Systematic awards USD 10,000 to inspire hope and the joy of reading in one of the world’s largest refugee camps
The winner of the Systematic Joy of Reading Award 2021 is Za’atari Camp Libraries: 12 libraries run by refugees with the aim of eradicating illiteracy among the 79,000 Syrians living in the camp
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope,” said former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and nothing could be more appropriate for this year’s winner of the Systematic Joy of Reading Award, which has just been presented on 3 June at the international library conference Next Library®.
The winner of the Systematic Joy of Reading Award 2021 was Za’atari Camp Libraries, which is the first library system worldwide to be run solely by refugees. The 12 libraries in the Jordanian camp are an important source of learning for many of the 79,000 Syrians living there – especially the children. Syrian children and young people are often referred to as ‘the lost generation’, because war has robbed them of their schooling, and many of them are ashamed that they are unable to read and write.
Za’atari Camp Libraries offers, among other things, tailored reading literacy programmes, teaching, storytelling, poetry and writing clubs, Internet access, a coffee & Koran club, and advice on the use of digital and social media. The library services are targeted and adapted to the cultural backgrounds, ages and other demographic aspects of the refugees, ensuring that there is something on offer to meet everyone’s needs. In addition, 10 ‘social boxes’ are placed around the camp which make books, household articles, information and other learning materials available to the residents of Za’atari.
When the project was named as winner of the Systematic Joy of Reading Award 2021 and the accompanying prize of USD 10,000, Karen Fischer, Professor at the University of Washington in Seattle that supports libraries at Za’atari Camp through UNHCR said:
"In terms of what it means for the librarians, it’s just incredible to have this global recognition. Because there’s no example of anything like the Za’atari Camp libraries anywhere in the world. Any other refugee setting, typically it’s an NGO that operates a very small collection of books, or maybe you would have other volunteers coming from outside. So what the Za'atari librarians have done is truly just miraculous, because everybody is self-trained. Nobody has a professional degree in librarianship. Everything they do is based on the needs of the community."
IFLA president impressed by complex collaboration
The fact that the librarians are self-taught enthusiasts, who work with external experts to create a true diversity of offers in a community with limited opportunities and meagre resources, also made a big impression on the president of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Christine Mackenzie, who presented the award virtually:
“The theme of my IFLA presidency is ‘Let’s work together’, and this project is such a great example of the power of collaboration. It has required a huge effort and a lot of goodwill to develop this network of 12 libraries, and the fact that it is supported by six different NGOs only adds to the complexity. I can only imagine how much negotiation and discussion took place; and it is a real tribute to all those involved that you have made it work. This partnership is surely one of the main reasons that you are successful and have achieved so much," she said.
Learning is a lifeline and provides hope for a better future
There is a huge need for learning in the camp. A large proportion of the 79,000 refugees have had very limited access to education because of war trauma, early marriages, poverty and limited access to books, the Internet and electricity.
“The libraries in Za’atari are a lifeline for people in an extremely difficult situation. Giving these refugees the opportunity to learn, read and express themselves provides them with hope and the possibility of a better future,” says jury member and Group Senior Vice President at Systematic Martin Brøchner-Mortensen.
The international jury behind the Systematic Joy of Reading Award placed particular emphasis on the following values in the Za’atari Camp Libraries project:
- Focuses on parents as role models for children’s reading habits
- Creates conditions that foster learning and concentration
- Provides materials adapted to different goals and age groups such as games, books, songs, audio books and oral storytelling
- Recognises the importance of local communities and the possibility of making a difference in people’s lives
- Focuses on the importance of the physical and social environments for reading
Facts about the Za’atari Camp, Jordan
- Home to 79,000 Syrian refugees
- Houses 32 schools, eight medical clinics, 58 residents’ centres
Facts about Za’atari Camp Libraries
- Za’atari Camp Libraries is funded by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Blumont, Relief International, Questscope, Lutheran World Federation and the King Hussein Foundation.
- The project comprises 12 libraries, which organise the distribution of books, teaching activities, reading aloud and much more.
- The project benefits about 20,000 illiterate people of all ages.
- The Za’atari Camp houses 1,500 companies – but not a single bookshop.
Facts about the Joy of Reading Award
The Joy of Reading Award was established by Systematic in collaboration with Next Library® – an international library conference that brings together library professionals from all over the world every other year in Aarhus, Denmark. The award was presented for the third time on 3 June 2021 at Dokk1 in Aarhus as an online event.
The award comes with a prize of USD 10,000, and the winner is selected by an international jury.
The award was first presented in 2017 at the Next Library Conference in Denmark by HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, who founded the Reading & Writing Foundation