Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shelving Books

Student librarians accepting books from the ambassador (credit: US Embassy in Fiji)

As I was volunteering shelving books at the McMinnville Public Library as a middle schooler I never thought I’d be showing off my very own Primary School library to the US Ambassador to Fiji as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  And still, just this week Ambassador Reed did come to visit Wailevu East District School’s library.  She spent some time talking with the four student librarians who are part of the library committee and even brought a box of BRAND NEW books for our collection!  But it’s not really my library.  I’m just helping the amazingly dedicated teachers and rock-star students at the school to get organized.  And it’s one of the most fun things I’ve done as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

The library as it was for the visit.  Hard to see everything, but it's much nicer than it was!

When I first arrived in my community I introduced myself at the school and told the head teacher about my library background.  She expressed interest telling me about the plights of their small, disorganized collection, but after nine months I hadn’t done much at the school but co-write a proposal to renovate an old hall into a new space for the library.  I did, after all, live in another village and there had been two Peace Corps Volunteers living on the school compound until then.  But when the other volunteers had gone and the proposal had been turned down because of new priorities for the granting organization, I decided what to do what I could to find ways to improve the library.  

The library as it looked before I started in on it.

I remember when my mom was visiting and went over to see the library.  There were damaged books everywhere, nothing was organized (even fiction and non-fiction were mixed together), the room was used as a tool shed with cans of paint and weed eaters lying around, it also housed all of the sports equipment for recess, and the only people I ever saw in the library were teachers using the school printer and copier.  My mom was appalled and as soon as she returned to the states she began sending me boxes of books for the library.  I wasn’t comfortable leaving all those clean new books in the mess of a library, though, so they piled up in my house and I wondered what I could do about it.

Peace Corps Volunteers helping with a Literacy Camp.

As it turns out, I am not the only volunteer in Fiji working with libraries.  Soon after my mom’s visit I was invited to help with a Literacy Camp at another school library on my island.  It was a big success with the students and Library Services of Fiji decided to continue the program, adding teacher-librarian training and functional literacy workshops for mothers to their services.  All of the volunteers involved were motivated to do more library work, too.  In June I headed out to a friend’s village and helped her to finish up the work she had been doing in her library.  In two days we labeled boxes of new books, entered them in the accession, organized the books and even put up decorations.  On top of it all, I got to witness the motivation of the students that helped in the library.  So it was with a renewed enthusiasm that I returned to my community’s primary school library.
Helping at Tacilevu Libary.

I feel like I spent days just sorting and repairing books.  I could tell the library was being used, though, because whenever I’d come back after a few days everything had been moved.  I started working with the student-librarians during their lunch break and recess.  They helped me sort books into “Easy Fiction,” “Junior Fiction,” and “Non-Fiction.”  Then we started with call number labels.  The fiction books were easy, with the just the authors’ last names.  Then came the non-fiction which we had to catalogue based on subject – easier said than done.  Yet, at the end of the school year (in November) the books all had call numbers – even those that had been piling up at home.  To top it off, the two teacher-librarians had attended a Library Services training and were eager to help.  We’d even written a new grant for the refurbishment of the old hall for a new library space.  Over summer break we got most of the books put in the accession register before I had to start writing lesson plans for the Library Skills classes I had agreed to teach.
Last year's student librarians with the teachers involved in the library project.

In January the new school term started and I started library classes right off the bat.  It was during one of those class days that I got the call about the Ambassador’s visit.  She would be visiting Wailevu Village to see the many Peace Corps projects in the village.  The whole village was excited; none more than my student librarians who would be meeting the Ambassador face to face.  With a new alphabet on the wall (care of my mother) the room cleaned of the non-library stuff and all the shelves straightened and dusted, everything was perfect for the visit.  But the library is still very small and pretty soon the paint cans and rugby balls are going to show up again.  Our project is not finished, but we’re on a roll.  We’ve accomplished a lot, and have big plans for this term, too.  In May we’ll be hosting our very own Literacy Camp during the term break!  We hope to have the old hall refurbished and the library moved to it’s new home by then, but we can’t do it without you.  If you can, please make a tax-deductible donation to the renovation project on the Peace Corps website.  Or, if you prefer, send books to the school (not to Peace Corps) to improve our collection by following the tips below.
The hall we hope to renovate before the Literacy Camp in May.

Tips For Sending Books to Wailevu East District School:
·      The books most needed by the library are good quality junior non-fiction and junior fiction.
·      The library could also use kids magazines of the “Ranger Rick” or “Cricket” variety.
·      If you would like to send books or magazines, please consider just sending a few in a mailing envelope as it is cheaper for the sender and the school (flat rate mailing envelopes cost about $18 USD to send to Fiji and doesn’t go through customs.  Boxes are considerably more, and the school must pay a $6 FJD duty on each box received that is valued under $400 FJD and quite a bit more if valued over $400 FJD, something they cannot afford.)
·      Any mail should be addressed to Wailevu East District School – Library, PO Box 440, Savusavu, Fiji Islands, South Pacific. 
·      Wailevu East District School is NOT licensed as a charitable organization and any donations to the school are NOT tax-deductible, but the rewards of giving a good book to a child can be neverending.