Innovative library services for vulnerable children and youth

Country Profile: Zambia



Programme Overview

Programme TitleInnovative library services for vulnerable children and youth
Implementing OrganizationLubuto Library Project, Inc. (LLP)
Language of InstructionBemba, Nyanja, Lozi, Tonga, Kaonde, Luvale, Lunda, English
FundingWorld Vision through the multi-donor All Children Reading Programme, Comic Relief, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), private sector and individual donors.
Programme PartnersZambia Library Service, Fountain of Hope, Matantala Rural Integrated Development Enterprise
Annual Programme Costs$232,315 (In 2012)
Date of Inception2005

Country Context and Background

According to the EFA Global Monitoring Report (2014) though Zambia is close to achieving the universal access to primary school target of 97%, the quality of education is still a big concern for the country. According to the previous report, in Zambia 91% of children aged 7 to 8 are not able to read a word in Bemba, the language of instruction (Collins et al., 2012). These results are owing to the low investment in education, which constitutes an obstacle to the provision of qualified teachers and learning materials. There is only one mathematics textbook for each 3.5 second-graders (UIS, 2012). If Zambia seeks to ensure that all children are attending school and also learning, it should consider reducing class size, spending more on classroom and learning materials and obtaining more teachers (EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2014). Even if the country had done an effort to prevent teachers’ absenteeism, as a better access to treatment and allowances for HIV-positive teachers, Zambia needs to increase its expenditure on education 35% in order to hire additional primary school teachers (Chetty and Khonyongwa, 2008; UNESCO and Education International EFAIDS, 2007). Adult education is also a challenge since less than half of women aged 15 to 24 had completed lower secondary school in 2007, compared with its neighboring country Zimbabwe where 75% of women of the same age had done it, allowing Zimbabwe to decline four times faster its HIV infection rate than Zambia (Halperin et al., 2011). People of working age with disabilities are the most disadvantaged as only 43% completed primary school, whilst 57% of those with no disabilities have been able to do it.

Programme Implementation


In order to address education quality, the Lubuto Library Project (LLP) provides quality educational opportunities for children and youth in Zambia through open-access libraries with carefully crafted book collections and holistic educational, cultural and community programmes. Established in 2005, the Lubuto Library Project has built three public libraries that are free and open to the public, but are designed for children, and spefically target children excluded from formal education, including youth living on the streets and children in extreme and desperate poverty. In 2013, the two established Lubuto Libraries received more than 80.000 visits.

The Lubuto Library Project (LLP) was founded and is supported by dedicated professional librarians, who work diligently to provide comprehensive and relevant book collections and ensure the Lubuto Libraries serve as cultural, educational and social hubs for young people. Each Lubuto Library is owned and managed together with a local partner organization that shapes how the Lubuto Library will fit into their community. These partnerships dramatically increase LLP’s capability to reach severely disadvantaged youth and expand our model across the country in a sustainable, locally owned way. Each library host is responsible for staffing and managing their library, while the Lubuto Library Project takes responsibility for training staff and providing professional development. Staff and volunteers are typically local librarians, teachers and even adults who grew up on the streets, benefited from Lubuto Library services and have returned to give back to the children visiting the library today.

Lubuto Libraries are an ideal platform for a wide variety of programs and draw on library collections and are purposefully linked to be mutually reinforcing and taken into consideration education, emotional and social development from early childhood into the transition to adulthood. These activities are:

LubutoStorytime: Reading and read-aloud sessions, essential components for literacy development, are carried out daily by library staff , teachers, regular volunteers and library visitors, as well as by and among the children and adolescents themselves.Storytelling, which draws from Zambia’s oral culture and is a traditional method of early childhood education, is also a vital aspect of this programme. Stories, enacted at library openings and storytelling events, can be told in any language.

LubutoMentoring: addresses the psychosocial support and life skills training needs of vulnerable youth by teaching values and offering counselling and guidance in the Lubuto Libraries. Sessions are conducted in Zambian languages and combine group discussion with storytelling, a traditional way that values are passed on through generations, directly connecting young people to their roots and society.

