Lubuto Library Project, Inc.
Founder and President, Jane Kinney Meyers
Lara: What led you to the idea of starting libraries in Africa and what does "Lubuto" mean?
Ms. Meyers: Lubuto means “knowledge, enlightenment and light” in the Bemba language, one of many languages spoken in Zambia and the Congo. Being a professional librarian who has worked in and on Africa since the early 1980s, I recognized that good, accessible libraries could play an important role in helping children whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, especially those who are left out of school. We work with the Zambian Government and various Zambian partners to identify and reach out to those children.
Zambian boy reading in a Lubuto Library
Lara: Who runs the libraries in Africa and who finances staff salaries?
Ms. Meyers: We work with Zambian host organizations who own and run the libraries on a day-to-day basis. The host organizations appoint staff who we train to work with the children who visit the libraries. These “Lubuto Librarians” read with and to the children and involve them in drama, art, storytelling, music, motivational mentoring, health and HIV/AIDS prevention, and preservation of the environment.
Lara: How many books do you have in each library and where do they come from?
Ms Meyers: Each Lubuto collection begins with 4,000 carefully selected, mostly hard cover, books that are already classified and processed and ready to be put on the shelves. In Zambia we add books in local languages. Many of the books in the initial collection come from U.S. and U.K. publishers, from colleagues who judge children’s book awards, and others who work with children’s books. Book drives in U.S. schools are also a good source of books, since they benefit the students involved by giving them a way to learn about the effects of HIV/AIDS in Africa and to directly help children affected by the pandemic. Recently, the AIDS Club at Sidwell Friends School organized a book drive.
dropouts, others have been to school but have not learned to read very well, and a few have been in school and are good readers. The library staffs work with children of all reading levels, sometimes with educational activities that do not involve reading. Just as their reading abilities vary so does their English proficiency. But English is the official language of Zambia, so if they don’t speak English well yet they need to, and our libraries are an important place for that purpose as well.
Lara: What is the proportion of English to local language books in your libraries?
Ms. Meyers: Obviously the 4,000-volume collection we send from the U.S. is entirely in English. There are almost no books for children in local Zambian languages; we purchase the few that exist and add them to the collections. But we have established the Zambian Board on Books for Young People, in partnership with the Zambia Library Association, in order to promote the creation of excellent children’s books in Zambian languages. It is a major, long-term effort, but an important one to the country and its people.
Lara: What are the main challenges you face?
Ms. Meyers: One of our main challenges is rooted here in the U.S. itself. When Americans hear about our program, many think we are a book donation program, when in fact, we are a development organization unlike any program that has been started before. We use professional librarians to create libraries in Africa that are of the same standards as the libraries we see in the U.S. – and this is an important factor in ensuring that the libraries are sustainable. A second challenge we face is funding to create a sustainable organization, construct libraries, to ship books to these libraries, and to operate these libraries. We have been able to do what we do because we are supported by many volunteers of high caliber—with professional training and the desire to help us create excellent libraries to serve some of the world’s most marginalized children. A third challenge is working with the host organizations, as they often have limited management capacities. Scheduling and statistics are two tasks that the host organizations may have difficulty doing.
Lara: What are your plans for the future?
Ms. Meyers: We aim to create at least 100 Lubuto libraries in Zambia, Malawi, and Rwanda and to achieve financial sustainability in the Lubuto organization. Dow Jones & Company has recently donated all of the funding to construct one of our next libraries, and we have an agreement with Zambia’s government wherein they ask their donors to finance library construction in the future. We are getting recognition and high honors within the library and children’s literature worlds, and that has engendered a lot of support from people who value a genuine impact and excellence in libraries. Most recently we learned that we were nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, administered by the Swedish Arts Council, and the most prestigious international award related to children’s literature. The object of the award is to increase interest in children’s and young people’s literature and to promote children’s right to culture on a global level.
Lara: How do you get the donated books to Africa?
Ms. Meyers: Transporting the books to Africa is not a big challenge we face. We have used airfreight in the past with prices negotiated by supporters at the National Geographic Society, but plan to use sea freight for the next collections we send. We send all 4,000 books at once (instant libraries), and we also send globes and supplies.
Lara: Can the children who visit the libraries read? How well do they know English?
Ms. Meyers: Children who come to the libraries have different reading levels. Some have never been to school or are early