The Joy of Reading
A literacy project, like almost everything else in the world, depends heavily on the people involved. Our Joy of Reading project, created and run by Sonesoulilat, gets books into rural schools and villages that never had them before.
For the Village Reading Room program, we begin by looking for the right person. We talk with the village headman and other leaders to select one individual to make books available in that village. We begin by providing that individual with 60 varied books, for all ages, along with suggestions about how to make them available.
The volunteer allows other villagers to read these books, either at the volunteer's home (typically there is an outside or semi-public area available), or to borrow them. We provide a notebook to record checkouts.
In August 2008, we set up 8 Village Reading Rooms in one area. Twice in the first year, we brought them together for a day or two to discuss what they were doing, and what problems they'd encountered. They had a chance to learn from what others had done, and to have some fun. We ate in a simple restaurant, usually the first time they'd ever done so; and spent a few hours little sight-seeing; as well as getting business done. They left with fresh energy and ideas, as well as new books.
A steady stream of new books is crucial to the success of any reading room or library, so we deliberately begin with only a portion of what we have available. Several times a year we provide new titles.
Our first eight Village Reading Rooms were set up in August, 2008. We set up 24 more that year, then took time to evaluate. In a few villages, the librarian hadn't succeeded in letting everyone know what was available As a next step, we began holding a small festival to get each library started, creating immediate excitement and awareness.
By the end of 2011 we had 180 reading rooms. It takes time for an awareness and appreciation of books to spread. We've helped, by holding workshops where we promote reading aloud and other techniques to encourge reading. Often, several of our staff will go to a village for a period of 2 to 5 days, to build shelves and generate interest. Evaluations we've done so far are encouraging. Many reading rooms had 30 to 100 books borrowed in a single month. By the end of 2011, we also saw a genuine change in attitudes, in the villages where we'd done the most work. A significant number of people were enthused about reading. Children and families took books along, when they went to the fields to work, so they could read when they rested.
The Village Reading Room volunteers also provide valuable feedback about what books are most popular, and why. A few examples:
The workshops proved effective, and put considerable effort into finding ways to make them as helpful as possible. Please come see what happens at a reading room workshop.