Changing Lives in Central America through Access to Information and Literacy

Country Profile: Honduras


8,098,000 (2013)

Official Language


Poverty (Population living on less than 2 US $ per day):

29.8% (2013)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GDP

5.9 (2013)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Enrolment Rate (NIR)

48.6 (2013)

Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years)

Total 97.2% (2015)
Men 96.2%
Female 98.1%

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over)

Total 88.5% (2015)
Men 88.4%
Female 88.5%


UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Programme Overview

Programme TitleChanging Lives in Central America through Access to Information and Literacy
Implementing OrganizationRiecken Foundation
Language of InstructionSpanish, Garifuna, Lencan, Mangue, Miskito, Sumo, Mayan Chorti, Tawahka, Creole and English
FundingThe Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) USAID-MIDEH Project, Riecken’s board of directors, SG Foundation, Peterson Foundation, Strachan Foundation and local municipalities that provide librarians’ salaries and basic services
Programme PartnersThe Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (main partner) and several other small parners
Annual Programme Costs$694,972. Annual programme cost per learner: $2, considering all library users
Date of Inception2000

Country Context

A large number of people in Latin America declare themselves unable to read or write, most of them in the northern triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras). Despite this, Honduras can boast a high literacy rate of 94.98% among young people, due to formal education programmes and a total net enrollment rate for primary education of 94.01%. However, while Honduras has seen its youth illiteracy rate drop, adult literacy, at 85.36%, is falling behind and the educational and cultural reality is characterized by a large number of people who declare that they cannot read or write.

Another challenge is inequality, which is a feature of Honduran society. For instance, it is projected that universal lower secondary education will be achieved in the 2030s for boys and girls from the richest families but almost 100 years later for the poorest boys and girls. In 2011/12, 84 per cent of the richest but only 10 per cent of the poorest boys and girls completed lower secondary school (EFA GMR, 2014). The low quality of education due to poor systems and outreach to rural communities is a particular issue, resulting in high school drop-out rates and wasted talent.

One approach to tackling the issue of literacy in marginalized communities and reaching out to a wide range of people, rich, poor, young and old, is to develop rich literate environments.

A rich literate environment is a public or private milieu with abundant available materials to motivate people to use their reading and writing skills and thus support their further development.

Programme Overview

Founded in 2000, Riecken’s community libraries have succeeded in creating a rich literate environment, by promoting reading and writing practices in 65 different farming communities in Honduras and Guatemala. As there are 53 rural Honduran communities compared to 12 in Guatemala, this case study will focus mainly on Honduras. Over the past decade the communities have embraced their Riecken libraries (named after the organization’s founder Susan Riecken) as public places for the enjoyment of reading and writing. Each library contains more than a thousand books, with free internet connection and local democratic governance. Building a literate environment in these places is helping to develop literate and civicly active people.


Riecken’s approach is to develop modern community libraries with a wider role than more traditional libraries, which are often considered relevant only for children and formal education. All generations are enthused and encouraged to share their love of books, reading and writing.

The organization aims to establish a broadly recognized network of community libraries, transforming communities into groups of active citizens participating in local and national development initiatives.

The community library promotes access to essential knowledge, the development of critical-thinking skills, and a commitment to lifelong learning and self-education by involving people from all social backgrounds. The idea is to encourage a spirit of discovery, further developing people’s ability to try new things, start new projects and participate in the social life of their communities. Reading can be a platform to all those skills as it helps people find solutions to problems or questions and encourages them to be creative.

The libraries offer a variety of reading programmes and literacy courses and engage people from every generation. For example, indigenous elders tell children tales, which are then transcribed and translated into Spanish, to keep alive local traditions and history.


The Riecken Foundation believes that strong, vibrant community libraries can have a positive impact on democratic development in Honduras. Achieving the desired social and democratic impact is, in part, dependent on three conditions: a highly functioning foundation, with an explicit strategic plan; a capable, well-organized and well-managed staff; and strong out-reach and fundraising skills and capacities. If these three conditions are met, the libraries can become part of effective community capacity-building and be educational vehicles that drive informational and technological programming at local levels in ways that increase access and improve computer and other related skills for people of all ages.

Riecken envisions four primary areas of impact: citizen competencies, informational literacy, local development and associative development (Riecken Foundation Strategic Plan 2011–2015). Actions should be taken to achieve both long- and short-term change in these areas.

