Lessons from Lubuto
by Barbara Brynko
Photos by Lubuto Library Project
While budget trimming and economic unrest may be causing a collective angst for many industrywide, Jane Kinney Meyers is keeping a spirit of giving alive this season. In fact, her “season” lasts year-round for Africa’s street kids, many of them orphaned in the HIV/AIDS crisis.
If her name sounds familiar, here’s why: Meyers received a standing ovation at the 2007 SLA conference in Denver when she won the 2007 Dow Jones Leadership Award for her work as president of the Lubuto Library Project.
Since then, the first Lubuto library was officially opened on Sept. 21, 2007, in Lusaka, Zambia, bringing a bit of cultural heritage back into the countryside and books to the hands of the country’s most vulnerable children. The library is actually a series of three thatched-roof buildings that reflect the traditional African architecture. The library consists of a small foyer-type building, along with a 4,000-book library/reading room and an arts/crafts room. Meyers calls it a “full-service” facility, providing education and information, along with a safe, community space where kids can socialize.
Meyers is now busy building two new libraries concurrently in Zambia that will be completed in 2009: One is in the southern province village of Nabukuyu, which is being funded in part by a $10,000 grant from Oprah’s Angels Network and the $20,000 Challenge Grant offered by patron and advisory board member Marilyn Hollinshead.
The second will be built at a yet-undetermined site in the Garden Compound in Lusaka, thanks to corporate sponsor Dow Jones & Co. “On Monday, Oct. 6, I received a call from Clare Hart who said Dow Jones was offering funds to build a library,” says Meyers. “The news couldn’t have come at a better time.” Other library sites are also in the works. “We’re also working with the University of San Francisco’s community architectural school to create a semester-abroad program,” says Meyers, who is still finalizing the details. “With the program, the students would construct a library as well as mobilize funds for the project.”
The Lubuto project team includes volunteers and students such as Holly Morganelli, a student from the Pratt Institute who is working on her M.L.S. She is now stationed in Zambia where she is writing a blog about her work with the Lubuto Library Project. “She’s been providing feedback to us on how the book collection is received by the children,” says Meyers. “She even let us know that we need to have a copy of the Guinness World Records book in every library, since it’s in constant use there.”
Organizations continue to help with book donations, says Meyers. But Meyers and her team are admittedly picky about the books they accept for the library collections. For the first library, Meyers and her team hand-picked the collection so it was “balanced and comprised of relevant and top-quality materials on all levels,” says Meyers. “They are as fine as can be found anywhere.” So when the employees at Dow Jones’ global offices offered to help collect books for the library, Meyers reached out to Jewell Stoddard, a world expert in children’s literature who is on the advisory board and in charge of the children’s section of an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C. As a result, Dow Jones and the Politics and Prose Bookstore & Coffeehouse teamed up to supply books with an educational spin for Zambia’s street kids, orphans, and at-risk children. To adhere to Meyers’ strict standards, the bookstore has a database that can now process orders for Dow Jones’ employees with titles that range from fiction and nonfiction to graphic novels and poetry. “We can keep the quality high and maintain a wish list for what books we want,” says Meyers. “That way, we don’t end up with 10 copies of the same book.”
Meyers, who is based in Washington, D.C., heads the U.S. operations base for the 501(c)3 public charity, while architect Eleni Coromvli directs the team’s regional office in Lusaka, which is registered as a nongovernmental organization in Zambia. This year, funding to help support the Lubuto Library Project has continued to unfold with behind-the-scenes efforts from Meyers and her staff.
Meyers has also assembled a global advisory board that channels insight from world leaders, publishers, and political advisors: Kent L. Brown Jr. (Highlights for Children, Inc.),Susan Fifer Canby (National Geographic Society), Mark Chona (International Advisory Board of the Council of Foreign Relations and former political advisor to President Kenneth Kaunda), Clare Hart (Dow Jones & Co.), Marilyn Hollinshead (children’s bookseller and author), Jean Kalinga (fundraising chair and IMF Civics Program representative), Mulenga Kapwepwe (a policy advisor for Zambia), H.E. Dr. Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika (ambassador of the Republic of Zambia to the U.S.), Peter McDermott (Children’s Investment Fund Foundation), Suzi Peel (Books for Hope), Jewell Stoddard (Politics and Prose Bookstore), Ellen R. Tise (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, and president-elect of IFLA), and Jim Wooten (journalist, formerly with ABC News Nightline).
In the Bemba language spoken in central Africa, “Lubuto” signifies knowledge, enlightenment, and light. And true to form, Meyers’ goal is to build at least 100 libraries in Zambia and surrounding countries in the next decade. She says the first library and those that follow will “open the larger world to some of the most vulnerable and marginal children and youth on earth” one building at a time.
And progress continues to pave the way for future Lubuto libraries in Zambia. “We have reached a formal ‘memorandum of understanding’ agreement with Zambia’s Ministry of Education,” says Meyers. “The ministry’s development plans will now include building Lubuto libraries throughout the country, and the ministry will ask donors for financial support of that plan. This is a big push for us.”
But the effects are bigger than building a library. Meyers cited a recent article in Knowledge Quest for the American Association of School Librarians that was written by professor Denise Agosto. “Denise wrote that our project is a model for disadvantaged children everywhere, whether it’s in Africa or right in the U.S.,” says Meyers. “We have to look at the important role that libraries can play in international development. We can do that and still respect an indigenous people’s culture.”