How Much Does It Cost to Get a Book Read?: Case Study from Burkina Faso

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Book Read?: Case Study from Burkina Faso

Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5043-5.ch008
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This chapter provides an overview of the operational costs and usage patterns of libraries in Burkina Faso that are supported by Friends of African Village Libraries. Data on totals of visits to libraries and book checkouts for lending libraries are summarized. Results of two studies that compare reading patterns in villages with libraries and those without suggest that libraries increase reading substantially. The chapter then presents a breakdown of expenses for operating modest one-room rural libraries, based on a decade’s worth of expense data maintained by FAVL. The usage figures and expense data permit a rough calculation of the cost of getting books read. The calculations suggest that for the young adult reading public in rural Burkina Faso, generating an extra book read each year costs somewhere between $1.50 and $4.00.
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Economic activity increasingly involves manipulating information, managing knowledge bases and fostering creativity. Public officials and donor policymakers must therefore choose between different investments to promote the development of the capacities of people to be more productive and imaginative knowledge workers. Beyond basic schooling there is considerable debate over what kinds of investments are cost-effective in deepening literacy and other skills of the knowledge economy. Policymakers must prioritize competing demands for teacher training, smaller school class sizes, school libraries, art and music programs, field trips, specialized resource teachers, teacher aides, and pre-kindergarten availability. There are many other possible expenditure items and curricular and program reforms that are likely to improve human capital in the long-term.

Access to public libraries and programs to promote reading of fiction and other leisure reading are typically included in the panoply of investments in deep literacy. In rural Africa, however, reading promotion programs are virtually non-existent. Small public libraries have been neglected by policymakers (Issak 2000). They are not generally perceived as a viable option for enabling people to make greater investments in their own literacy skills and knowledge base.

Skeptics of public and donor support for libraries often suggest that libraries will be under-utilized. There is no reading public in rural Africa, they argue. Africa publishers understand firsthand the small size of the market for books. Effective purchasing power is very limited, and for decades the number of books published in many countries declined rather than grew. The expansion of access to alternative sources of entertainment, such as mobile phones, radio and television, further suggests that the prospects are grim for developing a reading culture (Griswold 2000).

Skepticism and neglect of libraries may have been justifiable when schooling enrolment rates were low, especially because many villages lacked schools. But over the past two decades, African countries have made rapid progress in attaining the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary schooling. In a new environment where a very large fraction of the rural population knows how to read and write, even if at a very basic level, the case for supporting public and community libraries deserves renewed attention (Kibandi 2007, Parry 2008).

Moreover, bemoaning the small size of the reading public may be misplaced. Few books are published and sold in African countries because books are much more expensive in Africa, relative to income, than for other countries and time periods. In the United States in the 1880s, for example, abundant timber and cheap energy led to an enormous paper industry that pulped the virgin forests of the newly settled land. The “dime novel” spread rapidly throughout the country. Even a poor laborer could purchase a “dime novel” with less than half a day’s wages. In Burkina Faso in 2013, by contrast, wages in villages are approximately 500 FCFA per day (about one U.S. dollar) while a book costs approximately 3,000 FCFA. In other words, a villager would have to work for six days as opposed to half a day to obtain a book; books are 12 times as expensive relative to income. In the United States in 2013, a $5 paperback book takes less than an hour to obtain at current statutory minimum wage. Relative to income, then, books in the United States in 2013 are on the order of 50 times cheaper than in Burkina Faso. Moreover, developed countries have very large and inexpensive used book markets, books are constantly available at minimal prices in garage sales and community events, public library access is widespread, and most schools are equipped with school libraries.

Access to books, one might argue, creates a reading public. Pessimism about the desire to read in African villages is perhaps unwarranted, given the high cost of books and paucity of community libraries.

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