Improving people’s lives: measuring Harare Public Library’s contribution to individual and community wellbeing

PATEL, Najma and SKARZYNSKI, Janusz and NASSIMBENI, Mary (2015) Improving people’s lives: measuring Harare Public Library’s contribution to individual and community wellbeing. Paper presented at: IFLA WLIC 2015 - Cape Town, South Africa in Session 88 - Library Theory and Research with Statistics and Evaluation.

Bookmark or cite this item: http://library.ifla.org/id/eprint/1240
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Language: English (Original)
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Abstract

Improving people’s lives: measuring Harare Public Library’s contribution to individual and community wellbeing

Since 2008 public libraries in South Africa, after decades of neglect, have been recipients of significant extra funding from government in a programme to transform urban and rural public library infrastructure, facilities and services. The programme, the Conditional Community Libraries Grant, targets previously disadvantaged communities by building new and refurbishing old buildings with the objective of providing and improving library infrastructure and services to meet community needs and to promote a culture of reading. Given the low levels of literacy and book ownership and low frequency of voluntary reading, government’s mandate to public libraries and its willingness to provide extra funding is understandable. The findings of research by the South African Book Development Council showed that only 14% of South Africans are active book readers, and that only 5% of parents read to their children. Book ownership is very low – 51% of households did not have a single book in the home. What has been lacking, however, is research showing that the extra funding is achieving its objective of empowering communities, promoting reading and improving literacy rates. In the light of this lacuna and with the purpose of finding evidence for the difference that a public library makes in a community, we carried out a research project in a new public library in an impoverished township of Cape Town – the Harare Public Library. An additional motive was to test the feasibility of crafting a methodological approach that could easily be adapted by other public libraries in the City of Cape Town to measure their contribution to community and individual empowerment. In our paper we describe our methodological approach, present findings that speak to the link between access to information and reading materials in a public library and community and individual development, and reflect on prospects for adapting our approach to other public libraries in an effort to sustain the public library’s engagement with measurement.

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