Programme overview

The Inspiring Readers programme began in 2016 with the aim of contributing to education in primary schools through setting up cupboard libraries and promoting reading, made possible through a collaboration between schools and public libraries.

The overall goal was simple: to make schools book rich, staffed by confident, capable and supportive teachers who incorporate regular reading into the school timetable and establish regular outreach contact between librarians and teachers.

This was achieved by providing 285 primary schools with a cupboard library, each packed full of 1,250 brand new books, a grant to purchase local books and training for teachers in how to bring these books to life in the classroom. The books provided ranged from picture books suitable for the youngest readers to the fiction, non-fiction and subject books that upper primary school children need to help them develop their reading skills.

Inspiring Readers in numbers


Children reached


Librarians trained


UK books donated


Teachers trained


Local books purchased


Hub libraries


Schools supported

The impact

In 2016, Inspiring Readers was piloted in 25 schools in Kenya in collaboration with the Kenya National Library Service. Results from the pilot revealed that the programme was a success and we went on to deliver the programme in collaboration with library partners in seven countries: Kenya, Cameroon, Malawi, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Zanzibar. Overall, the programme had a positive impact on all participants: for children and their educational development, for librarians who grew their skills, confidence and knowledge, for schools and teachers who were able to access new teaching resources and for the wider communities who have benefitted from a local well-stocked library.

Children’s interest in reading increased as a result of book rich schools as there was an acute shortage of reading books in schools prior to the programme. Learners were mostly interacting with curriculum materials. Inspiring Readers provided a variety of supplementary and storybooks, making learners excited about visiting the school library, increasing interaction with reading materials – leading to the growth of a reading culture in schools.

Children’s interaction with relevant, good quality books vastly increased as teachers had the resources, skills, knowledge and motivation needed to set up lending systems and library lessons and to enrich curriculum lessons using books. This increased interaction with books led to improvements in children’s learning and reading habits. Children read more regularly and  began to enjoy reading, with the self-esteem, confidence and reading skills of learners improving as a result.

Madalisto, Learner, 12 years old, Chisitu Primary School, Malawi

“We felt very happy when we first saw the books. There was no library in the school before. We only had textbooks and no story books. We are now able to read many interesting stories.”

Anna Gwambana, Learner, Grade 6, Nketa Primary school, Zimbabwe

“The books entertain me because they are fun to read. Stories are exciting. The stories occupy our minds. The books make me relax. When I feel bored and lonely, I read and feel nice.”

Vibrant school libraries raised the profile of schools as they became more visible and recognised in their communities. More parents enrolled their children in the project schools with libraries.

Reading for leisure contributed to improved behaviour in schools as teachers reported that cases of negative behaviour had declined because learners were busy reading during their free time, including break times. Learners made good use of their free time and noise levels reduced in schools.

Teaching methods have improved since the programme began as teachers have more teaching resources. Before the books were received, teachers across all seven countries spent a lot of time creating teaching aids by drawing on manila paper or the chalkboard. The presence of the books was a big boost as it gave teachers resources to use with their learners. The books have helped to break the monotony of using one book or in some cases no book at all for illustrations and examples in class.

 Jones Store, Head Teacher, Lauderdale Primary School, Mulanje, Malawi

“The neighbouring schools were admiring us because pupils were talking about the books in the community. The books put us on the map in the community.”

Adam Suleiman Juma, Teacher, Mangapwani Primary, Zanzibar

“The books provide more explanation on some topics. We are getting additional content from the books. It is easier to explain concepts using the books e.g. we had a difficult time describing animals like millipedes which we could not draw well. We now have books with different kinds of animals. We don’t have to struggle to draw them”

The training helped to develop hub librarians’ knowledge, skills and confidence to implement the project. Librarians stated that they had developed confidence in facilitating training, supporting teachers to establish school libraries and promote reading.

Library outreach programmes were revitalised as a result of the programme. Hub libraries were able to rejuvenate their outreach services improving the relationship with project schools and schools in their regions and librarians reported that teachers became more receptive to library initiatives.

Librarians and participating schools formed strong relationships, where the schools see the librarians as a source of expertise and support that they are now able to call on. The librarians underpinned the project by providing an invaluable source of encouragement and support for schools to get their libraries up and running and, therefore, there is strong potential for these school/library relationships to continue and be long-lasting.

Felix Chilombo, Librarian, Mbabzi Community Library, Malawi

“The training helped me to handle adults who are teachers already. It was initially not easy training teachers. The skills from ToT helped me to gain courage to talk before teachers and head teachers. The training gave us hints to train without fear and to deliver.”

Forget Nyati, Librarian, Pumula Library, Zimbabwe

“Inspiring Readers has opened doors for us. Teachers from the Inspiring Readers project are our ambassadors in many other forums. The project inspired more children to visit the library. I feared that children will not come to the library because they have books in school, but the exact opposite has happened”.

Vibrant school libraries have benefitted the wider community as the most remote and marginalised regions in Africa often do not have public or community libraries.

Primary schools are well spread out all over countries and are closer to the people, therefore Inspiring Readers has shown that schools can open up their libraries to the wider community allowing community members to borrow books for reading.

Communities were supportive of the programme activities with parents and community members across all countries speaking positively about the Inspiring Reader activities. In some cases, they helped to raise funds to build library rooms, acquire shelving and additional locally purchased books.

Lucy Kaburu, Muringato Primary, Kenya

“I called a child and asked for a book she had borrowed and she told me her father was still reading it.” 

Steven Simon, Chirimba LEA school, Malawi

“The community now like the library. They know the children come to read and have books. The community like the books too.”


The main challenges experienced during project implementation were delays caused by insecurity in some locations and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Given unforeseen instability with the political situation in Cameroon, it was not possible for the project to continue within planned timelines in all library hubs. Training of librarians and teachers was carried out successfully, and books and other project items were delivered in schools. However, due to insecurity in the country, children did not fully utilise the books as planned because the schools were largely closed in 2016 and 2017.

Cases of insecurity were also noted in Kenya in Lagam, Elgeyo Marakwet, where inter-clan clashes posed potential threats during the teachers’ training in Lagam library and librarians’ visits to schools. Librarians were not able to visit two schools as scheduled because fighting was intense. Delays were also experienced due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Uganda and Zimbabwe where the programme was initiated in 2019. The project timelines had to be reviewed due to Covid-19-related lockdowns of schools and libraries.

With thanks

It’s with great pleasure that we are able to look back on the Inspiring Readers programme and see all that it has achieved.

We see in our work every day that books and reading offer people the opportunity to shape their own futures and this programme has allowed us to see the difference books and library development can make.

But we cannot do our work alone. We rely on not only the dedicated support of our library partners in the countries we work in, who are instrumental in helping to provide sustainable change to the lives of many, but also the UK publishers who kindly donate brand new books to support our work, and of course the generous funders, without whom we simply wouldn’t have the means to reach such a large number of schools around the world with the Inspiring Readers programme. Thank you all for your support and for making this work possible.

Samantha Thomas-Chuula, Head of Programmes