LIBE 477

Inquiry Project Week 4: Libraries and Literacy in Developing Nations


Research shows that giving children access to books through their school library can mitigate the effects of poverty (Krashen). However, in many developing nations, children don’t have easy access to school or libraries.

When we think about libraries in developing countries, we often think about book drives. However, sending our used books to developing nations isn’t nearly enough to support the information needs of vulnerable populations. Just as our libraries provide access to more than just books, so must the libraries in developing nations. In this post, I discuss some aspects of libraries in developing nations, the influence of mobile devices, and give 5 examples of projects that are working to increase global access to books and information.

Side note: Please stop giving weeded books away to other classrooms, schools, families, or even to book drives for developing nations! If a book has been weeded from a library because it is no longer considered a valuable source of information for its patrons, then why should it be considered appropriate for anyone else? Weeded books should only be given away if they have only been weeded because the library is no longer using every copy on the shelf. Books that have been weeded because they are not culturally sensitive, accurate, in good shape, or up-to-date don’t belong in the hands of learners.

Developing World Libraries

“Access to information and knowledge is a great equalizer. It enriches lives, informs choices, and prepares people for meaningful employment and contribution to their communities.” (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

Libraries empower people. They revitalize and sustain communities, as well as preserve and strengthen democracy, by creating knowledgeable citizens (Wilansky). For people living in developing communities, particularly those with limited internet access, the local public library may be the only provider of new information. They not only increase literacy rates, but help people learn how to use information (Hamilton). “Public libraries, if properly supported, offer their users access to resources which can help improve their economic and social wellbeing” (Hamilton). For example, community members may learn new health and agricultural information, market products to a global world, or even apply for subsidies (Hamilton).

“Libraries should move beyond organizing information to organizing communities.” (Wilansky)

Mobile Devices

“Lack of internet access [has come] to mean lack of opportunity.” (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

Mobile devices have increased the reach of public and school libraries beyond their walls. Patrons can access information from anywhere at anytime, chat with a librarian, or download books on the go. However, it is through this research that I’ve come to realize mobile technology, especially in developing nations, means so much more than just using a cell phone. In these areas, a mobile device may be an affordable media centre, a solar powered wifi hotspot, or even a server that contains important websites.

That’s because providing economic, agricultural, health, and educational information has increasingly become dependent on internet access (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), yet more than half of the world’s population doesn’t have affordable, reliable internet and/or electricity (SolarSPELL). Many of the following projects make use of alternate forms of ‘mobile’ technology to provide internet access to people in resource-restricted or remote areas of the world.

“People in rural and poor communities are the least likely to have online access or the skills to navigate the digital world, making it harder to search for employment, find markets for their crops and products, access government programs, learn new skills, research important health issues, and engage in social interactions with distant family members and friends” (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).

Library Projects in Developing Countries

“After the reading, I notice a student crying. ‘What’s wrong’? I ask. She says, ‘I’ve never seen our culture in a book before. I just thought we weren’t worthy of literature.'” (Jackson & Heath)

The following curation represents just a few of the many programs that strive to increase access to books, the internet, and information around the world.

Libraries Without Borders

Providing tools, resources, training, and facilitators to people in underprivileged areas, they have some innovative ways to reach out. Some of their amazing programs are the Ideas Box (pop-up media centre), KoomBook (solar powered wifi), and French translations of Khan Academy. They even have facilities set up in refugee camps.

Room to Read

Working to reduce illiteracy and equalize education in low income areas, Room to Read works with publishers to create culturally-relevant book collections. They have published over 1,500 books in 35 languages, and anyone can subscribe to the book club.

“Millions of children now have high quality storybooks written in their own language about their own culture – often for the first time ever.”

ALIN’s Maarifa (Knowledge) Centres

These centres provide spaces for people in remote areas of Eastern Africa to access free information and develop their ICT skills. Access to locally important information, like agricultural knowledge and adapting to climate change, increases the quality of life in the area.

eGranary Digital Library by WiderNet

A server loaded with thousands of websites can be set up in developing nations, so students have access to global information from inside institutions that cannot access or afford the internet. In some places, cost of the server is less than one month of internet access. This is particularly used in medical schools across Africa.


