> > Photo: breaking the bread at our traditional Eritrean dinner
Today we’re in Asmara where Beth is running a workshop on the targeting and distribution of books. I’m here to listen and learn, but Beth and the participants who include our colleagues Gebrenegus at the Ministry of Education and Michael at the British Council, three secondary school librarians who work on the distribution of the Book Aid International books, the Chair of the Library and Information Association of Eritrea, and three curriculum development officers from the Ministry, work hard for the whole day. The workshop covers the targeting and distribution cycle focussing on needs assessment, deciding priorities, selecting and promoting stock, and monitoring and evaluation. There is heated debate on whether we should give priority to books for primary or secondary libraries. After more than an hour’s debate, primary wins the day by a small margin, but the arguments continue over lunch.
The other hot topic was the issue of weeding books which are no longer or may never have been used. Where books are in short supply librarians find it difficult to throw out books which may find a reader one day, and they don’t want a library with very few books on the shelves. But others strongly press the case that having unread and out-of-date books puts readers off. By promoting good books, even if there are not that many, readers will be attracted to and use the library. Beth suggests that promoting the books and making the libraries more attractive will bring in a wider spectrum of the community. She points to a display of big books for children in the Dembe Sembel School in Asmara and the display of CD Roms in the British Council as examples of good promotion. The workshop ends with a session on monitoring and evaluation and, of course, an evaluation of the workshop itself which is very positive. I’m hugely impressed by the commitment of the participants and the high level of the discussion, and the professionalism and skill with which Beth has prepared and run the day. After the workshop we have a brief meeting with the new Minister of Education, Semere Russom, a former diplomat and Mayor of Asmara. The Minister gives us an outline of the problems facing Eritrea in building an education system from scratch and thanks Book Aid International for the contribution it has made to overcoming the shortage of books in the country. He will comment on the existing agreement and we will work with officials to agree a new partnership with the Ministry as quickly as possible. We are struck again by the commitment of people from the top down to libraries and reading as a central element of education at all levels.
In the evening Mesfin Habtetsion of the British Council hosts a traditional Eritrean meal for us, and colleagues from the Ministry and the Library Association at a wonderful restaurant in a converted house decorated with an extraordinary collection of artefacts from all over the country covering the walls. We talk widely about the country, it’s history and traditions, and the challenges it faces in developing its education system.
A traditional Eritrean fermented honey beer accompanies the meal and a shot of white coffee liquor sends us off into the night after another exhausting, but very satisfying day. Tomorrow is a holiday and we’re planning to watch part of the Meskel festival and make a quick trip down to the coast down what is apparently a spectacular drive, dropping 2,800 meters in less than 100km.