are there in Nigeria right now? How many would you like to see, if all goes according to your vision?

(D.O.) According to the IFLA World Library Map, there are 290 public libraries in Nigeria. A country with a population of over 200 million people! It is apparent that the number of public libraries in Nigeria is quite low, and the numbers are similar across other African countries where we operate. As an organisation, our top priority is to ensure citizens’ access to information. Part of our strategy is to engage relevant stakeholders in the educational and library sectors. Also, through citizen engagement, we plan to set up community centres that will serve as platforms where community members can study, access information both in print and electronic formats, and share experience and knowledge.

(Archivoz) The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a big part of the work you are doing, as is the African Union Agenda 2063. In what ways can the creation of school and public libraries forward these goals?

(D.O.) The Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 were designed to make the world we live in a better place for the current generation and generations to come. It is our collective responsibility as citizens to commit ourselves to achieving their targets. The role of libraries in achieving these goals cannot be overemphasized, be they school libraries or public. Why? It’s all about access to information.

For us to achieve the SDGs and Agenda 2063, we must commit to developing informed literate citizens. Libraries by nature carry the responsibility to provide equitable access to information for all. This information empowers people with the skills and knowledge needed to function and participate in creating a sustainable society, to drive progress towards achieving sustainable development, and to co-create sustainable solutions.

Partnerships and collaboration are two of our major thrusts. We work with credible partners across Africa towards achieving these goals. For example, we have the Library Impact Project. This project seeks to facilitate access to information in support of the Sustainable Development Goals and African Union Agenda 2063. It is scheduled for implementation in eight African countries, with the view to achieving 16 outputs in each. The project has three major focuses: access to information, increased skills and capacity building, and advocacy.

(Archivoz) Of all the SDGs, which ones do you most wish to address through the Library Aid Africa initiative?

(D.O.) As an organisation that focuses on equitable access to information for all, our work addresses all the SDGs and Agenda 2063. Access to information is imperative across all the goals. Quality education requires access to relevant information resources for learning and research. Zero poverty requires access to information that equips people with skills that enable productivity. Zero hunger requires access to information to educate farmers and citizens on crop types, seasons, weather forecasting, and new farming techniques and mechanisms. Gender equality demands access to information to empower young girls and women. Access to information is the heart of any sustainable development effort, and it is therefore imperative that relevant stakeholders invest more in library development in African communities.

(Archivoz) Where can our readers learn more about what you are doing?

(D.O.) You can learn more about what we do at Library Aid Africa on our future website and on our social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also contact us via email, at libraryaidafrica@gmail.com.

Header image: Library Aid Africa logo used by permission of Library Aid Africa and Damilare Oyedele.

 

“We consider the Little Free Library movement to be very inclusive and we don’t want there to be barriers for anybody who wants to be involved”: Interview with Margret Aldrich, of Little Free Library

Margret Aldrich, Media and Program Manager with Little Free Library and author of The Little Free Library Book, speaks with us about book sharing, community building, and why open access isn’t just about the Internet anymore.

(Archivoz) Can you tell us a little of the history behind Little Free Library?

The very first Little Free Library was built by a man named Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009. Todd built his library as a memorial to his mother, who was a schoolteacher and loved to read. He built this little box for books and constructed it to look like a one-room schoolhouse and put it in his front yard. As he started to see how his neighbors reacted to it—they shared books, they stopped and had conversations with each other—he really wanted to share with the rest of the world the idea that books can bring people together. The Little Free Library nonprofit organization was created in 2012, and now in 2019 we’re celebrating a decade of sharing books. There are more than 90,000 registered Little Free Libraries, in all 50 states in the U.S. and 91 different countries.

(Archivoz) How did you become involved with the Little Free Library movement?

I’ve always been a book person. I worked in publishing for about 10 years as an editor and then I shifted to magazine publishing. I wrote about Little Free Libraries when I first became aware of them back in 2011 and subsequently ended up writing a book about the global movement. Afterwards, the nonprofit organization asked me to join the team. I do media relations. We get a surprising amount of media attention around the world. I work with our partners, like the Children’s Book Council and the New York Times Learning Network. We’ve even done projects with Disney and Sony. I also run a program called the Action Book Club, which combines reading with community service.

(Archivoz) What are your thoughts on calling it a movement? What, in your mind, is the ultimate goal of Little Free Libraries as a movement?

