Establishing a high school library


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Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) is an Australian Government Program funded by AusAID. Every year the program sends 400 young Australians into developing nations in the Asia Pacific Region. Epi High School is a secondary school on the island of Epi in the Shefa province of Vanuatu. The college enrols students from 11 to 16 years of age. In 2003 the school was severely damaged by Cyclone Ivy. With assistance from the Australian Government some new buildings were built, including a library building. The author worked for five months assisting the school librarian to establish the library; improving the libraries collection, developing budget guidelines and training the students and staff in using and maintaining a library effectively.During the course of this time, a myriad of challenges were faced and overcome.

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  • Today is International Volunteers’ Day. No other day could have been better for me to tell you about the 5 months I spent last year working in a high school library in Vanuatu. I experienced a variety of challenges, and I wanted to share these with you and the stories of how I overcame them. This is how it came about.By early 2007 I had spent the last two and a half years working for a library software company and it was time to do something else. I had always wanted to make a difference, to give something back to the world. In 2006 I visited the only public library in Suva, Fiji and realised how much my skills could assist a library in a developing country. When I saw the volunteer placement for a high school librarian in Vanuatu with the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program (AYAD), I applied without a second thought.
  • AusAID, theAustralian Agency for International Development, provided financial support for repairing and upgrading educational infrastructure.
  • The Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) program is an Australian Government AusAID supported initiative that aims to strengthen mutual understanding between Australia and the countries of the Asia-Pacific region and make a positive contribution to development.The Program achieves these aims by placing skilled 18 to 30 year old Australians (one more reason to apply for the job, I was 28 and a half)short-term assignments in developing countries in the Asia Pacific region. AYAD volunteers work with local counterparts in Host Organisations to achieve sustainable development outcomes through capacity building, skills transfer and institutional strengthening.
  • Before I applied for the assignment I had read the job description many times. I made the decision that the skills I had would be a perfect fit for the role. I thought that the two and a half years experience working for SirsiDynix delivering library systems training, in combination with my time in a public library as a children’s and youth services librarian would have prepared me adequately for the challenges of a position such as this one.
  • The assignment outcomes that had been set out in the assignment description looked achievable. However, it is hard to start work with a new organisation without bringing in a set of predefined expectations…
  • Lamen Bay, Epi. Airstrip and village can be seen…. Just.
  • The airport. Runs on solar power.The Market house is often used for community functions. Every Saturday morning a “Mumma’s Market” is held. The market was on earlier and earlier each weekend, depending on when the sun rose. By December, the market was well underway by 5:30 am.Vaimali Hospital - This is one of the better run rural health clinics in Vanuatu. I’m glad I wasn’t ever sick enough to go there.
  • EPI HIGH SCHOOLGiving is receiving (school motto)Government boarding schoolStudents in years 8-12Educational standards were not as I expected them to be. It is a common occurrence for untrained teachers to work in schools (at least 22%). Many villages survived on subsistence farming, and cash crops were often the only income a community had. Often, people became teachers to bring more money back to their families in the village, or as a way out of the back breaking work in the gardens.The language of instruction was officially English, which is often a third or fourth language for children. French was offered as an optional class for student in the Arts stream. Bislama (‘pidgin’) is the national language and although it is more commonly used in urban areas it was generally used in conversation amongst staff or students. This has an impact on the literacy levels of the students, with many students having lower literacy levels than the National average.
  • See separate notes page
  • Another obstacle that would have an impact on how easily the project outcomes could be achieved was the availability of transport.Inter and intra island transport options were limited. Fuel was expensive, around 250 VT a litre (over $3.30) and repairs were time consuming. Often, malfunctioning machinery would be abandoned because no one knew how to fix it.Island roads…..
  • Island TransportationThe 4 wheel drive trucks (or utes as we’d call them in Australia) are the only form of motorised land transport on Epi. Often, they are run a little like a taxi service, but with the ability to pick up passengers on the way. The trucks commonly had benches in the back for people to sit on.Island RoadsThe only road on Epi was accessible only by 4 wheel drive. After heavy rains, some sections of the road would become impassable. Towards the south of the Island, the road became a walking track.Cargo ShipsThis is the Freedom, I caught this cargo ship from Port Vila to Lamen Bay, Epi. It cost me 4000 VT (around $50) and took around 18 ½ hours. I slept on the floor with all the other ni-Vanuatu women. The only other waetfala to ever catch cargo ships, were peace core volunteers and they are crazy.
  • Library Monitors2 students from each level were chosen to be Library MonitorsOpening hours Open from 7:30 am – noon, 1pm – 4:30Often opened during the evenings and on weekends.Library ClassesYear 8 – 11 had a regular library lesson, where the students would come in to exchange their fiction loans
  • See separate page – for extensive notes
  • Maintenance shelfNew signs to hang upWriting borrowing cardsCataloguing piles of books
  • New books! Ok, new donated books….
  • New display shelf – books to be rotated on a weekly or fortnightly basis (themes – give the responsibility to a year 12 library monitor) New signs – “Look at a Book”, “Libraries lead to Knowledge, Learning, Information, Education”.Library monitors repairing & labelling booksChanged the layout of the library
  • Isolation – only white person living in the villageLanguage barriers – Due to the variety of languages spoken in the village and at school, I found it difficult to communicate in a way that I was used to. I began to incorporate more Bislama into my speech and I later discovered that many multi-syllabic words disappeared from my vocabulary.Skin colour – when everyone else is black, you really stand out.Boredom – it became a challenge to think of things to do to keep my occupied. I read a lot. Wrote a lot.Loneliness – being told by many people living in the village that because I was 29 and single that “taembloyu I finis nao”. Implying that I was up on the shelf for life. I spent a LOT of time alone.Island time – everything happens slower. A lot slower.
  • Additional assignment outcomes, achieved outside of the work plan:Strengthened the relationships between the Library at Epi High School and the Libraries at Akama Primary School in Lamen Bay and Lamen Island Primary School.Provided assistance to the Vanuatu Library Association during Library Week in SeptemberConsulted at Vila North Primary School and Vila East Primary SchoolCareer counselling and relationship guidance for school studentsStarted an all girls hip-hop group with the assistance of the school music teacherRan a climate change talk for the year 12 geography studentsHeld an exam-cram session for the year 12 development studies studentsAssisted several Peace Corp volunteers with questions about running and setting up librariesLiaised with the Port Vila Public Library to create a volunteering opportunity for one of the year12 library monitorsand many others…
  • Organisation – write lists, use your time wiselyCreativity – think outside of the square, be a problem solver! Instead of waiting for the School Handyman to come and move some boxes of books for us to the local primary school, we borrowed a wheel barrow and took them over there ourselves.Project management – set goals, re-evaluate if things aren’t going to plan.Small boxes – a project management tool that I learned from my father. Break everything down into separate components and work out what you can control and have an effect over.Laugh. As much and often as you can
  • Epi High School was lucky…. Photos of other libraries that I saw:Lamen Island Primary SchoolPort Resolution Primary School, Tanna IslandNikauraPrimary School, Nikaura.Vila North Primary School, Port Vila.
  • Establishing a high school library