The SolarSpell library contains a solar powered library and wifi hotspot, allowing students to access localized, culturally-relevant information in resource-constrained areas. The experience mimics using the internet so students to learn information literacy skills too.

Your Turn

How do you think libraries and mobile devices endeavour to bring the developing world greater and uncensored access to information? Is there a project I’ve left off this list we should know about? Tell me about it in the comments below!



Bibliothèques Sans Frontières. “Meet the Ideas Box: A Library/Media Center ready in 20 minutes!” YouTube, 2014,

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “What We Do: Global Libraries Strategy Overview.”,

Hamilton, Stuart. “Stamping out poverty as well as books? How libraries can support development.” The Guardian, 2013,

Jackson, M., & Heath, M. “Preserving Guam’s culture with culturally responsive children’s stories.” School Psychology International, 2017, 38(5), 458-472.

Krashen, S. “The Power of Reading.” The University of Georgia COE Lecture Series, YouTube, 2012,

Libraries Without Borders.

Room to Read.

Room to Read. “Join the Book Club for a Better World.” YouTube, 2019,


The WiderNet Project. “eGranary Animation.” YouTube, 2015,

WiderNet. “eGranary Digital Library.”

Wilansky, Laura Sue. “Five Lessons for Libraries Looking to Innovate in the 21st Century.” Knight Foundation, 2017,


5 thoughts on “Inquiry Project Week 4: Libraries and Literacy in Developing Nations”

  1. Kristi,
    You are so right that libraries are so much more than books contained within four walls and that they need to expand beyond those walls to keep up with the needs of 21st century patrons.
    I really loved (and laughed at!) your PSA near the beginning about not giving weeded books away. It’s a constant struggle for librarians, especially in schools. People HATE to see books being thrown away, no matter the quality or condition and many librarians I know have joked about having to sneak out weeded books in the dead of night to avoid conflict with other teachers and parents. Gail Dickinson’s analogy of the spoiled milk rings true in this case. If you have a carton of spoiled milk would you keep it because you don’t know when you’ll be able to get more, give it to a neighbour to keep or keep it so that your fridge won’t look empty? Absolutely not! So, we do not keep weeded books because we’re unsure about when we’ll be able to replace them, give them to classroom teachers or other libraries or keep them to make our shelves look full.

    Dickinson, Gail. (2005). “Crying Over Spilled Milk”. Library Media Connection, 23(7), 24-26. Retrieved from


    1. Hi Jen,
      I’d forgotten about that Dickinson article but it’s such a powerful metaphor to help explain why weeded books can’t just be used somewhere else. Thanks for reminding me! I weeded most of my classroom’s nonfiction section this year and was surprised when the janitor offered to remove the weeded items when nobody else was around so there would be no questions. It’s nice to have someone who understands, especially since one of the other teachers came in and asked if I wanted help moving them to somewhere teachers could pick through. I explained why I wasn’t planning to let anyone else have them and showed her a few of the worst examples to make my point. I learned that week to always keep the worst examples available for when people ask, but the spoiled milk metaphor would have helped that week too!


  2. Kristi,

    I appreciate that you keep citing Krashan, he has been one of my language learning heroes over the last few years, although I feel like I have already mentioned this. I completely agree with what you said about weeded books; we did a great event last year where kids brought in books, got tickets, chose new books, and then the librarian found an appropriate home for the “unwanted” ones.

    I found a few of those websites, but not all of them. Thanks for sharing such a wealth of knowledge. I really liked the idea of knowledge centres! As you said, it is important that we have spaces to develop ICT skills.


    1. Hi Lara,
      I love using Krashen because he’s so well-spoken and uses research to back every statement. I find that between Krashen’s videos and Gaiman’s articles, I have all the information I need to convince other teachers and parents to let children choose their own materials (as well as defend my own decisions). You can’t watch his videos or read Gaiman’s articles without feeling passionate about free reading!


  3. Excellent post that captures the big picture and important concepts of what these new libraries, models, materials and objectives represent in our world. You did an exceptional job outlining many useful programs, organizations and innovative solutions for providing access, culturally relevant materials and up to date information. This was a well researched, passionate and expansive post that really captured everything I was hoping for.


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