The Power of Books

By Kate Chambers

Supplying books to out of town libraries through #BOOKS4ZIM

In 2011, I was driving with my family through Marange district in eastern Zimbabwe when we were stopped at a police checkpoint. A young police officer approached our car from the passenger’s side and pointed to three books I had lying on the dashboard. Could he have one, he asked.  They weren’t particularly recent books. One was a gift for my son, small at the time. Which one should I give the policeman? In his request, I recognised a hunger I’d known so often: the need to have something new to read with its promise of new things to learn and think about.

Books and libraries have always been my life. As a child growing up in rural eastern England, I spent hours in a library in Horncastle, built over the fantastic remains of the town’s Roman Wall. With the river on the other side of the large windows, I migrated through the stacks – through children’s, to teenage and large print and the tables behind the books where the newspapers were laid out. Later there were university libraries and the Francis Trigge Chained Library in Grantham, the bibliotheque in the 15th arrondissement in Paris, another one in Nice. Always more books than a person could ever read or money could buy – which is, of course, the point of libraries. Books for all, whatever your means.

I mentioned the policeman’s request for books in a piece I wrote for a US newspaper. My editor mailed me a few days later: he’d received some emails, all with the same question. How could readers help?This is how #Books4Zim started.

Readers started sending books: from the US and the UK mostly but occasionally from other places like Poland, South Africa and most recently, Israel. From the start I’ve made a point of giving books and stationery only to libraries, clubs and institutions that ask for them. No dumping of unwanted books on institutions that don’t want or need them: that’s something I feel very strongly about. As far as possible, I match the books I receive with requests from particular libraries, projects and booklovers. Some want recent fiction. Some want children’s books, as new as possible, because we instinctively judge a book by its cover! Magazines are often requested: sometimes this is an easy entry point for more reluctant readers. Biographies are popular. One of the projects wants motivational texts. Pens, crayons and paper are useful: there’s research that suggests encouraging children to draw boosts literacy.

For the first few years I concentrated on libraries and projects in Manicaland. When I started posting pictures of book piles to Twitter in 2015, more Zimbabweans got involved – sending me books and helping get them out to the libraries and sometimes informal classes. One of the best things about the project for me has been the people I’ve come into contact with. The people who send books and the people who use them. The librarians in libraries where schoolchildren go to revise. Elvis Ndebele, who several months ago started running a mobile library project in Tsholotsho. Curran Musada, who runs a library project in Chipinge that also seeks to educate children about wildlife and conservation. Baron Chikuni, who’s with great determination trying to restock a library in Zvishavane. Kumbirai Dzikiti who’s distributing into communities in rural Zvimba. Like me, they love books and they know their power. They hold the future in their hands.

Find Kate Chambers on twitter @kpczim

© Ndeipi Issue 112, August 2019

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