Notes and Advice from our friend

Chris Bradshaw

Founder and Interim Board Chair of

African Library Project

to the Smart Libraries Team

Below is the Library Action Plan I referred to which helps the applicants for our rural  library committees navigate how to get organized. You should also take a look at our library manual:

How to Set Up and Run a Small Library in Africaavailable for download from our website.

You can take a look at our book drive sorting guidelines.

I’ve also attached a couple images of our South African sea container libraries.

I did not mention last Thursday (December 7th, 2017) that we investigated doing libraries in South African townships at one time and the major need that was identified was for a place for students to study as their homes were often too small or not electrified.

Let me know if there is anything else you might find helpful.

Chris Bradshaw | Founder & Interim Board Chair | African Library Project

(To view Chris Bradshaw’s visit with the Pencils for Africa Team click here)


… And an additional note from our friend Paola:

GREAT advice!

A few additional thoughts based on my observations in Kenya with Akili Dada:

1) Purpose of library:

*Claris started her library with only textbooks, because she knew Mukuru families could not afford school books and libraries were a long distance away.

*Leah started her library with only books in English, because she knew English was not taught at the school in her village and she felt strongly that the children should learn it.

2) Before starting, we should evaluate the local infrastructure:

*Claris’ library has no electricity because that part of her slum has no electricity.

*Also, her library has no door (in the doorway to the outside), so the library could not be locked up (she shoved the couch in front of the doorway when the library was closed and counted on the director of the school across the walkway, to provide security.

*Check to see where the nearest public library is….as a child, Claris had to walk miles and miles to get to the library to study, and once there, there were seats for only about a third of the number of students waiting to sit down and get to work.

3) Consider the pros and cons of loaning books out

*Neither Claris nor Leah allowed borrowing of books; they told me the books would just vanish forever if kids took them home. She said schools in Mukuru lock up books in the “teachers box” every night so kids cannot take them.

— Paola

African Library Project’s

Library Action Plan

What is a Library Action Plan? This is a planning tool to use in starting or improving a library in partnership with the African Library Project.

Why do this? Sustainability!

We want you to think through the important issues before you start so that you can plan for success. Every library is a little different and needs to be designed with the local readers in mind. A successful library needs community and school-wide support and this tool has been designed to help your library committee think through the steps in the development of a library.

Who should do this? The library committee should create the plan together. (Suggested committee is 3-5 people from the community of library users representing different stakeholders. Examples: for a school library, teachers, administrators, librarian, students, PTA members. For a community library: students, teachers, school administrators, librarian, village leaders/chief, men and women.)

When? This plan should be made after you have been approved by the African Library Project and before your books arrive.

How? Think about what works best for your group. You might meet at your new library site for a series of meetings. That way, you can modify members of your committee as needed.

Tips for working on the Library Action Plan:

  1. Have fun together! The tone you set will reverberate throughout the library.
  2. Break up the plan into small chunks to work on over a series of meetings
  3. Actively encourage everyone to participate during the meeting.
  4. Record your decisions on this form.
  5. Take the parts of this form that are useful to you and leave the rest.
  6. At the end of each meeting, use these questions to help improve the quality of your meetings:
    1. Were you able to contribute? If not, why not?
    2. How well did we work together as a group?
    3. Is there anyone else we should ask to be on this committee?

Creating your library committee

About the library committee:

  • What skills do we need in our library committee? (transport, building shelves, organization of books, raising money for supplies, organize inventory system, leadership, publicity)
  • Will there be officers for the committee? If so, who?
  • Who will handle our finances?
  • How often will we need to meet?
  • How will decisions be made?
  • What would our ideal library look like?
  • Who will our library serve? (# of people, school, community**)
  • Create a timetable of when things will be completed.
  • Create a list of job responsibilities and who will be responsible for those responsibilities.

**If your library is placed at a school, but will also serve the community, then one member of the community and one person from the school should be on the library committee.

Building and space requirements:

  • Where will the library be located?
  • Classroom libraries, small set of books in each classroom (recommended for primary)
  • Separate room for the library
  • How accessible is this room to the school or community library users?
  • Is the room secured?
  • Is the room dry?
  • What kind of furniture will we need?
  • Shelves, chairs, table, carpet
  • How will we get/make the furniture?
  • What can we use that we already have? (old, broken desks, wood and bricks)
  • Do we have funds to obtain the furniture?

