Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

Equal Education

Daily challenges and solutions to running school libraries: the case of Bookery library project

Category: Creative Learners | Reading Promotion | 8 January, 2015 - 11:06


Project context

South African schools serving working class communities are vastly under-resourced. Roughly 20% of all public schools do not have proper access to electricity and water, and most do not have stocked computer centres, laboratories, and libraries. This limited access to basic resources devalues the quality of education and limits learner achievement. For instance, literacy amongst primary and secondary phase learners falls below adequate levels. These learners do not have access to a basic quality education and consequently cannot access post school tertiary education and/or employment opportunities. One of the many knock-on consequences of a poor education system is the high unemployment rate amongst the country’s youth.

One way to help improve education outcomes in schools is to ensure that children have access to well-stocked, functioning libraries. Only 8% of schools in South Africa had a functioning school library. Research shows that in schools with a functioning library, a learner's reading performance is improved by as much as 8%. Moreover, learners in these schools score between 10% and 15% higher in reading tests compared to those who attend school without a functioning library. Indeed, certain studies place the overall improvement in the results of learners in schools with functioning libraries, at around 18%.

Equal Education’s Youth Librarian Development Project was born of this context and has two objectives.

·      First, it attempts to address the educational needs of young people attending school in disadvantaged, working class areas by improving schooling, and ensuring libraries remain open and functional. This is achieved with the provision of additional human resources and management capacity in targeted libraries.

·      Second, the project aims to address unemployment by developing a skills programme that can provide a pathway into meaningful employment for young people.

The Bookery library project implementation

In early 2010, Equal Education launched a project called the Bookery – as part of its Youth Librarian Development Project – to open school libraries in Western Cape public schools. 14 libraries are currently supported by the project.

Establishing attractive, well-resourced libraries is a relatively easy and straightforward task. Conversely, the task of ensuring that the library remains fully functional, helps develops a culture of reading, and is systematically integrated into the learning and teaching ethos of a school is significantly more challenging. We have learnt that the success of any school library is hugely reliant on the existence of a committed and skilled individual responsible for a managing its day-to-day running. For this reason we ensure that a skilled administrator staffs each library.

Appointing library administrators to run the libraries

The administrators assist in managing the libraries. They ensure the libraries are open, functional, and serving the school and/or community in which they operate. The administrators receive academic and practical training in basic librarianship from the Department of Library Science at the University of the Western Cape. They are then deployed to libraries opened by Equal Education / Bookery. Each library is allocated one library administration.

Project coordinators support the library administrators in their roles because they start off with limited experience. Additionally, meetings are held at each individual school with the school management and the existing Librarian/Teacher-Librarian, setting out his/her daily responsibilities and projects and ensuring that the administrator is able to fit into the school structure.

Training the library administrators

In 2012, the initial cohort of library administrators completed a basic librarianship-training course offered by the University of the Western Cape. Help2Read also ran a training programme with the EE library administrators. In 2014, the University of the Western Cape courses will be accredited. This will assist participants of the programme moving into teaching, and hopefully Librarianship.

We sought other avenues for further training, including a two-day classification workshop presented by School Library and Information Association of South Africa (SLYSIG). Additionally, the library administrators regularly attend enrichment activities aimed at expanding their knowledge of the local literary landscape and literacy issues, such as workshops, book launches, readings, and public lectures. Further training includes a seminar with the various principals and teacher librarians of the schools where we work, addressing topics such as the school’s role in supporting the library, and educators’ roles during library periods.

Furthermore, we have encouraged a mentorship program where 10 librarians from ex-model C and private schools around Cape Town partner with our library assistants to share knowledge and skills, and best practice experiences.

Daily library management

The library administrators’ duties are to keep the library open, neat, and clean; set up displays; shelve books; support learners with research projects; issue books and receive returns; issue library cards; and train, mentor and manage a team of library monitors. Fourteen libraries are open and functional.

Liaising with schools - forming library committees

Since the programme’s inception we have been working steadily with the various library administrators and schools to ensure that important structures and processes are put in place that will increase the sustainability of the libraries. As such, we have formed library committees that meet regularly to provide general oversight, and to determine the strategic objectives, policy, budget, and timetable of the library for a given year. All the stakeholders are acutely aware of the systemic problems in these schools and their communities and they view this programme as one imaginative way to improve educational outputs in schools.

Lessons learnt regarding implementation challenges

Buy-in from school management is essential

Unfortunately, due to a marked lack of support and buy-in from school management, we had to make the difficult decision towards the end of 2013 to withdraw a library administrator from one school.

The comparative challenge of working in high schools versus primary schools

Developing good reading practices in high schools requires more novel approaches than those needed for primary schools. At primary schools the libraries flourish and are well utilised. Learners and educators are receptive and there is a fast-growing pool of enthusiastic readers and storytellers. At high schools this is not the case. We have learnt that the library administrators in high schools require a higher level of information literacy skills than their counterparts in primary schools. We have also partnered with FunDza Literacy Trust to provide insight and support to our library administrators at high schools and to help improve the use of libraries in these schools.

Suitability of library administrators

Employing reliable young library administrators has proved challenging. Initially we exclusively recruited young people to serve as library administrators in order to promote youth employment and to empower youngsters. However, we have learnt that when the school has a pre-existing relationship with library administrators there is better support for our project, and a greater willingness from the school to help supplement the stipend. Such schools are also more willing to explore avenues to secure funding to retain the administrators once the contracts with Equal Education come to an end. We now recognise the need to consider applicants from a wider pool, irrespective of age, with a view to better programme sustainability. Thus, future candidates should preferably have a pre-existing relationship with the school either as a parent, former learner, or active community member volunteering at the school.

Bringing educators on board

This project can benefit from thinking about more structured ways to better capacitate school management and educators to support and make effective use of the library. Many educators still need to be convinced about the benefits of reading for enjoyment and the need to make use of library resources in their teaching. What is ultimately needed for a library to truly flourish is a pronounced shift in the teaching and learning ethos of many schools.


As the Youth Librarian Development Project heads into its final months, we can look back with significant pride in building a firm base from which goals set from this project can be entrenched and furthered in the second phase of the project. Overall, nearly 2000 children have consistent access to books, materials, and a functional space providing a multitude of enrichment programmes as a direct result of the project. This is a great victory.

Tembokwezi, Khayelitsha, Cape Town

 (021) 387 0022

In Short

In this brief Equal Education discusses it Bookery library project. The focus is on implementation issues such as appointing and training library administrators to run the libraries, and liaising with schools to form library committees. The brief highlights 3 lessons learnt regarding implementation challenges and suggest solutions to these issues.

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