Sustainability Study

Exploring Seven Aspects Of Sustainability
For Lending Library Projects in Developing Nations.

Presented by:
Jane Mirandette,
Paul Harris Fellow
President, Hester J. Hodgdon Libraries for All Programs,
Director, San Juan Del Sur Biblioteca Móvil, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Leadership Development

While each project may have its own passionate director and team of creators; it must also assure adequate adaptability to avoid burnout.

Most programs are the brain child of one individual with a passion and vision of how their project should go. While this gets a valuable program going, it sows the seeds of its own demise if that individual cannot become flexible and adapt to the program’s ongoing development. Burnout is one of the main reasons programs fail. A passionate director’s project is doomed if there is failure to invite and include a local team of creators and allow them leeway to create. This is especially important when there are cultural divisions to overcome. When team members suggest using their traditional style of celebration or design that should be seen as a compliment and seriously considered. The emerging nations have much to offer that is rich and rewarding. These small differences often make the project more familiar and acceptable to the patrons you wish to serve.

Succession Planning

Learn the Art of Letting Go.

Create redundancy, find the heirs apparent, and let them have their say!

We learn to our chagrin that none of us is indispensable when illness and accidents occur, but our programs will suffer without leadership. It is better to create redundancy and back up plans before disaster strikes. If a delegated project provides 75% of the expectation of the one who delegates, that is a successful hand off. If those actions are then approved of and appreciated, it will also serve to assure the interest and dedication of those asked to perform the actions. Flexible leaders who recognize creativity and encourage critique create long lasting, healthy programs.

Financial Resources

Find and Keep Funding Sources. Provide Connection, Transparent Accountability, and Accurate Projections

Sound fiscal management is essential.  Attention to details, receipts, budgets, and current records are mundane but essential elements. Many projects fail only because no one is minding the store. Gilbert News provides information online to nonprofit organizations. They offer classes, including one called seamless fundraising, on their website at One point they stress is every time money is requested there should be three separate opportunities to say thank you before requesting funds again. Waste should be minimal. No one wants to receive an obviously expensive mailing asking for their money. Show you appreciate donors resources and will use them wisely to keep one time donors as long time supporters. Updates, correspondence, and newsletters create an atmosphere that encourages devoted supporters to stay with a program. Programs often fail after they reach a measure of success and begin to expand rapidly. A steadily available program that can be counted on is more valuable to a third world community than state of the art equipment and an expansive facility that may disappear quickly, leaving disappointment and loss of hope.

Sufficient Staffing

Develop Expertise in Administration
of Staff and Volunteers. Give Staff Authority, Autonomy and Esteem.

One of the most important reasons for third world projects is to provide careers and a higher standard of living to the local population. Offering valuable and rewarding life experiences and tools for the future to staff should be the aim of every director. The more education, gentle instruction and great work experiences local staff and foreign volunteers can experience together, the greater the impact your project has on the community it serves. The laws in other countries differ and it is appropriate to know the employment rules and abide by them completely. Conflicts occur especially where there are language, cultural and work-ethic differences. It is said in Central America, that for every critical comment given, three compliments are required.

Volunteers give valuable time and considerable personal resources to come help in international projects. Their time should never be wasted. The volunteer application should help ascertain their suitability and the best use of their skills. Our volunteers are encouraged to make suggestions and to create their own experience given the many options available. At least one staff person should be assigned to coordinate with the volunteers. The experience they have can last a lifetime and care should be taken that it is a rich and pivotal experience in their lives. Their safety and comfort and their opportunity to blend with a different and rich culture should be seriously considered. Some of the most sustaining and valuable support comes from the efforts of returning volunteers. Providing flexibility in programming and a variety of times to volunteer makes a more valuable program.  A great volunteer program has volunteers saying “Been there, done that, going back!”

Clearly Defining Goals

Ascertain sustainability and buy-in from the Target Group. Organic Expansion means embracing the Natural Outcomes

Good programs expand. It is their nature. Fear of this expansion and rigidness can stagnate a good program and keep it from becoming great. While it is essential to maintain the focus, expansion can safely take place. For us this means each new facility must have its own supporters eager to start their project, and have or find a space to house their project. Funding plans need to be in place.

Projects that are superimposed because of perceived need fail.

A proposed program needs to be assured that it is welcome, their offering is required, and that the community can sustain what is provided. Challenge grants, volunteer systems and advisory groups all allow the local population to feel empowered and in control. Assuring success includes research of the realities at hand. For example, in our town a group of teachers were required to go to a seminar held by a famous reading specialist who was fluent in Spanish and taught how to teach reading using reading sets of books. After the program, the instructor was shocked to receive dismal evaluation sheets. The teachers explained that there were no books in their schools with which to implement this program. They weren’t given handouts and had not even been offered refreshments seemed the largest of their irritation! Communication between programs helps these kinds of problems. The library could have made the additional copies, provided the reception, and perhaps even located books that could have saved the project. Using a Co-operative model between non-profit organizations providing services maximizes results for all concerned. Having inexpensive “sales” with proceeds going to community services is a more gracious way to provide what is needed than give-always and charity hand outs. Yard sale type sales (with only a minimal charge) offer needed goods and replaces just receiving a handout with the excitement of shopping. Offer to let community members take remaining materials to donate in their own areas.

Collection Development

The Buy, Beg and Borrow Approach: Provide culturally appropriate materials and maintain fine-tuned lending systems.

We began our Spanish title collections with withdrawn books from libraries in New York City, Boston and Denver. We purchased from Friends of the Library sales in Ft. Collins and Greeley, Colorado. We started purchasing from Scholastic as librarian and teachers donated their points to us. Publishers at Book Expo America shows and ALA conventions donated books to us. We purchase at shows to get the show discounts and ship through the various show hosts GES and Freedman. All books are purchased by the HJH Program based in Colorado and donated to the SJDS Library or donated or shared at cost through the Library in a Box Project. Our mobile program has a return rate of over 97% for the fourth year in a row. The SJDS library’s rate is lower at 88%. We are working on the return rate and are having success at getting the overdue books returned. We currently are using traditional Library materials and anticipate going to a scanner system for the SJDS Library only. Keeping up and recognizing when an aspect is out of hand or outgrown is a necessary skill.

Providing Effective Library and Community Services

Offer rewarding and empowering life experiences with community services. Develop protocols and keep them current.

Protocols for offering community center services within a Mobile Library are available upon request. Ours are reviewed yearly and updated as needed. Games, crafts story reading and events for children are currently brought along with the books to be loaned, to thirty one surrounding communities. Most service programs provided by local towns in Central America are funded inadequately Most of the providers, are under paid, and lack facilities They also are dedicated, earnest and willing to do whatever is possible to take care of their community. We post our mobile schedule with the local school board, mayor’s office and Health Center and then offer rides and lunch to anyone who wants or needs to provide services to the surrounding communities. The resource open to all is creativity. Programs that work together thrive.

First presented at: The International Poster Session, American Library Association Annual Convention, June 26, 2006, New York City, New York. Contact:

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