Library volunteerism in Zambia

9 Feb

Today at lunch time, the McGill Librarians without Borders student group hosted Marjorie Gagnon, a librarian who volunteered for 5 months in Zambia. During her stay in Zambia, Marjorie participated in two library projects: The Book Bus and the Lubuto Library Project. Many students in librarianship have a burning desire to help people (even those stuck cataloguing in a back room want to help people find resources more efficiently by doing a good job classifying). Marjorie argued that because she stayed for 2 months at each project, she was able to observe the difference that books made in the lives of the African children who she was working with. By the time she left, she was able to see the progress in their reading skills, which is pretty rewarding! Many college/university students participate in this type of project during their “gap-year” when they embark on whatever volunteer-tourism program sounds most interesting. These student volunteers did not have the same goals as Marjorie since they had no idea what needed to be done in a library setting (Marjorie described their complaints at having to do a library inventory in the hot sun). Most of them preferred visiting the country’s touristic highlights to doing actual volunteer work. This did not faze Marjorie, she was able to draw upon her management skills from her job experience to prioritize projects and motivate others.

Marjorie did a lot of research before choosing to which projects she wanted to dedicate her time and energy. She was extremely helpful by giving us a list of other potential NGOs performing library work in Africa that she discovered during her research. This was extremely useful and I was able to copy down many of the names like Under the Reading Tree and Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL).

We were warned that a volunteer trip like this cost a lot of money and volunteers must cover their own expenses for travel, vaccinations, visas, etc. Luckily Marjorie has been working full-time for the past ten years and could afford this trip that was taken during a sabbatical year. I’m not sure that most MLIS students would have the funds saved up for the type of trip. Okay, I know that I would not be willing to pay these expenses when I am just finishing school and I do not yet have a secured job with income. Having said this, I will be going on a less expensive library-volunteer trip to Guatemala for 10 days in April. More on this in a future blog post…

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One Response to “Library volunteerism in Zambia”

  1. Ekaterina February 9, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    Wow! I can stay informed of those meetings and activities I do not have time to visit just by reading your blog 🙂 Thanks, Amanda! 🙂

    I wish you good luck with you volunteer trip to Guatemala – I am sure you will enrich your experience and meet interesting people in this trip!

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