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The Riecken Foundation's Honduras field office is headed by former Peace Corps volunteer Matthew Colburn
The Riecken Foundation's Honduras field office is headed by former Peace Corps volunteer Matthew Colburn
Las Pilas, Yoro, Honduras
The mission of the Riecken Foundation is to promote the discovery of ideas and resources in isolated Latin American communities by supporting the construction and operation of public libraries.
The global economy is spreading new economic and cultural opportunities to cities throughout the world, yet these opportunities seldom cross geographic and socio-economic divisions to reach outlying areas. Riecken libraries will expand access to information so that more people can explore new possibilities.
We expect to discover rather than determine how each community will use its library. We envision a lively, welcoming place that all members of the community have reason to visit ? to read a novel, attend a class, research competitive crop prices, enjoy a children?s book, watch an educational video, organize business or artisan cooperatives, send e-mail and digital pictures, or hold community meetings. Riecken libraries will be a place for people to discover what they may. We hope that library visitors will learn more about the world around them and use this knowledge to expand their opportunities. Top
The Riecken Foundation was founded and endowed by Susan Riecken and Allen Andersson in 2000. The Riecken Foundation (rhymes with ?beacon?) is named for Susan?s parents, and the entire family participates in its work. Allen taught mathematics in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1967-68 before embarking on a career as a software entrepreneur. He now serves as president of the foundation, and Susan is on the board of directors.
The Riecken Foundation is managed by Co-Directors Meredith Bellows and Karen Berelowitz in Washington, DC. Before joining the foundation, Meredith was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, and Karen worked with social development projects in Mexico and Central America. Our Honduras field office is headed by former Peace Corps volunteer Matthew Colburn and our Guatemala field office is scheduled to open in 2003. Top
The Riecken Foundation is a non-profit operating foundation dedicated to building public community libraries. We (1) finance a large portion of the costs of constructing or renovating a library; (2) supply books, computers, audio-visual equipment, and other materials chosen by the community; and (3) provide extensive and ongoing training for local librarians and other community members. We currently support projects in Guatemala and Honduras. While we believe that self-sustainability is key to the success of Riecken libraries, we do not specify completion dates for our projects and expect to continue working with communities to refurbish books, maintain computers, and continue training.
We do not support private or school libraries or those with closed stacks, membership requirements, or fees for use, nor do we give grants or fund individual requests for books or computers. Top
Communities Eligible for Riecken Libraries
Tajumulco, San Marcos, Guatemala
We support libraries in a variety of community types, from remote villages with a few hundred residents to towns with populations of over 10,000. We work in places both with and without existing libraries. We require that each community provide:
- A community commitee
- The land or building for the library
- The librarian salary
We require the community to create or designate a well-rounded local committee to manage the library project, as we do not work through any government, private, or academic institutions. The committee must include representatives from a broad range of groups such as schools, cooperatives, local businesses, parent associations, government entities, etc. In some cases a new committee is formed to manage the project, while in others, an existing group will assume this role.
The community is responsible for providing land or a building, and must show that the space is legally designated for the sole use of the library. While the Riecken Foundation covers a large portion of the cost of construction and furniture, we expect communities to contribute materials and labor. Often community members will volunteer their time to assist with construction, which can give future library users a strong sense of ownership once the library is open. The percentage of costs assumed by the community varies in each case.
Communities are responsible for paying the salary of the librarian(s) and the library's monthly expenses, such as electricity bills and cleaning costs. We do not fund these annual operating costs because we want libraries to develop methods to ensure financial self-sustainability over the long-term. Our training workshops include ideas for fundraising so that libraries can pay operating costs without charging restrictive fees. Top
Roles and Responsibilities
The Library Committee
The committee is responsible for submitting a proposal to the Riecken Foundation detailing the library's design and budget. After we approve the proposal, the committee is in charge of managing funds, working with the community to procure materials, and overseeing construction. The committee does not receive funding for books, computers, and equipment; rather, we send these directly (see below). Once the library is open, the committee maintains responsibility for its continued operation, including ensuring payment of monthly expenses, overseeing library policies, and maintaining contact with the Riecken Foundation.
