“Wow,” they said in unison as they walked in the room. Their eyes were big and moving fast to absorb it all. This was for them.
In about a month and a half, two-dozen dirty boxes from New Hampshire were transformed into a functioning library. It’s not perfect, but it’s new and exciting.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my first projects at school is a library. The library was a godsend, something to do in those early days when school was not in session and I was trying to maneuver the village. Unpacking boxes, sorting books into genres and stamping inside pages with the school seal were a great, and seemingly useful way, to spend the first month.
To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I like libraries but I am no expert on how they operate. I reached out to a few volunteers and consulted Peace Corps manuals, but mostly I did what made sense.
There are more than 1,400 books in the library, including novels, non-fiction and textbooks. The day I unpacked all of the books, I nearly burst into tears – I had no idea what to do. So, I stuck to what I know and what I like, simplicity.
I sorted the books into several sections and, eventually, decided to lump them into three categories: fiction, nonfiction and textbook & reference. From there, the textbook & reference and nonfiction were separated into sub categories and fiction was put into classes based on reading level. Then everything received colored stickers (or masking tape inked with markers because that is what my school could afford) to help the students determine what they wanted and for easily re-shelving. If you are in Form A, you may only want to look at the green and blue sticker books. If you wanted to read about animals, look for the red books and find the “Animals” label on the shelf.
At first, I organized books by alphabetical order, using the author’s last name. The concept of libraries is brand new to them so it was best to avoid the Dewy Decimal System. We also didn’t have a card catalogue (no resources for it and the students wouldn’t know how to use it, or rather they wouldn’t) so there was no real need for it. But, I could hear library enthusiasts judging me for not alphabetizing, so it was the least I could do. However, when I asked a few girls to help me copy the names of the books down for our records with specific instructions to keep the books in order, they put them back in way that made sense to them – by size. At that point, I realized it didn’t matter if my library followed proper protocol, this was for Lesotho students and it should be organized in a way they can understand (Basotho are extremely particular about cleanliness and neatness).
With most of the organizing done, I needed to sticker the books and record what I had incase something goes missing, but it was a lot of work for one person. Most of the teachers weren’t interested so I asked for student library monitors, one from each class so there would be three. I got 10 helpers. They were eager to be in the library and took great pride in staking the books just so and placing the stickers. During their class’ scheduled library time, they were in charge of re-shelving books and making sure students follow the rules. For their leadership, they get to wear a special ‘LM’ badge I made and I gave them American candy (thanks Mom and Amy) after workdays.
It took a month and half, but last week, we opened the library. When each class walked in for the first time, they “wow”ed it. The school board had the same reaction.
Most students checked out books the first day and some were so excited that they picked up a book but decided to find another several times, thinking maybe there is a better one in the bunch. Finally, I had to make them chose one and said they could get another next week.
The library is not a finished project, but a work in-progress. Eventually, I want to start a reading program similar to Book It and use late-fee money to buy the top readers snacks at the end of the year. I have a few hand drawn signs, but I would like to plaster the walls with “Reading is fun” posters and create special reading spaces throughout the room. There is a small magazine section that I would love to expand (hint to those who want to send packages) and I would like to incorporate Sesotho books. I also want to open the library to the community at night or on the weekends.
One awesome soon-to-be addition is bookmarkers. My lovely mother talked to the librarian at her school and he donated a bunch of bookmarkers my students can use and will love.
I am proud of this library because it’s a visual representation of my work here, but mostly because the students are excited about it. It’s not that these kids have wanted a library for years; the whole idea is new. Even casual reading is unfamiliar to them. But, when they come into the library, they smile and are eager to find the perfect book.
A few days before the library was to open, one of the teachers came into the room while I was working. He took a look around and sighed. “You know, at first, I thought you were being top optimistic about this library. But you really did it. It looks wonderful.”
That is all I need.