Meet the librarians going above and beyond to get books to kids in lockdown

In Ethiopia they go via camel. In America they go via drone. The longing for literacy is all-conquering even when libraries are closed during Covid-19

While we wait for libraries to reopen in July across the UK, other countries have taken enterprising steps to boost literacy and give kids all-important access to books.

In Ethiopia the books go out via land. Or more specifically, camel. More than 26 million children are out of school during the Covid-19 lockdown so Save The Children’s camel library is bringing the life-nurturing power of books to 22,000 children in 33 villages.

First started in 2010, the fleet of 21 camels transport up to 200 books at a time to kids like 13-year-old Mahadiya, who says that children have been exposed to exploitation and labour since schools shut.

Camel library Save The Children
Camel library Save the Children
Save the Children has established reading camps in more than 33 villages and supplied them with 39,000 supplementary reading books with 16 different titles.

She said: “Before the coronavirus, we used to go to school regularly. The school used to provide us with a meal each school day, but now that has stopped. I feel sad and disappointed that I cannot go to school.

“I am worried it may not open soon. Because of this, I am worried that we could forget some of the things we learned in school and we could fail our exams.

“After schools were closed, many children were out of school and they were exposed to child labour and exploitation. Many children have become herders and some walk into the bush to look for firewood. When schools were closed, I was very sad.  However, the camel library continued to come to our village and supplied us with storybooks. I feel very happy and I am now able to borrow and take home the storybook that I would like to read.”

A typical day starts with the loading of books and other library materials into boxes before the caravan then moves to designated areas. One camel carries two boxes of books, tent, plastic sheet and mats. The second camel is used as back up in case the main camel has a problem.

At each site, the library spends two and half days during which the camels are released to go and eat, and are examined for any signs of illness/disease by the herder.

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Ekin Ogutogullari, Save the Children’s country director in Ethiopia, said: “On top of Covid-19, Ethiopian children and their families are facing floods, desert locusts, cholera, measles, food insecurity, and rising poverty levels. The scale of this crisis is huge, but we are determined to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and ensure no child is worse off at the end of this pandemic.”

But in the US state of Virginia, the books travel via air. Montgomery County public schools became the first in the world to use a library book drone delivery service. Blacksburg Middle School librarian Kelly Passek had the idea to use Google’s Wing drone to drop off books for free while their library was shut during the pandemic.

She said: “The partnership allows us the most unique way to continue to provide that access so that our students are able to stay engaged with independent reading and continue on their path of success even during this time of social distancing.”

There is no limit to the lengths libraries will go to to lend out their books – even during lockdown. In a crisis, our longing for literacy prevails.

Image: Save The Children