I wrote in December about a project at the Akhalkalaki Library. We wrote a Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant proposal for just under $2000 to purchase materials for the library, all with the purpose of making it a more community-focused center for interactive programs. We were able to make almost all of our purchases in January and get things physically set up in the library through January. But the real meat of the project, the trainings and preparations and planning to actually create a programming series at the library, is currently underway.
On two Saturdays in February, I was able to hold two training sessions for the library's 13 employees (all women, mostly in their 40s or older). Although we had discussed the idea of having a calendar of events for Akhalkalaki residents, the library staff was still having a difficult time thinking about interactive programs in any realistic way. It seemed like an overwhelming amount of work required of them, and like maybe it would still be impractical. I did my best to win over the nonbelievers and get folks pumped up for the idea, and I think we're on the right track.
Our first training session was just focused on interactive library programs: what are they, why are they a good thing, how can we do this here, and what do we need to do to realize this goal. We started off a little quiet and it was a little tough getting people to give their ideas and ask questions right at first. Then, something just clicked and everyone was giving ideas and getting really into the brainstorming session. Women suggested starting a read-aloud program, having an English club or discussion group, getting people together for poetry readings or to celebrate holidays or special occasions. I had made a list of about 15 different types of programs we could consider, to use as reference if the brainstorming session fell flat. Not only did the library staff come up with all of my examples (which I pretty near exhausted myself in coming up with), they thought up an additional list of programs. The initial excitement after the first training session felt really, really great.
The second training session, last Saturday, had me more nervous than the first. How do I keep their enthusiasm up as we start digging into the nuts and bolts? How do I keep them hooked on this idea when the work starts?
I had a slightly smaller turnout for my second training, but most of the participants from training one came back for the second. The big controversy at the beginning was over the idea of finding volunteers to help organize and lead programs in Akhalkalaki. No one, they said, will do this for free. Why would someone volunteer, teach a class, read a book aloud, without getting paid? What's in it for them?
Going over the calendar
I knew this question would be one of the biggest hurdles, but if I could convince the library staff that it could work, I also knew that they could go out and convince their friends and family and neighbors to come in and volunteer. We talked about volunteerism, about the benefits of it, and mostly, about how we can find people who love something (say, poetry, or movies, or English) and ask them to share that love with others for just an hour a month. Slowly, even the biggest naysayers in the group started coming up with ideas for finding volunteers in Akhalkalaki to help lead different interactive programs.
All in all, these first two training sessions have been like a dream. The library staff remain excited, energized, and invested in the project. I've assigned minor "homework" assignments for them at each training, and I hope that the homework from session two gets done, as it will give us a great start towards designing our April events calendar and volunteer database. We'll have one more training, focused on bringing the programming to fruition, implementing the volunteer database and program calendar, and then advertising programs. My biggest concern now is that the enthusiasm stays up while I'm away.
It could turn out to be fortuitous to have this two-week break from site; at my most optimistic, I think about how this time will give the library staff an opportunity to really work on building this project on their own, without my controlling the strings. At my most pessimistic, I see all of the progress from our first two training sessions going down the drain and needing to be repeated when I get back, or worse, the project losing steam altogether in my absence.
Whatever the result, there's not much I can do about it right now. So I'll go and gladly enjoy my whirlwind tour of Chicago and Philadelphia, and then our Close of Service Conference in Tbilisi. Then it'll be back to Akhalkalaki, back to work, and, hopefully, not back to square one. (And one more plug: if you want to donate any materials to the library, we'd still be super excited to receive them, and extremely grateful. Check out this older post for more details, or send me an email if you have questions!)