Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

Equal Education

Youth Librarian Development Project

Category: Creative Learners | Reading Promotion | 23 January, 2014 - 08:00


Project context

South African schools serving working class communities are vastly under resourced and produce poorly educated graduates. These graduates struggle to find employment in a highly competitive South African job market.

The Youth Librarian Development Project aims to address the issue of quality education and unemployment of graduates by helping learners’ access books in a library environment. In early 2010, Equal Education launched this project to open libraries in public schools in the Western Cape in response to a research finding that only 8% of schools in South Africa had a functioning school library.

Libraries have beneficial educational outcomes: in schools with a functioning library, a learner's reading performance is improved by as much as 8%, and learners in schools with a library score on average between 10-15% higher in reading tests compared to those who attend schools without a functioning library.

The Youth Librarian Development Project Objectives

Access to a functional library is an important part of receiving a quality education. The success of any school library hinges on the existence of a committed and skilled individual managing its day-to-day running and ensuring the facility is open and functional. The Youth Librarian Development Project was developed to ensure that libraries opened by Equal Education reach their target audience and fulfil their outreach objectives.

As such, the Youth Liberian Project has two objectives:

First, it aims to address unemployment by developing a skills programme that can provide a pathway into meaningful employment for young people.

Second, 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. The latter is achieved with the provision of additional human resource capacity and management in targeted libraries.

Programme Implementation Strategy

Recruit unemployed youth to run school libraries: The Youth Library Project recruits unemployed young people with a high-school qualification to serve as youth librarians in school libraries. These individuals live in the communities around the schools in which they work, but they have not managed to access post-school opportunities and are otherwise unemployed. Recruiting, training and employing them, fills a much-needed gap in South Africa by providing a pathway to employment for young people and by allowing them to manage functional libraries in public schools that previously did not have a library.

Train the Young Librarians adequately: once recruited, these young librarians receive academic and practical training in basic librarianship from the Department of Library Science at the University of the Western Cape. Thereafter they are deployed to Equal Education who places them in charge of newly opened libraries at schools across Cape Town.

Appoint a manager to each school library: Equal Education allocates one youth librarian to each school library in the project. Thus far, 14 schools are supported by the project and Equal Education appointed 14 librarians to run libraries at these schools. The youth librarians, under the guidance of 2 project coordinators, ensure that each school library is open every day and is fully utilised by the learners.

The youth librarians assist in managing the libraries and ensuring they remain open, functional and serving the school and/or community. The librarians receive a small stipend, benchmarked on those paid in the national expanded public works programmes.

Provide oversight and support: The young people in these librarian posts start off with limited experience. Equal Education project coordinators support them in their new roles and help them to develop weekly themes for the library, to draw up MOUs with resource groups, and to recommended reading lists to interested parties.

Get school buy-in: The Equal Education project coordinators and the young librarians hold regular meetings at each individual school with the school management and the existing Librarian/Teacher-Librarian. Together they design structured programmes for the youth and the librarians set out their daily responsibilities and projects accordingly. This ensures that the youth librarian is able to fit into the school structure and that he/she is fully supported by a management team who acknowledges the worth of the library.

Some of the primary schools have allocated a dedicated library period for all grades, which the librarians and teachers facilitate. Equal Education is working towards establishing a dedicated library period at all of the primary schools in the Project.

All of the High Schools on this project provide library access to learners during breaks and after school. Learners use the library facilities extensively. Equal Education is working towards getting teachers to use the library as a complement to their syllabus and individual lessons.

Use libraries to reach out to the community through implementing partners: The youth librarians are trained to run or organise projects that make full use of the libraries resources. They may partner with other organisations to run these projects. As an example, partnerships with help2read, EduPeg, Sosebenza Sonke, Open Book and others have been established to conduct literacy programmes, and creative writing programmes on a weekly basis. Many of the school libraries have partnered with other organisations to provide extra-curricular activities at the library. These programmes help make the library a more viable and beneficial tool for the learners at the schools in which they operate.

Implementation challenges

Putting in place the correct internal structure in each school to ensure that the library runs at an optimum level is still a work in progress. Though agreement and understanding with the school and Equal Education must be reached before a library is open and a librarian deployed, each school has unique circumstances that must be navigated.

Lessons learnt and to be shared

Things that work well with minimal effort

  • This project is successful because it builds the capacity of school libraries and it allows the libraries to become spaces that learners’ use in high volume during break time, and after school.
  • Having a dedicated person to make sure the library is open and functional also ensures the project’s success.
  • The school libraries complement the schools’ existing facilities, and enable the delivery of a well-rounded education. School libraries are also places where a variety of extracurricular activities take place and where the school can reach out to the broader community.

Things that require higher levels of effort to work well
The process of fully integrating the youth librarians and their libraries into each school is on going and a relational exercise. This process goes beyond simply drawing up a Memorandum of Understanding between the librarian, Equal Education and the school. Attempts to create the best working relationship between the school management, teachers, and librarian continue at a slow pace because a one-size fits all approach is not applicable.

In schools where this relationship was successfully established, the libraries run at their full potential and capacity. They are fully utilised and have become a valuable resource in the school. The key factor in the success of the project in these schools is the willingness of the school management team to see the projects educational and outreach benefits. The management team and the teachers “bought into” the project’s objectives and vision and work together to make it a success.


In this Learning Brief Equal Education has outlined its strategy to help reduce youth unemployment and improve schooling quality in South Africa. This organisation recruits, trains, and appoints unemployed youth to run school libraries in working class communities. These libraries add to the school infrastructure, are useful for augmenting teaching quality, provide much needed material resources, and reach out to the community by offering enriching extra-curricula activities. Equal Education offers some valuable lessons on what things work well with minimal effort in setting up such a programme, and also what things require higher levels of effort to work well.

Tembokwezi, Khayelitsha, Cape Town

 (021) 387 0022

In Short

Equal Education offers some valuable lessons on how to start and run libraries in disadvantaged, resource-poor schools. By showcasing the implementation successes and challenges of a library start up project this learning brief offers valuable insight for other parties interested in improving schooling in South Africa by initiating libraries.

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