Background: Although education in Africa is expanding, little is being done to support learners’ literacy outside the school. Rural people have little access to books and so cannot develop their reading skills.
Purpose of Study: The project described here has both an educational and a research purpose: to complement formal schooling by making reading material available to students and others, and to document the development of new literacy practices by investigating and recording readers’ preferences.
Setting: The site is near the trading center of Kitengesa in Masaka District in Uganda. It is a rural area where most people depend on subsistence farming and the sale of food and cash crops. Many have been to school, however, and basic literacy is widespread.
Intervention: The project has consisted of the establishment and development of a community library, in cooperation with a local private secondary school. It is supported by funds that the author and other supporters raise in the United States and Canada.
Research Design: The research is a case study that follows an action research model. The intervention was initially based on observational research together with consultation with representatives of the community; it was carefully documented from the outset and the findings used to inform the project’s further development.
Data Collection and Analysis: The data consist primarily of the library’s records of members joining, books borrowed, and users’ declared purposes in coming to the building. The written records are supplemented by observations of behavior in the library and interviews with users.
Results: Local responses indicate that there is considerable potential for developing a reading culture in the area. Story books have proved to be most popular, but school textbooks and newspapers are also much in demand. The project has attracted interest from foreign visitors, who have used the library as a base for initiating other development projects.
Conclusions: The Kitengesa experience demonstrates that a community library is a cost-effective way of supporting literacy development and enabling research on literacy practices. It also provides a base for other grassroots development projects. The suggested way forward is to build on this experience by encouraging the growth of similar libraries throughout Uganda.