The Rural Community Library in Africa as a Context for Literacy and Reading

The Rural Community Library in Africa as a Context for Literacy and Reading

Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5043-5.ch002
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The development and use of the rural village library does not happen in a vacuum, and these libraries and their users are impacted by a wide variety of factors including literacy, development of a reading culture, and various social and cultural elements. This chapter provides an overview of these factors within the context of the rural village library.
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The Notion Of Literacy

Most people understand literacy to mean a basic competency in reading and writing, whether in alphabet or character-based communication systems. Indeed, historians sometimes measure literacy by the share of the populations that can affix their hand-written or drawn names to documents such as wills. Reading, literacy and libraries are often referenced simultaneously in the literature. Literacy as a concept is replete with competing ideologies and principles, including power, inclusion, exclusion, religion, human rights, equality, and so on (Street, 1993). A major goal of the rural village library “movement” is to support the development of a reading culture, thus, local literacy practices and events become important in the larger scheme of things. Furthermore, literacy within the African and other contexts is about multiple literacies (Biao, 2011; Parry, 2009; UNESCO, 2004), and this too must be kept in mind. The concept of literacy continues to expand with the changing nature of communications and technology. The word itself is fairly recent (Parry, 1999), but the concept is far from being a modern one. Literacy has long been an area of study for scholars. Havelock (1963) is perhaps best known for his attempts to chart the transition from orality to literacy in ancient Greek culture. Havelock was convinced that the alphabet was responsible for the Greek Enlightenment, the development of Western Civilization, and the development of a “new consciousness” that transcended the “oral mind” (Halverson, 1992, p. 148). Moving forward, De Castell and Luke (1983) suggest that many educators historically viewed literacy as a set of “context-neutral” skills that can be taught to new learners in a systematic and pragmatic way. Typically, these skills were associated with reading and writing. De Castell and Luke challenge this notion, however, suggesting that at no time has literacy been divorced from the surrounding social and cultural context. During the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, early literacy instruction revolved around the ability to read religious works. In what was a particularly Protestant notion, literacy was inextricably linked to the saving of souls; if citizens could read the word of God, they might be saved (Greenblatt, 1983). An individual’s ability to read on their own, “without the necessity of authoritative mediation by a cleric” (De Castell & Luke, 1983, p. 88) was a true advantage in this regard. Comprehension was not emphasized, and it was not uncommon for children to engage in rote repetition and to have this repetition passed off as religious literacy. Later, this same concept could be found in the classic instruction model of the Three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic). De Castell and Luke (1983) summarize how the definition of literacy evolved over the course of three distinct periods: the Classical, the Progressive, and the Technocratic (De Castell & Luke, 1983, p. 90).

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