Do Schools Need Libraries?

Schools do not need libraries. Schools need to want libraries. Below follows some news from the Otto Foundation, one of our project partners who are dedicated to addressing the literacy crisis in South Africa. 

Before we were able to launch the Liyabona Library at Holy Cross Primary School in Zonnebloem on 25 January 2020, the staff, management and learners of the school had endured numerous obstacles and disasters (both flood AND fire- as well as the library being named after a Holy Cross grade 1 pupil who was lost in a taxi accident in 2018). However, the Holy Cross school community has been single-mindedly focussed on their goal of establishing a library. That is how we know that the Liyabona Library will be much more than just a beautiful space. It will make a difference in the quality of learning at Holy Cross.

We cannot address South Africa’s pressing literacy crisis by constructing a space. The Otto Foundation strongly believes that a library is not a room filled with books. It is a lifestyle and environment. By wanting a library so badly that no fire and no flood could deter them, the Holy Cross School community has not only exhibited remarkable resilience, they have shown that they are ready to create an environment that fosters a love of reading,  where stories and reading become an essential part of everyday life.

Below and cover image: Zephne Ladbrook, CEO of Otto Foundation, and her team at the opening of Liyabona Library together with WC education MEC Debbie Schaefer and the Holy Cross sisters and staff.

Fostering a reading culture

The school has been hosting library sessions for a year. They have appointed two driven and resourceful librarians. Librarians host reading sessions before school starts in the morning. The school has implemented a Drop & Read programmewhere the whole school stops whatever they are doing and reads for 15 minutes. They will continue to be a success as long as reading becomes part of the very fabric of the Holy Cross school environment and fostering a love of reading becomes a lifestyle encouraged by teachers, family members and caregivers.

“In short, if a school wants a library, a school deserves a library and they will, alongside motivated partners, make a success of it.”

To get to the point where the Otto Foundation was able to officially open the doors of the Liyabona Library, we received support from many partners. After the loss of the first library in February 2019, the generosity of Capetonians, and the financial support from partner organisations made us all the more determined to achieve our mission: to foster a reading culture at Holy Cross. The Kamvalethu Foundation and Lauren McGill have become more than just supporters. We really feel that they are on the field with us, playing the game!

Investing in good design

The Otto Foundation believes that it is important to invest in high-quality renovations, design and placemaking in the libraries that we create.

There are practical motivations for this decision:

  • By investing in good design, we are able to ensure that our library spaces are multi-functional.
  • The schools in which we work are generally under-resourced, and mostly have no aesthetically pleasing spaces where they are proud to receive visitors and host events. Our libraries become gathering places and spaces where our schools can pull their learners, parents/ caregivers, funding partners and teaching teams together.
  • We believe that offering learners a safe, comfortable, beautiful space to read will draw them into reading, and encourage them to use the library.
  • We want learners to notice and understand that the community who support their school believe that they are worth investing in and that they deserve beautiful spaces that encourage exploration and creativity.

Our decision to invest in good design is, however, also rooted in research – which shows that there is an explicit relationship between the physical characteristics of school buildings and the spaces within them and the educational outcomes of a school. The Liyabona Library was created in collaboration with child-centred design studio See Saw Do. They have become trusted partners, and we continue to be amazed by their collaborative design process and the manner in which they involve community members in the execution of their designs.

Our hope

Liyabona means ‘to be seen’. This is our hope. That every Holy Cross learner will feel seen in the library space. That they will feel safe amidst the colourful books. And that the books and stories will spark a desire for learning and exploration. We were truly happy to launch the Liyabona Library on 25 January, and we are looking forward to our next library project. Watch this book-filled space!

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