    2. 2. 2 ½ years in the same job<br />Time for a change<br />Desire to make a difference<br />Turning 30<br />Visit to Suva public library in Fiji <br />made me realise how much my skills <br />could assist libraries in developing <br />countries.<br />MOTIVATION<br />
    3. 3. BACKGROUND<br />In 2004 Cyclone Ivy destroyed many schools and villages in Vanuatu<br />AusAID provided financial support for repairing and upgrading educational infrastructure<br />
    4. 4. LOCATION<br />The AYAD program funded a 6 month position for a Librarian at Epi High School<br />The School is located in Lamen Bay, a small village to the NE of Epi Island<br />Epi is a small island with a population of around 5000 people<br />Lamen bay has an airport, a postal service, a few small stores, a market house and a hospital half an hours’ walk away.<br />
    5. 5. THE JOB<br />Assist with the establishment of a new AusAID funded library<br />Work with staff to determine resources and budgets<br />Assist with setting up the library computer system<br />Train counterpart(s) in the use of the library computer system<br />Train students and staff in how to utilise and maintain a library effectively<br />
    6. 6. ASSIGNMENT OUTCOMES<br />Establish an efficient and functional library<br />Train a counterpart who will be able to manage the library effectively<br />Train college staff and students on how to use a library<br />Improve the collection of resources in the library<br />Develop a policy and procedures manual<br />Purchase resources for the library within the current budget<br />
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    12. 12. So many smiles, <br />so much creativity!<br />
    13. 13. REALITY CHECK<br />Communication Systems<br />Electricity<br />Transport<br />
    14. 14. TRANSPORT<br />Inter and intra Island transport options were limited:<br />Truck <br />Plane<br />Cargo boat<br />Outrigger Canoe<br />Outboard<br />Yacht (if you can afford it!)<br />
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    16. 16. THE LIBRARY<br />New building<br />Purpose built<br />Lots of natural light<br />Plenty of shelving<br />Library Monitors<br />Extended opening hours<br />Library classes<br />South Pacific Curriculum<br />
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    19. 19. COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT<br />Maintenance<br />Cataloguing<br />Budget<br />Publishers<br />
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    23. 23. PERSONAL CHALLENGES<br />Isolation<br />Language barriers<br />Skin colour<br />Boredom<br />Loneliness<br />Island time<br />
    24. 24. SUCCESS<br />Delivered extensive training to 3 counterparts and 12 school library monitors.<br />Catalogued so many books that I couldn’t count them<br />Developed a library policy and procedures manual<br />Set up a display area in the library<br />Rearranged all the collections in the library so that they were more accessible by library users<br />
    25. 25. IN CONCLUSION<br />Relationship building<br />Organisation<br />Creativity<br />Project management<br />Small boxes<br />A sense of humour<br />
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    27. 27. Tangkiu tumas (Bislama)<br />For further information please contact me:<br />Email:<br />Web:<br />More photos:<br />AYAD:<br />AusAID:<br />
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    29. 29. References<br />Austraining International Pty Ltd (2007). What is AYAD? Retrieved from<br />Harewood, J., Chinula, T., & Talbot, V. (2006). Vanuatu & New Caledonia (5th ed.). Footscray, Vic.: Lonely Planet.<br />Hughes, D. (2004). Reflecting on Early Literacy Development in the Context of Vanuatu. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 5(3), 349-360.<br />