The organization’s work is underpinned by seven principles, which are to be promoted in the programme:

The libraries, additionally, focus on:

Programme Implementation

Structure and Processes

The libraries have a US-based board of directors, though its president and chief executive are based in Central America, from where they coordinate county directors in Guatemala and Honduras. Riecken’s staff (14 in total) in both countries include programme officers, financial officers and a development officer. This team oversees the libraries through coordination with local volunteer boards in each community and regional supervisors. Each library is managed by volunteer community leaders who, in many cases, have developed with the support of the libraries’ services and programmes.

Some 109 librarians work in the 65 libraries. Their salaries are paid by local government. There are also around 3,548 volunteers working in the libraries (including 352 who started volunteering in 2013) while the boards of trustees comprise 758 people.

Over the years, Riecken has learned from experience that the key to a successful library is strong community governance. Every Riecken library must begin with a board of volunteer trustees drawn from all sectors of the community. This board must be supported (but not controlled) by local government. Trustees take pride in managing the most honest and most respected institutions in their community. In some villages, the mayor’s office has been persuaded to follow the libraries’ practice of posting each month’s ledger on the wall for inspection by any passerby, known as a ‘transparency corner’.


To establish new libraries, the communities themselves must make the initial contact with Riecken. The process of developing a library is as follows:

  1. Community contacts the Riecken Foundation with a formal letter.
  2. Riecken answers this letter, specifying that the community must: organize a commit-tee with different sectors of the community represented, and ensure there is a legally approved site for the exclusive use of a library, as well as funds to cover a librarian’s salary and payment for basic services (water, energy and internet).
  3. Riecken organizes a meeting with all interested parties within the community to share information and clarify the requirements.
  4. Riecken visits the interested community.
  5. If the community satisfies the requirements, Riecken invites a committee to present a proposal to establish the library.
  6. Riecken reviews all the proposals it receives and, after a deep analysis, makes a choice.

Learning Approaches and Methodologies

People who visit the libraries ask for support on different issues and subjects. Librarians and library directors not only know the main needs of their communities but also keep track of these requests. The libraries are a place to meet and discuss ideas and go beyond rote memorization. Methods vary depending on subjects and the partner institutions providing the workshops or courses, but usually the methodology includes lectures with visual aids, group projects and discussions in which participants share different points of view.

The reading programmes and literacy courses, which involve approximately 25 people, are given throughout the year, from January to November. Depending on the course, it could last from three months to one year. The reading programme provides a stepladder of activities for different ages and reading levels to build motivation for reading:

Beneficiaries Activity Description
Parents with children aged 0–5 Emergent childhood literacy

Twice each month the families meet in the ‘children’s corner’ of the library to participate in activities focusing on six techniques for cognitive and physical development. The activities are designed so that parents can replicate them at home.

Children under 10 Story hours, the children’s reading corner

The reading corner is a space children are encouraged to think of as their own. Dynamic story hours include a pre-story activity or game to break the ice within the group, followed by interactive storytelling and an activity that relates to the story’s themes and encourages reflection by the children.

Adolescents ages 10–13 Book clubs

Participants read several chapters of a book during the week, returning to the book club to share their impressions and en-gage in reflective discussion. Young people and adults discuss different aspects of the content, perhaps referring to an article or other material, thus developing their critical thinking skills.

Youth and adults Literacy

Although the foundation does not address literacy directly as a programming objective, space is available for youth and adult literacy programmes, and all the resources in the library can be used by reading groups, by mutual agreement with Honduras’ National Literacy Programme (EDUCATODOS).

Every library organizes its reading programmes on a weekly basis. Story hours take place at least twice a week while the early childhood literacy and book clubs occur at least once a week. Libraries coordinate with local schools and other institutions so that they can benefit as many children as possible. Computer courses are also offered in most libraries. The types of courses on offer depend, in part, on opportunities for collaboration and the grants that are available. For instance, there have already been numerous courses on using the internet, social networking and blogs as means to access and exchange information.

An innovative approach used in Riecken’s community libraries is ‘Bebetecas’ (Libraries for babies). Riecken believes that reading to children from an early age (0–5 years), stimulates the mind, develops language and builds a base to ensure the success of reading in the future. Parents are their children’s first teachers. They need to be provided with tools and activities to promote their children’s reading from an early age and develop a habit that will continue throughout life.

Programme Content

The curriculum is based on the needs of participants, their knowledge and abilities, and guidance from experts on the different subjects to be covered.

