My name is Amy Hanson. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which has a nationally recognized library system. Every week I bring my son to story time at our local branch library to read stories, sing songs, and play with friends. We can check books out to read at home, in addition to those we have in our personal library. For his second birthday, we decided to do a book drive for the African Library Project to share his love of reading with kids that do not have such easy access to books.
He is too young to understand now, (and didn’t miss all the toys that usually come with a birthday party!) but I believe one day he will be happy to know that he helped send books to a place where they were so needed.
In 2009, I spent six months working with the ALP partners in Botswana and saw firsthand the profound impact these libraries had on both students and communities. Each week, I would travel to primary schools in the Southern Region to visit libraries and learn what was working well and in what areas they needed help. People were excited to tell us how the library had impacted their lives or share their favorite book. Many of the libraries showcased culture corners and student artwork and were gathering spaces for people as well as books. The libraries were sources of pride for the communities and people held them in great respect.
As a librarian, I value libraries and truly believe in the impact they have on lives, but it was a humbling experience to work with these communities. One of the common things I heard was that people wanted to develop a “culture of reading” because they knew the importance of education in making better lives for their children. Many elders regretted they never had access to books and were so happy that their grandchildren would have opportunities they couldn’t even imagine. These libraries that American volunteers and ALP helped start were incredibly important parts of the community and held in high regard because people knew they offered opportunities for better lives.
In the United States, most of us have grown up with libraries and often take them for granted. The people of Botswana helped me to remember the power that libraries have in opening doors in people’s lives and the magic that can be found in books. Although we are thousands of miles away, we can have an amazing impact on the lives of so many just by collecting books and sending them to people who don’t have any.