Volunteering Abroad: Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

By Biblioworks on 13/06/2016

This post was written by a Biblioworks volunteer – Karen Fern

Post Takeaways – When volunteering abroad, keep in mind that even the smallest changes can make a difference. That way, you are less stressed about “doing big things” and more mindful of the help the organization truly needs.

Here is how it all happened…

It’s surprising how small changes can have quite a big impact.

The first thing I noticed when I came to the Tarabuco Library was that the children did not appear to be reading books very much at all. It was obvious to me that the books that were there were not readily available for the children to browse or even to reach them on the shelves.

There was a small collection of books for recreational reading amongst the hundreds of “school” or textbooks that were on the shelves. These school books, which the older students who come into the library after school use for their homework, are sorted in categories such as science, religion, health etc. Then on the bottom shelf in no particular order was a collection of children’s picture books and a few other reading books for older children.

The problem.

Most of these shelves were behind the librarian’s desk. Children are expected to ask the librarian for the book they want and they are not able to browse the collection and select books for themselves. This system kind of works for the books they need for their homework but it doesn’t work at all for recreational reading.

Making a change.

After discussing with the Biblioworks staff the problem of the children not reading very much, I purchased 3 plastic baskets from the market last Sunday. These baskets I filled with the recreational reading books that I found stuffed in the bottom shelf behind the librarian’s desk. We then placed the baskets on the floor in front of the shelves where the children could reach them. The younger children immediately began browsing the books in the basket and selecting titles to take back to the tables in the library and read.

The next step was to talk with the Tarabuco librarian, Jhovana, and see if she would be happy to relocate the librarian’s desk to one side of the library which would then give the older children easier access to browse the shelves for the books that they need for homework. This was a change that Jhovana was also happy to go with as it makes her job of helping the students find the material they need easier.

It is the custom in most of these Bolivian libraries for the children to ask for each book they wish to read and also to tell the librarian each time they put one back. This is an unusual practice for a New Zealand librarian to get accustomed to but if it works for the librarians here and the children are reading then I’m quite happy to go along with it.

Being mindful to the little things truly proved to work.

At a cost of less than $10 I am delighted to have introduced a couple of small changes that will ensure that a greater number of children who use the Tarabuco Library have access to books and are reading for fun.

If you’d like to find out more information about Organization Biblioworks, please go here.

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