Library staff train teachers and provide them with reading materials so that they can engage their students in reading activities. Other topics covered include environmental conservation, cultural traditions, nutrition, digital inclusion, health, economic development, youth development, enthusiasm for reading, stimulating voluntarism, social inclusion and identity. Every library generates different initiatives and topics according to their contexts.

Teaching Material and Facilities

Each library offers free access to information through book collections, computers and internet.


The libraries also use audiovisual material, educational software, and printed materials for courses or workshops, and have published bilingual books (in indigenous languages and Spanish) to be used in story hours and book clubs activities. In Central America, bilingual text books and research materials are virtually unknown in schools and the Riecken libraries try to fill this void.

The bilingual books are developed through a communitarian process. This starts with community elders relating oral traditions in their local Mayan language to children at the library. These stories are recorded, transcribed and translated into Spanish by librarians and volunteers. Illustrations are made by young local artists. Riecken has partnered with a publishing house to guide the structuring of the stories and the illustration process through workshops and seminars.

Most of the libraries also have a teacher’s corner where local teachers participate in discussions about education quality and workshops to improve their creativity in the classroom.

Training and Recruitment of Facilitators

In some cases, facilitators are trained by partnering institutions. For instance, facilitators for the nutrition component of the reading programmes were trained for free by the Institute for Nutrition in Central America and Panama. Riecken also conducts two or three training sessions for librarians each year to strengthen their abilities to deliver the reading pro-grammes. In 2013, all 109 librarians and 301 volunteers were trained in leadership, advocacy, technology or reading for pleasure.

Riecken never uses money as an incentive. People give their time freely because they value the activity. They get the opportunity for personal exchange among libraries and to attend annual meetings with a representative of the volunteers, as well as receiving small gifts such as t-shirts and cups with the Riecken logo. The economic value of the volunteers is estimated to be $613,095 per year (on the basis of a minimum wage of $1.2 per hour and an average of three hours of work each week per person).

Outreach to Learners and Users

As a central literate environment, located within the community, the libraries naturally at-tract a lot of people and, through word of mouth, reach even more. It is expected that the translation of Mayan tales will encourage more indigenous people to become an active part in the life of the libraries. Riecken also runs technology programmes that, for example, train youth groups to replicate what they learn with other groups, thus multiplying knowledge and community impact.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Communication by phone or email, and community visits, are regularly undertaken by Riecken to discuss the progress of each library in terms of the different programmes, activities, collaborations, beneficiaries and sustainability issues. During the visits, volunteers and local officials share their needs and ideas to develop solutions and to source local and inter-national opportunities for support. Riecken internally performs regular health checks of all 65 network libraries, in order to evaluate the management, administrative and programmatic strengths of each library and the network as a whole.

After training, each participant fills out a post-training/programme evaluation form. These forms will be distributed after any Riecken-sponsored training or workshop to assess the quality and utility of the activity, and which aspects of the activity can be improved in the future.


2007 2012
Attendance by gender: female 52% 56%
Attendance by gender: male 48% 44%
Almost daily library users 37% 25%
Users who do homework at the library 70% 66%
Users who who come to use computers 45% 36%
Students using the library 73% 76%
Primary school students 37% 38%
Monthly incomes below $100 42% 44%

In 2012, Riecken contracted the services of an outside consulting firm to help establish permanent short-, mid-, and long-term monitoring and evaluation tools. The purpose of the planning, monitoring and evaluation system (PM&E) developed for the Riecken Foundation is to enhance Riecken’s capacity to collect, analyse and learn from data about its own capacity and programmes as well as about the capacity and programmes of the community libraries that it seeks to strengthen.

Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

An independent Fulbright impact study of the libraries was conducted in 2007 and updated in 2012, using the following participatory processes:

  1. Surveys conducted in 40 libraries: nine in Guatemala and 31 in Honduras, a sample of 63 per cent of Riecken libraries, with more than 9,000 users participating.
  2. Focus groups with library managers and foundation staff.
  3. Perception interviews among library users, volunteers, librarians, members of civil society, and local organizations.

The study’s conclusion’s affirmed two main hypotheses:

  1. Riecken libraries have introduced a new and inclusive model of community libraries in the rural communities of Guatemala and Honduras.
  2. Access to information and interaction with local citizens favors the generation of so-cial capital among library users and library staff.

A striking finding was the increase in reading and the decline in television viewing. Children in library communities also spend more time doing homework. Many respondents shared how young people went on to new sources of employment and education, motivated by the library resources and by the impacts of programmes and courses.

