Gift of reading for islands

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Tauranga Libraries' manager Jill Best co-ordinates a project that sends children's books to Fiji and the Soloman Islands
Tauranga Libraries' manager Jill Best co-ordinates a project that sends children's books to Fiji and the Soloman Islands

Tauranga libraries' manager Jill Best co-ordinates a project that sends children's books to Fiji and the Solomon Islands.Children in the Solomon Islands and Fiji are reading books donated from New Zealand.

Jill Best has 40,000 books in her garage that will be shipped to Fiji and the Solomon Islands this week.

The project, which she describes as a "labour of love", is an ongoing effort to help stock libraries in the Pacific and give communities access to modern reading literature.

Children in the Solomon Islands and Fiji are reading books donated from New Zealand.
Children in the Solomon Islands and Fiji are reading books donated from New Zealand.

To date 100,000 books have already made the ocean passage after she completed a review in 2006 with another librarian - at the invitation of the Fiji Local Government Association.

Jill was so dismayed by the run-down state of its libraries she spearheaded a programme to source books from libraries around New Zealand and it wasn't long before publishing houses jumped on board.

"I thought I could do something practical to help," she says, despite having to contend with Fiji being ejected from the Commonwealth shortly after her visit, due to a coup.

Her role as Tauranga libraries' manager meant she was in the perfect position to co-ordinate the herculean effort and response so far has been overwhelming.

The books have to meet certain criteria and be in good condition, she says.

"I started collecting books from public libraries in New Zealand that they were disposing of and they responded really well. The libraries did a very good job at sorting out what I asked for."

Wheelers the book wholesaler has contributed 12,000 new books and has clocked up 20,000 books on two previous occasions that went to the Solomon Islands.

"This is the third time they have donated. They have been absolutely wonderful," says Jill.

Random House Publishing and Whitcoulls had also put their hand up and Bay of Plenty Polytechnic was giving books to the University of Fiji.

The shipment includes mainly children's books and those suitable to support adult education as well as novels to read for leisure, Jill says.

"All books are in English, which is not the first language for most of the local people, so the books will help to improve their English. Most children, especially in Solomons and rural Fiji, would otherwise never own or use a book outside of school, so they will be over the moon to receive so many attractive new books to read for pleasure."

The libraries in Fiji had also benefited from Jill's efforts to update systems. She sent second-hand computers from councils in New Zealand but is in the process of setting up a trust to fund new computers.

She may have to foot the bill for some of the shipping costs to Fiji since the New Zealand and Australian governments severed ties with Fiji's government.

Malaita St Johns Secondary School principal Valu Siuasm sent a letter of gratitude last month and says they recently opened their new library and the gift of precious books from New Zealand was appreciated.

"We assure you that these library materials will greatly help our school and teaching and learning in our school for many years to come."

Libraries in Samoa and Vanuatu were on the list to receive books as well.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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