Empowering community-based librarians to serve

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An instructor takes the librarians through a panel discussion. (Moses Opobo)

“Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities,” so goes a popular saying.

When a group of 28 community-based librarians converged at Ligue pour la Lecture de la Bible au Rwanda in Kacyiru for a training workshop between 28th- 30th March, it was with a view to honing their skills especially in the latter two areas. 

Organized by the Kigali Public Library (KPL), the three-day workshop sought to equip the curators with a number of critical skills like library management, cataloguing, book recording, and filing.

That was not all. 

They also made a field trip to the model Rwinkwavu Community Library and Learning Center in Kayonza district, Eastern Province, where they were brought up to speed on the library’s exemplary community mobilization experience. 

Further still, the workshop sought to familiarize the librarians with the role and workings of the Kigali Public Library, and to facilitate inter-personal networking among the librarians’ fraternity. 

“The most important thing I learnt here was cataloguing. Before, I used to just record things but in an unprofessional way. But through this training we learnt how to catalogue our existing resources, even those we hope to get in future,” explained Aimable Twagirayezu, a community librarian from Kamonyi district.

“Another thing is the networking opportunity that this workshop presented to us. As community librarians working in different corners of the country we did not know each other before this training.” 

Twagirayezu has been in this job since 2014 when the library was established. 

As librarian, he has a wide range of resources under his custodianship -hard cover books, CDs, DVDs, newspapers, magazines, …“but a big part of our resources is hard books because we work with a rural population who may not be very familiar with using technology.”

During the opening day of the workshop, Twagirayezu took his colleagues through his experience developing special and regular programs at his library.  

“We have two main programs –one is the regular reading program where participants just come to our library then we give them books depending on their choices of course, and for those who don’t know the books they are looking for, we just guide them and recommend suitable titles,” he explained. 

“The other category is for special programs which are held so that participants can increase their knowledge generally, and among them we have drawing, talent development and coaching, cultural performances, outreach programs to primary and secondary schools, competitions and debates both at the library and in schools.”

“I’m a youth development coordinator but also in charge of library activities. I’m here for this librarians’ workshop in order to ameliorate what I’m doing there as a librarian,” explained Protais Turatsinze, a librarian from the Rwinkwavu Community Library and Learning Center in Kayonza district, Eastern Province. 

“From this workshop organized by the Kigali Public Library we acquired so many skills which will help us in our day-to-day open library activities such as library management, the structure and qualities of a good library, and how best you can handle people in the library. Also we got skills about how to do cataloguing and classification of books, because in a good library everything must be well-arranged in order to give not only a good impression but also service to end users.”

The workshop offered a rare opportunity for participants to mix, mingle, and share their varied experiences from the different parts of the country. Particularly, they shared ideas on how best to handle the different challenges they face as community librarians. 

The other thing they learnt was how to mobilize the community in order to have an interesting number of users, because what’s the point in having a library without users?

“We explored two different ways in which you can mobilize people; The first is through programming –that is, having something for all demographic groups –kids, teenagers, adults. 

The other thing is to go outside of the library for community outreach for instance after Umuganda and other community activities and sharing with the community what you are doing as a community-based library,” Turatsize explained and added: 

“We have youth programs like story-telling and read-aloud sessions, puzzles, adult games like Igisoro, adult literacy, music, basketball, and others. Those are programs aimed at helping the community but at the same time to attract them.”

Elizabeth Mujawamariya-Johnson attended the workshop in her capacity as a member of the Rwandan diaspora working in international development. She recently returned with her husband from Canada for permanent stay in Rwanda.

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Elizabeth Mujawamariya-Johnson displays some of the books her organization donated to the librarians. (Moses Opobo)

While still in Canada, she had initiated an organization called Grace Rwanda Society based in Langley, British Columbia in Canada. 

In 2014, she decided to create a sister organization that would act as a local NGO, hence the birth of Ineza Foundation. 

“In January I moved to Rwanda full-time with my husband to kind of increase our capacity so we can open the office and be able to assemble an operational team here for Ineza Foundation so they can be the ones to implement all the projects for Grace Rwanda Society,” Mujawamariya-Johnson explained. 

The foundation recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Youth and ICT to equip 21community libraries across the country under their respective district youth centers. 

The first two beneficiaries were; Muhanga Youth Center in Muhanga district, Southern Province, and Kayonza Youth Center in Kayonza district, Eastern Province, which were equipped with books, computers and e-readers. 

“This was not the first community librarians workshop. There have been previous trainings that took place when the library was still under Minispoc . But it is the first one of its kind because since, the library was transferred to the Ministry of Education, this was the first workshop that gathered the librarians not only to be trained but also to share experiences especially because in the assessment done, it was made clear that the community libraries are in different categories and there is a lot to learn from one another,” explained Oriane Ruzibiza, the representative of Kigali Public Library. 

The workshop was organized after last year’s annual assessment in which the need for training was highlighted. 

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Participants listen attentively to a presentation. (Moses Opobo)

“KPL does an annual assessment of the community libraries across the country and reports to the Ministry of Education. We also play the role of mediator between community libraries and donors who want to donate books and other reading materials, and we also have the responsibility to advocate for community libraries at the district level,” she added. 

For her part, Mujawamariya brought with her some 3,000 dictionaries to the workshop, dictionaries donated for the cause through her Rotary Club activities and that the librarians cried back home with them. 

“I was born and raised in Rwanda but even though I was lucky to study and got an M.A, I haven’t been one to really hold a book and read, and this is mainly because I was not engrained with that culture from a young age, that’s why today I know exactly how bad it is to not be a reader. 

That’s how I made up my mind to make a contribution as a Rwandan who really wants to help my own fellow citizens to go to the next level, and here I’m talking mainly about children and the youth,” she revealed. 

“It was really a blessing being part of this three-day training –the wealth of wisdom we got from all these librarians who came from all over the country. I learnt that there are so many things we can do even as donors. We went on a field tour of the Rwinkwavu Community Library in Kayonza district and I learnt a lot that will help us in implementation of the remaining libraries so we can actually make them better. Because when we started we had no clue, we just came with that patriotic feeling of ‘let’s help our own’, but now we are coming in with technicality.”

The next phase will see the Ineza Foundation equip libraries at the Kimisagara Youth Center in Kigali, in Huye, and in Bugersera districts. 

“I hope that after this workshop everyone will know how to organize his or her library in order to become an area where everyone may feel comfortable and an area where you may sit in peace, in order to gain knowledge and skills, not just spend time,” remarked Protais Turatsinze from the Rwinkwavu Community Library and Learning Center in Kayonza district at the end of the training.

“Kigali Public Library is still in the process of mapping the existing, and opening new community libraries. This goes hand in hand with assessing those libraries in order to offer support where needed. The libraries who attended the workshop have put in place a network that will keep them in touch for better and sustainable collaboration. 

This network will enable the community libraries to keep in touch with each other, sharing experiences, successes and challenges. We are looking at a long term project that would involve all the community libraries which belong to this created network,” Ruzibiza concluded.