I went to the latest NAWA (North American Women’s Association) meeting a few days ago (feeling slightly guilty that I hadn’t been to the previous month’s gathering) partly because there were going to be traders there, but mainly because I was interested to hear Kathy Knowles speak.
I had originally met her sometime in 2008 at the Canadian High Commissioner’s residence at an informal “tea”. I had heard a little about her, and was really impressed in her work in setting up community libraries in Accra. Basically she started off in her garden in the early 1990s, but unlike many other expatriates, she continued the commitment, and has continued to support many of these institutions, including the Nima library and the Nima community centre.
Because many people at the NAWA meeting had heard her accounts before, this time Kathy concentrated on her books, and how she went about producing children’s books with an African setting. I have mentioned before the gorgeous books which Kathy and colleagues at the Osu Children’s Library Fund have put together. To me they are so appropriate and I bought some more, to be given to KAC for some of her friends.
I didn’t really talk to Kathy or to her colleague, Deborah Crowley, but I did think that there are issues about libraries and community libraries which I guess they must be confronting fairly regularly. Because there is no government involvement I suspect it must be a constant battle to sort out official paper work, and get support from key local policy makers or policy implementers, especially if someone said that certain bills might be paid as a contribution.
I guess I was also thinking about sustainability (from communities and/or donors) and even the lack of involvement of professional organisations in our environment. Certainly one is always hearing politicians and others mentioning the need for such libraries, and certainly at British Council Ghana we were always being approached for support from groups setting up or wanting to set up libraries. I always tried to say that the long-term issues also needed to be looked at, as books do wear out – and with children, this happens really, really quickly! I don’t know why but I always felt that community libraries were seen to be a “good thing”, but that they were not really seen as institutions that needed continuous support. I suppose that is the major reason why the Ghana Library Board hasn’t done very well. Lip-service is cheap; a regular budget to buy books and/or magazines is not.
I also wonder whether the fact that because many of the librarians who have been active in professional groups such as the Ghana Library Association have come from either the academic or research sector has meant that there hasn’t been that much involvement with public or community libraries. I do think that is changing as more staff from the Ghana Library Board do attend GLA gatherings, but unfortunately the leadership of that institution (GLB) is not exactly what I would call exciting. Well, at least now there is an actual Board for the Ghana Library Board, with the Chair being a former MP and former librarian, Kosi Kedem. Maybe that will mean more attention is paid to the neglected institutions of school, public and community libraries. I do hope so.