Monday, September 1, 2014

Increasing access to books and information resources globally: Interview with Allister Chang


I sat down with Allister Chang, who manages the Libraries without Borders (Bibliothèque sans frontières) operation in the US to talk about the organization's history and future plans. 

Allister Chang, Libraries without Borders

Chang started to work with Libraries without Borders (LWB) from 2010, which was a pivotal year in the organization's history. Following the devastating Haiti earthquake, LWB helped provide access to information and resources for aid workers, IGOs, and Haitian people. Chang says that LWB's work in Haiti highlights the potential of libraries to serve as centers of humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and promotion of human rights in post-emergency situations. 

Since Haiti, LWB has expanded its reach to communities as different as refugees in sub-Saharan Africa to low-income neighborhoods in France.  For example, in 2012, LWB formed a partnership with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and designer Philppe Starck to create The Ideas Box. The box is essentially a portable (taking as little as 18 minutes to set up), climate-resistant, and customizable digital media library that was designed specifically with refugees in mind. In France, LWB has translated and customized the Khan Academy to provide French lessons for high school students studying for the baccalauréat (the secondary school qualifying exam). Translating and making accessible the Code Academy in low-income communities in France is another way that LWB is making an impact in the country where LWB was originally founded.

LWB has reached various French-speaking communities around the world through books, technology, and design. Although the approach differs in each case, what is common in all LWB projects is the organization's mission to increase accessibility of information and resources to all, especially impoverished communities. It is also evident that LWB makes a strong emphasis on localizing programs based on the specific identified needs of each community.

Chang hopes to leverage LWB's existing expertise and experience from past international development projects, which were largely based in Francophone communities, to improve on existing projects and to expand the organization's reach in the US and beyond. Specifically, Chang is interested in how The Ideas Box can improve its operations in UNHCR refugee camps in Burundi and how to make the model work in another country with refugees such as in Syria. Also, being based in the US, Chang plans on exploring how the mobile digital library could operate in a non-refugee setting such as in Boston, USA.

Chang says he is keen on collaborating with others to identify and learn from best practices in the private and non-profit sectors. In addition, he hopes that more people will get involved in LWB’s operation in the US by volunteering, organizing book drives, or by applying technical skills in impact assessment, program design, or education technology. 

Interested stakeholders in the Boston area can look forward to special events with The Ideas Box taking place in the area in late-September/early-October. For everyone else passionate about access to information and reading, you can sign the worldwide petition launched by LWB called The Urgency of Reading Campaign  and spread awareness about the importance of books and information resources during humanitarian crises.

For more information on Libraries without Borders (Bibliothèque sans frontières) and LWB’s work in the USA, you can email Allister Chang at achang@librarieswithoutborders.org


The LWB (BSF) website

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