My research trip to Malawi – The Warm Heart of Africa

Here is a wee video I made of my research trip to Malawi. Make sure you have the sound turned up…there is some amazing singing on it that I recorded at the schools end-of-term celebrations. 🙂

For my Library and Information Management MSc dissertation, I went to a primary school in rural Malawi, to which a British NGO had donated a library of western materials that were no longer wanted in the UK. I spent  three weeks interviewing the teachers and the library assistant. My  intention was to investigate library aid from the recipients perspective.

I have been invited to do a presentation about my work at Bath University on April 26th,  for the AULIC staff development group. Anyone going to that?

Although I have not made a start on it yet, I plan to discuss the success and suitability of a Western-donated school library in furthering the aims of literacy and reader development in  Malawi. The contribution that library and information professionals can make to international development agendas will also be discussed with particular reference to the Millennium Development Goals.

When I first got interested in this subject and started my literature review, I discovered that although there was a lot of discussion  in this area,  it largely come from desk research. First-hand, qualitative data is very thin on the ground.

To address the chronic education resource shortage, Western books are often sent to sub-Saharan African countries at great expense, with little or no needs analysis or in-depth review of the service after the  books have been installed. These book donation models are often criticized in the literature but I really wanted to find out what the recipients of these donations thought because their voices were distinctly lacking.

Participatory approaches to the planning and evaluation of projects are not new in international development but we in the library world do not appear to use them when attempting to support developing countries. I think this is a shame as we could learn so much.

The trip was an amazing experience that really highlighted the important role libraries and librarians could play in international development, if only NGO’s and development agencies see fit to consult us….we really should be banging their doors down!! I went to CILIP’s International Library and Information Group’s annual general meeting last month where CILIP’s president Biddy Fisher delivered a talk on how librarians can help to deliver the Millenium Development Goals. It was great to hear this being discussed but the goals were agreed upon in 2000…..the targets set for 2015. Are we too late?

Anyone interested in my findings just let me know, I would be happy to let you read them – you may find some surprises!

Anyone about to embark on a Library Masters dissertation and not sure what to research? I highly recommend taking the plunge and conducting research overseas. When else will you have this chance? If you need any tips or advice – again, just let me know.

Anyone out there reading this who works in international development and needs a knowledgable, motivated, librarian. cooooeeeeee! gi’us a job 🙂


5 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Johanna,

    By coincidence, I’ve just been reading about MDGs in Giles Bolton: Aid and other dirty business: Ebury Press, 2007.

    It’s a long time ago (1980s) but when I worked in Chancellor College I occasionally had to spend my time cataloguing donations sent by well-meaning people in the West. Sometimes the donations were useful, but sometimes not, yet all had to be catalogued and added to stock, at some expense.

    I became convinced that initiatives like Book Aid Internationall were very worthwhile, as they try to avoid unwanted donations.

    Hope the presentation goes well.



    • Hi Roddy,
      Thanks for your post. I bet that was an interesting job. I really loved Malawi. Every time I watch my little video it brings a lump to my throat.
      I agree that Book Aid International are very worthwhile however, I visited them and found it hard to find any thorough evaluation of their services from the recipients perspective so it was difficult to tell how well directed their donations are…although they did say they were hoping to use more qualitative methods of doing this in the future. It was also refreshing to find out that they employ people with backgrounds in librarianship and international development.
      Have you heard of Lubuto Libraries in Zambia? they have a really interesting approach.
      The problem is that donations which have to be solicited are harder to secure and people (who mean well) try to fill the gap. If book donation is carried out in a similar way to the NGO I was studying this results in a lot of teachers and children, who have been promised many things, ending up with copies of titles such as “cooking with food processors” on their library shelves. The NGO had done no evaluation of the community’s needs or of their service before or after they implemented it, which seems madness to me considering the amount of resources it took to get the books there in the first place.
      It is more than the provision of books; focus should also turn heavily to reader development and community engagement.
      Oops, sorry went off on a bit of a rant there!
      I will look that Aid and other dirty business book up. Thanks for the tip.
      If you are interested in having a look at any of my findings just let me know!
      best wishes


  2. Posted by Kate on July 2, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Johanna,

    I was at CDG meeting yesterday and I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your presentation. Aside from the fact that the subject itself was really interesting it was also brilliant to see someone who is clearly so enthusiastic about libraries.

    I was just wondering whether the actual presentation is online anywhere? I am also doing the UWE MSc at the moment and I know someone on the course who is really interested in school libraries (and works in one). I think she already has her subject decided for her dissertation and has started research (we’ll submit in November/May) but I’m sure she’d be really interested to see your work.

    Thanks, Kate


  3. Hi Kate,
    Thanks for your lovely comments. I am really pleased you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for coming. I had a super time.
    I am writing a blog post now and will embed my presentation in to that. It is turning in to a long post and is taking me sometime! I’ll get it there by the end of the day I hope. My dissertation should be available through the UWE library if you or your friend are interested in taking a look. (although they may not have got around to putting it there yet)
    Hope you are enjoying the course. Have you decided on your dissertation subject yet?

    Thanks again for your interest and for your kind comments.



  4. Hi Kate, I have now blogged (see most recent post) about the CDG meeting and attached the presentation 🙂 let me know if you have any probs viewing it.


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