If no, how will we raise money? (See resources available at end)

Library Staff:

  • Who will manage the books and be responsible for their security and organization?
  • Will we have a librarian?   If so, who?
  • An assistant? Who?
  • How will these people be trained?
  • What are the librarian’s responsibilities?
    • Create job description
    • Cleaning
    • Organizing the books
    • Re-shelving
    • Checking out
    • Dusting
    • Planning events to get people into the library
  • Will this person be paid, and if so, how will the funds be supplied?
  • Librarians are paid through school fees
  • Ask the community council or the DA, district administrator, to fund a librarian.
  • Membership fees: for example: R5 per person per year, or 50 lisente per day. R10 per family per year. (pick a price that fits your community) All proceeds go to pay the librarian.
  • If at a secondary or high school, schools could reduce or waive school fees for a student if parent/guardian works as the librarian.
  • If community library, hold a community meeting to get ideas to find solutions to hire librarian.
  • If school library, hold a parent-teacher meeting to get idea from parents and teachers.

Organization: ( see ALP Setting Up and Running a Small Library Manual)

  • What system will you use to organize the books?
  • Color-coded stickers
    • By subject (Fiction, Science, Social Studies, Maths, English)
    • By reading level (upper and lower primary)
  • Dewey decimal (not recommended AT ALL),
  • True, Not-true, Reference and Adult

Record keeping: What system will we use to track our books?

  • When we acquire new books? (ex. Accession register)
  • When we loan books*
  • Visitor’s log*

*African Library Project requires reporting of number of visitors and number of books checked out via monthly text messages. These statistics must be tracked.

Expenses: What expenses can we expect and how will we pay them?

  • What kinds of supplies will we need (stickers, posters, poster boards, paint, labels, boxes, tape, exercise book (notebook) for recording keeping, stamp, etc.) and how much will they cost?
  • How will we raise the money to pay our expenses?
  • Could expenses be paid from membership fees, late fees.
  • Hold fundraisers: concert, raffle, wearing private clothes (students come to school without uniform and pay)
  • Solicit donations

User policies:

  • Will we charge a fee for users? (membership fees)
  • Will we loan books to users?
    • How long is the check out period?
    • Who will be able to check out books? (Will Standard 1, 2, 3 students be able to check out books?)
    • Will there be a wait period before books are checked out so that users get used to books and the expectations in the library? (maybe a couple of months)
  • Will we charge late fees if users do not return books on time?
  • What will we do about damaged/lost books?
    • Students and parents can sign a contract acknowledging repayment for lost or damaged book.
  • Who will keep track of the library’s funds? How will they report about library finances to our committee?
  • The rules for user conduct should be posted on the wall of the library.

Library hours and operations:

  • Thinking about our readers, when is the ideal time for users to use the library? (For school libraries, remember teachers using it for reference and possible library classes during the day. Also, if teachers don’t show up, could the students visit the library?)
  • For school libraries, will regular library visits (highly recommended!) be included in the class schedule? (ex. Regularly scheduled class visits for story time, research, pleasure reading, etc.) If so, when?
  • Will the library be open during school breaks? On Saturdays?
  • Post hours when library is open and be consistent.

Library Usage: (see ALP Setting Up and Running a Small Library Manual)

  • How do we get people to use the library?

Most African libraries find that getting the library set up is the easy part. The difficult part is getting people to use the library. Some ideas that you could consider are scheduling classes to visit the library, story times, contests (drawing, reading, writing), workshops for teachers and students on how to use the library, local elder storytelling, culture corner, guest speakers, dramas, cultural activities, etc.

  • What activities will our library offer to encourage usage?
    • How will these be scheduled and conducted?
    • Who will be responsible to make sure each happens?
    • How will we communicate with the users what is happening at the library?


  • The African Library Project and the ALP Peace Corps Lesotho Team require monthly reports. How will we measure our success?
    • Tracking the number of users that visit the library (Visitor’s log)
    • Tracking the number of books that get checked out?
    • Gender and age of users?
    • How will we get feedback from our users?
    • Who will be responsible for tracking and reporting this information?