The original idea for using a mobile library originated from the work performed in the early 1990’s by the then Methodist Education Initiative (MEI) in distributing second-hand books donated by a Japanese volunteer group, together with Africa and Asia Association (TAAA) to township schools. Lack of library systems, space and librarian skills meant these books remained inaccessible to school children.
It was decided a mobile library with a librarian would be able to provide access to a library with the entire stock of books in a cost effective and efficient way.
A bus was sourced from Japan and a mobile library started operating in July 1997, serving a pilot group of 4 schools. Over the following years, the service was expanded to all 42 primary schools in Daveyton and Etwatwa, but has now been cut back to serve the 32 schools that have made active use of the mobile library.
The mobile library visits each school twice a term and is visited by teachers as the ergonomics of the bus do not allow a high volume of users. Each teacher is allowed to take out as many books as they like and these are issued to the teacher using a laptop and barcode system (Libwin).
Some teachers take as many as 50 books at a time and then have a stock in their classrooms for use during lessons or for learners to take home. Some teachers have a wooden ‘book corner’ that was donated to them by Ekufundzeni in recognition for excellent use of the library.
The cost of operating the mobile library is roughly R225 000 per year, which is similar to the salary of one teacher. If this is balanced against the cost of employing a librarian, buying books, administration of a library etc. at 28 schools, the cost of running a mobile library is less than 3% of the cost of equipping each school with a library.
The main cost are the salaries of the three employees – driver, library assistant and part-time cleaner. All other work is performed by volunteers.
Income is received from Ubambiswano (the outreach activity of St Andrews School for Girls and donations from the Mercy Trust, the founder and other members.
Although the use of a mobile library is efficient and cost-effective, the ultimate goal remains that each school eventually develops an understanding of books, reading and libraries and eventually moves on to having its own functioning, well-used library.
We see this process operating in three stages:
- The mobile library serves a school and provides all library services, issuing books directly to the teachers who in turn can then allow the children to take books home from the teacher’s stock.
- Eventually a reading and library culture develops and space is allocated for a stock of books and a teacher takes responsibility for the mini-library. Books are then issued directly to learners. The mobile library will then visit merely to exchange books with the library. One school is very close to this at present and Daveyton Intermediate School, where the mobile library base is situated, already uses the building as a resource centre and books are issued directly to children.
- Finally each school expands their own mini-library with additional books and separates them from the mobile library stock. At this point our work with that school is complete and we have achieved our goal of making a difference to education!
The main challenge of the mobile library is the need to refresh our book stock to modernise it and make it more relevant to the curriculum and our African context.
Most of the books we have in our stock of nearly 20 000 books are donated books. These books have served us well but they do not cover the entire curriculum and are mainly western-centric in their articles and characters.
This is not ideal and so we are looking for sponsors to restock our library.
The Ekufundzeni mobile library has served as a model for the provision of library services to disadvantaged schools. Based on the Ekufundzeni model more and more mobile libraries are starting operation in South Africa in the following ways:
- Ekufundzeni imported three other mobile libraries in the 1990s: 2 for the Gauteng Department of Education and one for a Cape based NGO.
- The importing of mobile libraries was then taken over by SAPESI, which took its lead and learning from Ekufundzeni.
- Mobile libraries have now been formally included in the Department of Education’s vision for the provision of libraries to schools.