Improvements in Literacy Skills

The libraries transformed perceptions of reading, viewed by many as an unpleasant activity, to generate a reading habit based on a love for books and stories. Nowadays, children come voluntarily to the children’s corner in the libraries to hear a story hour and to pick up books to read. These story hours are also given in the communities’ local Mayan language, another way in which the libraries help to promote intercultural bilingual education.


Eva Rodezno (Santa Cruz de Yojoa, Cortés), volunteer: ‘In my volunteer work I would most emphasize the pleasure of being able to serve others. There is also the recognition and credibility that we have earned as a board, both among other institutions and among the general population. And I’ve been learning more and more every day from our users.’

Iris Yamileth Hernández (New Vision Library Guacamaya, El Progreso, Yoro), librarian: ‘When I was a child (…) unfortunately I could not continue my studies for lack of economic resources. I would have loved to study business administration. I was part of the support committee of the library. When it came time to choose a librarian I never thought they would recruit me, since I have no higher education. I remember that someone on the board said that I was not prepared for the job. Those words hurt, but he was right; I was not pre-pared for anything like that. The other board members said I should accept the post, that the Riecken Foundation would provide my training; and those words encouraged me to accept this position. The first few days were crazy, taking questions from users who were thrilled to have a library with so many free services. I learn a lot from the people who visit us. The books have been a real treasure for me, and through them I gained a lot of knowledge. Being in the library has let me know different places and people and to make new friends.’


Margarita Escoto (San Luis, Comayagua), parent: ‘My daughter participated in Zone X (a youth book club), where she learned to act as a leader. Now that she is in college, she says that what she learned in Zone X has helped her a lot in her classes. You feel secure speaking in public and you can handle the computer well from computer skills learned in the library.’

Miguel Paz Barahona (Veneranda Maradiaga), school director: ‘Reading stories not only supports my Spanish lessons but also during recess, since children enjoy this free time reading.’

11-year-old user (San Francisco Cones, Ocotepeque): ‘In the library I learned to read faster and say the words better. My family says that the library is a big help.’

Rosalinda Tay (San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala), adult user: ‘I go to the library whenever I have time. I feel welcome and get help whenever I need it. For example, a customer asked me for photos of my hats, which I did not have. Then I took some hats to the library and asked for help. When they took the photos I sent them by email to my customer, as before I had already learned in the library how to send emails .’


Lessons Learned



Before a new library can be established, local agreements between Riecken, local government and the community are signed to ensure sustainability. Local governments agree to cover the librarians’ salaries and services, while the communities form a volunteer board that oversees its management and seeks outside partnerships. Riecken provides all initial construction, books, technology and equipment. Many library board members are local teachers. The foundation also supports the network by providing training to librarians, board members and volunteers, as well as by seeking external partners to sustain the work in the communities. Libraries make partnerships with local schools and health centres, among others, by offering space to hold development activities to benefit communities. Since 2000, the Riecken community libraries network and model has grown to 65 community libraries across Guatemala and Honduras.

The model has been replicated by several organizations that have come to Riecken for guidance in implementing it in the communities they serve. In Guatemala, the USAID classroom reform programme has, with Riecken’s guidance, replicated the model in 12 different communities in two years. In Honduras, Riecken participated in an educational project financed by AIR/USAID, ‘Reading takes you far!’. The USAID-funded Improving Student Achievement Project (MIDEH 2011–2016), implemented by the American Institutes for Research, aimed to support community library reading programmes in Honduras in order to strengthen primary school students’ ability to meet national standards in Spanish, improve reading skills for first- to sixth-grade students, and improve community capacity to monitor education and advocate for educational quality. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has shown interest in replicating the model in other Central American countries.

External partners have approached Riecken to continue funding its cost-effective and easily replicable community library model by expanding the existing network in Central America and other countries. The Riecken Foundation has also been invited to join the steering committee of the Beyond Access Campaign, a global programme developed to advocate for the contribution of public libraries to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. For the time being, Riecken’s focus is on strengthening the current library network in Honduras and Guatemala, rather than on building new libraries.



William Cartwright
President, Riecken Community Libraries

Paco Alcaide Canata
Regional Manager, Riecken Community Libraries
La Fundación Riecken
Apartado Postal #1088
Colonia Ruben Dario
Calle Venecia, 2216
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Tel: +504-2235-9927

Last update: 30 September 2015