LubutoArts: is a weekly visual arts training programme that serves as a means of communication and self-expression for young people. Participants develop their talents and have exhibited and sold their artwork in Zambia and internationally.

LubutoDrama: Lubuto Libraries offer a twice-weekly performing arts programme of drama, improvisation, and adapting books and stories for performance

LubutoLaptops: A popular Lubuto Library programme since February 2009, Lubuto Libraries provide access to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO laptops for children to build writing, typing and logical skills through technology.

LubutoLiteracy: Children learn to read most effectively when they are taught in their mother tongues. In partnership with the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education (MESVTEE), Zambian literacy experts adapted reading lessons from the Government curriculum in the seven major Zambian languages and talented young people of Lubuto Libraries were contracted to create 100 computer-based reading lessons in each language – 700 lessons in total. The open-source lessons were created on Lubuto’s OLPC laptops (One laptop per child) as a pilot, but have now been reinvented for a more versatile HTML5 platform.

Lubuto’s programme is also signficiant for its strong ties to Zambia and Zambia’s heritage and languages. Along with the LubutoLiteracy Lessons, Lubuto Libraries aim to collect 100% of what is written for children in Zambian languages, and have compiled a digital repository of out-of-print Zambian stories at, preserving important literary heritage for future generations.

Source: Lubuto Library Project. 2013. *Empowering youth through integrated library programming.*

Source: Lubuto Library Project. 2013. Empowering youth through integrated library programming.

Use of ICT

Source: Lubuto Library Project. 2013. *Zambian teaching and learning materials for the digital age.*

Source: Lubuto Library Project. 2013. Zambian teaching and learning materials for the digital age.

The structure of the Lubuto Libraries themselves is the foundation for all of these innovative programmes. Our libraries are designed to reflect traditional Zambian architecture and preserve and restore the culture and lauguages of Zambia. Following the traditional pattern of home-steads in Zambia, with outside seating and spaces between the buildings also creating a forum for performances and social gathering. The largest building, the Reading Room, houses the book collection and features reading alcoves and a central “talking circle” for reading, teaching, storytelling, group activities and performing. The Arts and Activities building accommodate the visual arts programme, computers, and writing activities. The entrance insaka , a gazebo-like structure traditionally used for social gatherings, features a sink where users can wash their hands before entering the other buildings, and also serves as a meeting and communication space that is ideal for drama and storytelling.

Source: Lubuto Library Project. 2013. *Empowering youth through integrated library programming.*

Source: Lubuto Library Project. 2013. Empowering youth through integrated library programming.

Aims and Objectives

The main objective of the Lubuto Library Project is to provide vulnerable youth an opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills that will reconnect them with their culture and community, and empower them to participate fully in society. To achieve this, specific objectives include:

Recruitment and Training of Library Staff and Volunteers

Each Lubuto Library is hosted and operated by a partner organization already serving children and youth. The hosts agree, through a Memorandum of Understanding, to provide and support the individuals who staff the libraries, and it is the Lubuto Library Project’s responsibility to provide initial and ongoing inservice training to the staff. Each library has a minimum of 3 full-time staff, and Lubuto assists with recruiting and training volunteers and assistants to additionally support library operations. The number of volunteers at any oe library varies, but there are usually several volunteers working with each library at any given time. In addition to host organization partners, (of which there are three as of July 2014), Lubuto partners with other organizations whose staff or volunteers offer enrichment programs at the libraries. Lubuto’s drama and art programs are supported through partnerships with two local arts organizations. A partnership with another education-focused NGO provides a regular supply of volunteers to read aloud to children or monitor computer use.

The Department of Library Studies at the University of Zambia sends students on attachment to the libraries to learn about children’s library services. Lubuto works with this department to help them develop formal training in children/teen services which hasn’t existed. The first initiative resulted in a one-year posting to the department of a Fulbright professor with a children’s services specialization. Now Lubuto’s experts are working with them to develop a short course in children’s and Lubuto library services to provide formal education to future Lubuto librarians.