Ultimately, our goal is to increase book access and build community. I do consider it a movement, for a couple of reasons. It’s really people-driven. Every single person who has a Little Free Library is called a Steward and we consider them volunteers for the Little Free Library movement because they’re giving their own time to better their communities. There is something universal about this phenomenon, from New York to Iowa farmland to Pakistan or Australia and Japan: the love of books, the love of reading and the desire to share books with others, and a real need to connect with people and give back to one’s community.

(Archivoz) From my explorations here in Corvallis, it appears that not every little library is a Little Free Library. How does it feel to have so many imitators out there?

When we count our 90,000, those are only the registered libraries. We know that there are many, many more that aren’t registered, and we’re okay with that. We’re all doing the same good thing: everybody’s trying to create greater access, share books with others, and do something good for their communities. We do love it when people register with us, though, and we would implore you to do so because we want to count you, we want you to be part of this global community, we want you to add your Little Library to our world map so that people can find you. We also do a lot with steward services: we help people out when they’re getting started or when they want to learn more about how to engage their community, and we do lots of fun things like book giveaways and author interviews.

(Archivoz) What is the most creative Little Library you’ve come across?

One that I saw this year that was amazing was in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. A woman named Sharalee Armitage Howard had this huge cottonwood tree in her front yard, 110 years old. It was dying, and the city said it had to come down. She ended up leaving a very tall stump, and inside she created a walk-in Little Free Library. It has interior and exterior lighting; it has bookshelves inside. It’s really pretty magical.

(Archivoz) You mention in your book that some people have done more with their Little Libraries than just share books—e.g., seed exchanges, geocaching. Do you have a favorite “extracurricular” use?

It’s interesting to see how a Little Free Library can reflect the personality of a neighborhood or of its steward. I do love when people do seed exchanges in the springtime; it’s an excellent community service. There’s one man who uses his Little Free Library as a record exchange. Instead of books, he shares albums. In one neighborhood it may be about connecting with your neighbors and building community, and in another neighborhood, if there are no libraries or bookstores nearby, it really becomes about public access to books.

(Archivoz) You have written about the movement’s anti-tech appeal. A post on the nonprofit’s Linked In site refers to encountering a Little Free Library as an “analog moment.” Why is this important?

You almost can’t get more analog than a Little Free Library. It is literally a wooden box filled with books: you open the door, look inside, find something you like and take it home with you. In a time when Amazon tells us what we’d like to read and Netflix tells us what we’d like to watch, I think people respond to that very slowed-down, tactile experience. However, as analog as a Little Free Library is, the movement itself has been very driven by technology. We never would have spread to South Korea or Sudan or Iceland without social media. It’s been phenomenal to see how people sharing photos of their Little Free Libraries has helped create the movement. We have a private Facebook page for registered stewards where they can connect with other stewards across the country and around the world. So, you can connect with your community and your neighbors with the Little Free Library itself, but you can also connect to the wider, global Little Free Library community with technology.

(Archivoz) “Open access” is a bit of a catchphrase right now in the library and archives profession, but it tends to be used in reference mainly to academic publishing. At a time when many public library systems face political and budgetary crises, amidst debates about the benefits of late fees, charging for library privileges, etc., in what ways does the Little Free Library speak to the issue?

As a nonprofit organization, we see ourselves as an ally to public libraries. We work with hundreds of public library systems, and often they will use Little Free Libraries as community outreach tools. I know of a library in Florida that puts Little Free Libraries at the beach, and they include information about their programs inside. Also, if you lack the resources to start your Little Free Library, we have the Impact Library Program. It’s a donor-driven program; we supply Little Free Libraries to applicants at no cost. We consider the Little Free Library movement to be very inclusive and we don’t want there to be barriers for anybody who wants to be involved.

(Archivoz) How does one go about becoming a Little Free Library steward?

You can go to Little Free Library.org and find out how to get started there. You can either build a Little Free Library of your own if you have the skills and the ideas, or you can come to our site and get one that’s already constructed. If you purchase one, it’s already registered; you just have to add it to the map once it’s up. If you build your own, we would love for you to register with us and we’ll send you the charter sign to put on your library. We try to keep it as rule-free as possible, so that it’s not only meaningful, but a very fun thing to do as well.

Header Image: Little Free Library, Corvallis, Oregon (photo by editor)
Additional images: 1) Little Free Library, Stavelot, Belgium (used by permission of Llarina González Solar); 2) Little Free Library, Soave, Italy (used by permission of Llarina González Solar); 3) Little Free Library, Corvallis, Oregon (photo by editor); 4) Little Free Library, Corvallis, Oregon (photo by editor)