Community members in Concepcion de Maria, Choluteca, Honduras gather rocks and sand for the library's foundation.
The Riecken Foundation
Once we approve a proposal, we prepare and sign a contract with the committee. We then transmit funding in three phases, with each disbursement dependent upon the receipt and approval of a detailed expense report from the committee. When the building is complete, we purchase (locally in most cases) and transport books, computers, and equipment. We provide extensive and ongoing training to local librarians and other community members both before and after the library opens (see training section below). Finally, we carry out ongoing monitoring and evaluation activities to assess the impact of the libraries, and to improve current and future projects.
The extent of the relationship between the Riecken Foundation, the committee, and the local government varies with each community. In most cases, the mayor will co-sign the contract agreeing to donate the land or building for the library, and/or to pay the salary of the librarian(s). The municipality's support of and involvement in the library project strengthens the long-term sustainability of the libraries. However, we do not want political uncertainties or personnel changes to delay or affect the libraries, and thus we do not require an explicit relationship with the local government. Top
Books and Equipment for the Libraries
The Riecken Foundation has developed an initial collection of 1,000 books to provide to new libraries. About half of the collection is made up of children's books, while the remainder include novels, poetry, reference materials, and a selection of books on topics such as farming, health, sports, sex education, history, indigenous culture, business, etc. Existing libraries receive anywhere from half to all of the collection depending on their needs. In addition, there are periodic opportunities for each library to expand its collection by selecting new books funded by the Riecken Foundation.
We supply Riecken libraries with three computers and a set of CD-ROMs; electronic equipment such as a digital camera, telephone, and radio; and additional materials requested by the community. We are also investigating the most viable methods of setting up and supporting dial-up or satellite Internet connections. Top
The Training Program
Librarian Training Workshop
One of the integral components of our library project is a training program to prepare community members to manage a public library. We work closely with the World Library Partnership (WLP), which has extensive experience training rural librarians. Training workshops are hands-on, using non-formal education techniques, and provide participants with the opportunity to practice their new skills. Trainers include professional facilitators, local experts, and international volunteers. Ongoing technical workshops and in-site training are also organized on a regular basis.
We have found that our most vibrant libraries are those that are supported by an active library committee. Therefore, we invite up to four committee members to accompany the librarian to the training workshops. The participants can help the librarian share the training content with other committee members, provide the librarian with a local support network, and assume librarian responsibilities if necessary.
The training program aims to provide librarians and committee members with sufficient practical training so that they can set up and manage a library, including cataloguing and preparing books, establishing policies and procedures, developing fundraising activities, and organizing programs and classes. An important role of the librarian and committee will be to solicit ideas and respond to community needs, so that each library caters to the interests of its users.
One of the most important goals of the training program is to inspire librarians to consider themselves a link to the world of knowledge, not merely a custodian of the books. The skill and passion (or lack thereof) of the librarian has a powerful impact on how people perceive a library. We have seen many libraries in the region where visitors cannot freely peruse the shelves or utilize resources, due to books locked behind glass doors, insufficient operating hours, or other obstacles. We believe in the concept of a library as an interactive community center for learning and discovery, and the training program focuses on the ability of librarians and committees to promote this vision of an open, active community library. Top
The Proposal Process
Girls in Yuscarán, Honduras
The Riecken Foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals. An interested community group should send a brief letter of interest. If appropriate, we will schedule a site visit to clarify our mission and evaluate the community. When we believe a community and its committee meet our criteria, we will give proposal guidelines to the committee. We will assist committees throughout the proposal process and share ideas for an appropriate budget and design for the library. We have no proposal deadlines and no limit to the number of libraries we plan to build in the long-term. Since there is no competition between potential sites, communities can work at their own pace. After we approve a proposal, we will schedule another site visit to sign a contract and initiate the project.