February 17, 2018

Academic Movers 2015: In Depth with Hosea Tokwe

Hosea TokweIn our most recent 2015 In-Depth Interview with Library Journal Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, sponsored by SAGE, we spoke with Hosea Tokwe. In 2007 Tokwe, at the time a senior library assistant at Midlands State University (MSU) in Kweru, Zimbabwe, was given two boxes of books bound for the Matenda Primary School in rural Zimbabwe, donated by former students. The difficulties he encountered in simply getting the books to Matenda inspired him to singlehandedly establish a library at the school—no small task, as Zimbabwe was in the midst of ongoing political and social unrest and his first forays into the rural community were met with mistrust. But Tokwe prevailed, convincing the school to convert a classroom into its first library in 2008, and—in addition to serving as chief library assistant in MSU’s special collections department—he has continued to work with outside groups to continue to fill its shelves ever since.

LJ: What convinced you to take on the task of creating a library for the Matenda school?

Hosea Tokwe: The passion, desire, and determination to ensure that the socially excluded rural child has access to books to improve their educational achievement.

You describe the Matenda community as greeting you with suspicion at first. What did you do to win people over so that you could move forward with the library?

When you are new to a remote rural place you are a total stranger to the people. The day I arrived at Matenda School, I first engaged the Deputy Headmaster by identifying myself by name, the institution I was coming from, and the purpose of my visit. This motivated the Deputy Head to invite all the school teachers to hear what I had to say. It was after convincing them and assuring them that that they would have a library, and then buying them a crate of soft drinks, that one teacher stood up to confess that [he thought] all along I might have been…a political agent out to [make] trouble [for them].

SAGE Research Methods Datasets

In this interview series, sponsored by SAGELJ goes in depth with the 2015 Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, delving into just how and why they pulled off the projects that brought them recognition as innovators, change agents, and more. For a deeper dive into what made our 2014 Academic Movers so exceptional, download our 20-page collection of insightful interviews.

As you build the library and work with the school, do you think the community will continue to be supportive or resistant? What will you need to do to move the process forward?

I cannot foresee any resistance. Opportunities are wide open now as I continue to provide the school with books…but juggling work and volunteerism is a bit of a strain. I find it hard to sustain the school library without local and international support [and] educational and financial assistance. I have managed to convince the local leadership to take up the library as [an institution] that will transform the lives of the local community through their children. Continuous dialoging will enable me to use my skills to go forward.

You brought in a wide range of people to help you, from the school development committee to Matenda’s chief and headmen to local carpenters. What kinds of messages did you use for different types of stakeholders?

My message to all stakeholders remained the same: the school library [belongs to them], that is, [it is] part and parcel of their community that [will] impact their economic and social lives.

What did you learn about achieving buy-in from community members at different levels, and what would you tell someone in your position if you had to offer advice?

Lessons learnt were that when you engage the community, you go native; here I am looking it at from the sociology phenomenological point of view. When you engage a community, try to accommodate their views, wishes, and ideas and incorporate them into your plans; and assure them all that once the ideas and suggestions are implemented they are all invited to celebrate the achievement.

At the moment, some 60 percent of the school’s students passing the annual exams are boys. Do you think you will be able to bring in more girls? What needs to happen for that to change?

Already because of some of the materials that I have brought to the school library, the school has come [up] with a club called GEM (Girl Education Movement), which encourages girls to speak up loud about such issues as sexual abuse and [their] right to education, and to have confidence that they can even perform better than boys in school. This club will bring more girls and lead to [their] better performance in school.

You serve as treasurer of The Zimbabwe Library Association (ZIMLA)—could you tell LJ readers more about it?

The Zimbabwe Library Association dates back to 1947. It assumed the name ZIMLA in 1980.

ZIMLA National Executive Council is made up of the president, vice president, secretary general, treasurer, editor, and advocacy officer. It has five branches: in Mashonaland, Matebeleland, Midlands, Manicaland, and Masvingo. Membership is drawn from individual librarians, records officers, etc., as well as schools and institutions. In brief, ZIMLA brings together library professionals from all types of libraries, documentation centers, records centers, and archival and information service providers in Zimbabwe. The major thrust of ZIMLA is to foster cooperation among information practitioners, academics, students, and other interested persons. Further, we endeavor to enhance professional development and training in state-of-the-art and good practices in the LIS profession, and to equip professionals with new skills to retool and to improve existing skills and knowledge.

ZIMLA was largely dormant for many years, and you were a driving force behind its revival. How did you build it back up?

In 2009, after the National Library and Documentation Service Annual Conference was held at Wise Owl Hotel in Mutare, Zimbabwe…I was one of those nominated from the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe to be part of the National Steering Committee (NSC), and we held meetings at Great Zimbabwe Hotel, where we eventually held the 2010 ZIMLA Conference.

The first Conference in 2010, after the revival, was successful, though we failed to secure funding from the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) at the very last moment. We held successful ZIMLA Conferences in 2012, 2013, 2014, and most recently 2015. Next year, 2016, will be celebrating our 50th Anniversary, and this one will be very different because…the awards should take center stage—[they] will [recognize] exhibitors who have supported us, librarians who have made ZIMLA visible and local librarians who have been recognized internationally, as well as ZIMLA branches that have contributed by recruiting more members. Of course, we will be [looking] for funding both locally and internationally to make this conference the most memorable ever.

What do you have planned next?

Recently, I attended the 44th International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) 2015 Conference, at Maastricht, the Netherlands, and presented a paper on the Matenda School Library Project. I was presented with the Books for Children Award, and I will be going to present books to the Matenda School in the future. However, this I cannot do alone. I need both material and financial support to be able to sustain the school library: more modern shelves, tables and chairs, library book organizing tools [such as] a set of the Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme, the very latest edition. With this I will be able to train local teachers to classify and catalog the books and neatly arrange them. I want the Matenda School Library to be an ideal library, and a good model for the Matenda community and other surrounding schools.

What three tips would you give to people who want to be Movers & Shakers?

  1. Be hardworking and honest.
  2. Have a kind heart and determination to succeed.
  3. Be a volunteer who has the thirst to provide information freely.
Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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