Beyond Access is an initiative of the Gates Foundation, Irex, EIFL and others, which aims to put public and community libraries on the development agenda. Its first major activity was a conference that took place at the beginning of October in Washington DC, preceded by a camp for teams representing twenty libraries from all over the world, from Bhutan to Uzbekhistan.
Uganda was the only country to have two libraries represented, and FAVL's Kitengesa Community Library was one of them. Our team was comprised of Dan Ahimbisibwe, the Kitengesa librarian, Brenda Musasizi, the coordinator of UgCLA (Uganda Community Libraries Association), and Ssenteza Yusuf, our ally in local government (a professional civil servant who was stationed in Masaka for many years and was enormously helpful when we were buying the land for our new library building). The other library was the National Library of Uganda, with which UgCLA works closely, its Treasurer, Gertrude Kayaga Mulindwa, being the Director of the NLU.
For those of us who work with libraries, the camp was probably the most instructive part of the event. We had an opportunity to showcase our work in the form of a poster--Kitengesa produced two, actually, one focusing on our Library Scholarship scheme, the other on the work of our Women's Group--and were helped to draw up another as part of a competition for five awards of $10,000 each. The Kitengesa library did not win one, alas, but the National Library of Uganda did, for a project providing health information to young pregnant mothers. Other libraries produced other interesting proposals, for a tool lending library in Ethiopia, for instance, and for a project promoting indigenous languages in Brazil. Those didn't get awards either, but our partner group in Kenya, Maria's Libraries, did for a project involving reading with mothers and young children (similar in principle to what we're already doing at Kitengesa, actually, but with more use of technological gizmos). See the Beyond Access website for details. Apart from these activities, we also picked up some useful tips on approaching donors and identifying the outcomes and impacts of our projects. The conference on the third day was less informative for us, reasonably enough, since its main purpose was to inform donor organizations and other potential partners of the importance of what libraries like ours do. Best of all, this camp-plus-conference has resulted in what looks like becoming an ongoing network. I've been getting a flurry of emails from other library teams with questions and comments arising from the event. The main problem will be to keep up with them all.
On a more personal level, it was wonderful to have Dan, Brenda, and Ssenteza here in the US. Dan and Brenda came back to New York with me afterwards, and we had a terrific party for them on the Saturday. We also arranged some sightseeing for them, including visits to several libraries and to the United Nations, the members of whose 1% Cent for Development Fund have been among our greatest supporters. We're all tremendously grateful to Beyond Access and its sponsors for providing us with this opportunity.