Enrolment of Participants

Outreach is a central component of the Lubuto Library Project programme. Lubuto targets orphans and vulnerable children and youth living in Zambia, and works hard to ensure there are no barriers between among youth in the library. Lubuto staff go out on to the streets of Lusaka regularly (over 100 times in 2013 alone) for storytime and music sessions, extending our work beyond the library walls and inviting all to the libraries. Drama and special holiday programs also bring in audiences of hundreds of children who continue to visit the library afterwards. Once children see all that is on offer in the libraries they enthusiastically join in and return again and again, bringing their friends along as well. The libraries and their programs are nearly always filled to capacity.

Monitoring and Evaluation

In order to ensure Lubuto Libraries have as few barriers for youth to enter as possible, our public libraries are not like schools and do not require children to register, enroll, or pay fees to use them. As a result, we do not keep a lot of data on each individual user of our libraries. Instead, LLP collects information about how many visits the libraries get, participation in our programs, and the feedback and stories of youth who have been visiting our libraries for years and take on leadership responsibilities in their upkeep. Some tools are used to ensure the data collected are consistent and accurate, such as:

  1. Beneficiary information sheet to capture age, gender, schooling status, living situation, etc. which is updated annually.
  2. Beneficiary observation sheet to capture observations about individual children and young people completed by librarians and library supervisors.
  3. Library observation sheet to capture how the libraries and their collections are being used.
  4. Programme tracking sheets for each individual programme (e.g. LubutoArts, LubutoMentor-ing).
  5. Laptop use log to track use of the OLPC laptops and LubutoLiteracy lessons.
  6. Referral forms including a school referral form for tracking individual children and young people assisted to enroll, re-enroll or get remedial assistance at school, and a social service referral form for tracking individual children and young people referred to other needed services.
  7. Qualitative tools including group discussions to gather feedback from key stakeholders, such as parents/caregivers, teachers and school officials, government representatives and civil society partners. 9.In 2013, an external, formative evalution was conducted of the Lubuto Library project was conducted by a South African organization called Rights2Change. The evaluation largely focused on Lubuto staff structure and partner organizations, but also included many in-depth interviews with library beneficiaries. The evaluation states, “All beneficiaries who took part in the formative evaluation study related positive changes they had experienced from attending the programs at the libraries. Changes had also been observed by community members, parents and teachers.” The study concluded that “It is clear from the findings that the Lubuto libraries are effective in leading to positive change experiences for beneficiaries.“

Programme Impact and Challenges

Lubuto faces challenges when replicating our model across Zambia, where necessary infrastructure is not always available. Our Lubuto Libraries still do not have regular internet connectivity which limits the services and resources they can offer. Managing construction for our third library, in rural Nabukuyu, has required frequent transportation to and from Lusaka, and since most future Lubuto libraries are envisioned for rural areas, the distance from the capitol city increases construction costs. Lubuto wants to expand the training and support we offer to library staff, volunteers and teachers, while raising overall awareness throughout Southern Africa about the role public libraries can play in international development. Uneven donor support causes planning challenges for a small organization like Lubuto, though recent strong endorsement by Government is attracting new private- and public sector interest.

While many achievements are ongoing, Lubuto Libraries continue to make a tremendous impact on the youth who visit them. Based on the interviews conducted with 130 children and young people in 2012, LLP programmes have been refined. 100% of respondents cited at least one positive change they have experienced since they began visiting Lubuto Libraries, while 87% gave very positive and lengthy explanations about the immense impact of Lubuto Libraries on their lives. Children and young people confirmed they had improved reading skills (most common response) increased confidence, developed social skills, avoiding bad company, reduced hours in front of the TV, and improved classroom performance. Focus groups with their parents and caregivers have corroborated these findings. Many of these children and young people, who started using Lubuto Libraries years ago, are now young adults who have become LLP volunteers to help new generations.

