During my month-long stay with the Osu Children’s Library Fund, I visited five of the OCLF libraries. At these libraries I worked as a volunteer; reading to children, organizing activities, and teaching adult literacy classes. My visit also provided a first-hand experience of working with an international library development program, the topic of my forthcoming Doctorate dissertation research.
While working at the Osu Children’s Library Fund libraries, I found that Kathy has developed many innovative initiatives that are sensitive to the cultural, social, and economic needs of the individual communities. OCLF has avoided the practice of sending worn, outdated, and uninteresting books to libraries in economically challenged countries. The libraries contain quality, colorful, and popular publications, including well-loved children’s classics, books by African authors/illustrators, and up-to-date non-fiction resources. Among the most popular books are those published by OCLF. These books are wonderfully illustrated and culturally appropriate as they feature people, community, and situations familiar to the reader. The OCLF publications also provide much needed support to the local publishing industry as they are printed in Ghana. Additional cultural considerations include selecting staff and library advisory board members from the local communities– people that understand and respect the community’s needs. To meet these needs, OCLF has created a wide variety of programming; adult literacy classes, cultural activities, scholarships, football clubs, and meal programs.
But on a personal level, it is the OCLF staff that made my visit so memorable. These people have formed libraries specific to the needs of their patrons, each library possessing its own distinct personality. To name just a few, there is Joanna, the original Osu librarian and my generous hostess for much of my stay. Joanna plays a major role in the lives of Osu neighborhood children. Due to her generous and loving nature, a core group of children attend the Kathy Knowles Community Library in Osu five to six days a week.
There is Vivian, head of the Kathy Knowles Community Library in Goi, with her infectious love of books. The library at Goi reminds me of the libraries where I spent my summers as a child, places where children fall in love with reading, books, and exploration. Vivian is also very successful in her partnership with the local schools, incorporating the library into their daily class schedules.
Beth and statue of Kwame Nkrumah
And lastly, I will mention Taufic, Head of the Nima Maamobi Community Learning Center– the cultural, educational, and social hub of the Nima neighborhood. Nima is an energetic community with a high percentage of Muslims and recent immigrants (migrating from Northern Ghana or other African countries). Taufics’s knowledge of social issues helps him to address the diverse needs of such a community. Many of the most innovative of the OCLF programs find their home here including the theatrical troupe, dance group, and a series of public service programs addressing health and educational issues.
I signed up as a volunteer to work for the OCLF libraries but in reality, I was the one who reaped the majority of benefits from my visit. I am writing this letter one month after my return and my memories are still evolving. What stands out in my mind is the kindheartedness of the people (my smile returned by a smile), the sharp contrast between my lifestyle and that of the majority of Ghanaians (increasing my capacity for gratitude), and my resolve to continue working for the OCLF and other library development programs by spreading the word and raising funds. In summary, it was a wonderful experience with a highly effective and humane international library development program.
With many thanks to Kathy and all of the OCLF staff, Beth Cramer.