Schools, which are close to the Lubuto libraries, have also benefitted from LLP as they can bring their classes and use the resources to supplement classroom teaching. In fact, LLP actively reaches out to teachers and school managers to encourage them to use the libraries and give them ideas about how the libraries can support their work. This activity was spearheaded by Lubuto’s Library Services Advisor, who has instituted formal orientation and training sessions for teachers in which they are introduced to library books and computer resources that support the curriculum. Teachers are especially receptive to the LubutoLiteracy lessons to supplement their classroom work in teaching reading in children’s mother tongues. The community benefits from events and activities of the libraries such as public drama performances as well.

LLP has also supported the library profession in Zambia offering placements in Lubuto Libraries to students from University of Zambia (UNZA) who can learn about library services for children and youth.

All of the above impacts have helped to revitalize existing library services and raised the visibility of the Zambia Library Services (ZLS) ZLS and the Ministry’s efforts to improve the quality of education in Zambia. In 2012, the two Lubuto Libraries received about 100,000 visits, with an additional 1,000 children taking part in LLP’s structured programmes, such as LubutoDrama, LubutoArts, and LubutoMentoring.


Source: Lubuto Library Project. 2014. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 March 2014]

Source: Lubuto Library Project. 2014. Available at: [Accessed 27 March 2014]

“In all the Lubuto programmes, we learn about life skills and how to make good decisions. I started reflecting about my life.”

Female programme participant, age 15

“I have learned a lot about positive attitude. I used to do bad things... I never used to listen to anyone advising me due to peer pressure. Now, I have changed for the best.”

Beneficiary at the Ngwerere Lubuto Library

Lessons learned

Over the years, Lubuto leadership and staff have learned a great deal about what works and what we need to do to accomplish outcomes like these. We’ve learned to draw on local expertise and technology. Lubuto has learned that many internationally donated resources (like laptops) don’t have the same sustainability and flexibility as those provided by local ICT institutions. Lubuto has continue to modify the design of our libraries to fit with the needs of visitors. Our third library in Nabukuyu is the first to have a fourth building for teens and teen library services, drawing on our observations that older library users would like their own space to enjoy books, programs, and for socialization.

Lubuto has also learned how to best choose and work with the organizatios who host Lubuto Libraries. While many excellent organizations and institutions across Zambia express interest in a Lubuto Library, many are not willing to open the libraries up to the public. Because the reach and accessibility of our libraries is essention to the Lubuto model, Lubuto has learned to seek out strong host organizations deeply roote in their communities with commitement to our mission of opportuntiteis like thse for all children.


In 2012, LLP was awarded a grant under the “All Children Reading” programme (an initiative of USAID, AusAID and World Vision, see to spread out the programme at national level and in other African countries. In 2014, with the support of Comic Relief and ZLS , a third Lubuto Library will be opened in Zambia’s Southern Province which seeks to reach the most disadvantaged children, young people and communities who have limited access to electricity and internet and typically do not benefit from “technology”-supported projects. Our local library host organizations,ocal partners, Fountain of Hope, the Ministry of Education and Matantala Rural Integrated Development Enterprise have povide the resources that support low-cost, continuing operations, and help ensure sustainability. Our future library hosts will do the same.

When constructing the libraries, LLP uses locally-sourced labor and materials, to keep the architectural model of Zambia, making libraries very cost-effective which do not need much maintenance. Partnership with the MESTVTEE and ZLS introduces also a strong element of long-term institutional sustainability to Lubuto Libraries as ZLS has the mandate and organizational framework in place to provide library services nationally, and Lubuto Libraries will both benefit from and strengthen these. In addition, coordination between Lubuto Libraries and government plans, standards, and programmes ensures efficiency and relevance, and recognizes that government support is essential to sustainability. Interest in the model from other countries in the region (particularly Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe) has been steadily growing in recent years, and LLP receives a constant flow of requests from individuals and institutions within and beyond Zambia to support the establishment of Lubuto Libraries in their communities.


Contact details

Name of contact person: Ms Stacy Langner
Job Title/Possition: Regional Director
Full Address: Plot No. 3B/25/377A/2 off Roan Road, Kabulonga, Lusaka
Country: Zambia
Telephone/Fax: +260-211-267418
E-mail: stacy (at)
Web site: