LIASA 2021 – Thembi Mathenjwa — A library changemaker and creative community collaborator
Oct 28th, 2021

Countrywide, the pandemic forced libraries and librarians into new ways of working, pushing them to find ways of creatively engaging with their communities. For 2021, Sabinet is proud to highlight one of these individuals, 2021 LIASA’s Library Changemaker Awardee: Thembi Florence Mathenjwa. At Sabinet, acting in the interest of change is at the core of what we do and, founded by South African Libraries all the way back in 1983, we have spent nearly four decades finding creative and innovative ways of providing a library network and resource-sharing facilities to users around the country.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Mathenjwa went above and beyond the call of duty in her role as librarian. Hailing from New Ermelo Primary School where she works as a teacher-librarian, Ms Mathenjwa refers to her place of work as ‘our’ library, a shared space where she’s worked hard to ensure its continued availability to learners and teachers alike. In the past she has been recognised for her hard work, having received the Da Vinci Huis – IASL Award – South Africa for 2020, and here we are once again honouring her for her passion and innovation.

As the pandemic reared its ugly head, Ms Mathenjwa strived to do everything she could to help the library ‘keep up’, addressing challenges as they arose. As a teacher-librarian, she sought to adapt traditional annual programmes in line with the ‘new normal’ and, through various school excursions, was able to do just that. In celebration of Read Aloud Day and South African Library Week, she and her learners travelled to their local radio station – Ligwa FM – where learners were able to read stories live to the entire neighbourhood. During Mandela Month, another visit to Ligwa FM saw the children once again sharing stories with their wider community.

While visiting Croatia as part of the International Association for School Librarianship (IASL) conference, Ms Mathenjwa learnt about the process of ‘book tasting’ — a way of exposing learners to different genres and authors – all to find books that suit their tastes and to encourage reading in general. And this tasting was something she was eager to implement back home – hosting multiple events where learners (and even her fellow teachers) could come and sample new books.

Encouraging others to delve further into the world of literacy is just one aspect of Ms Mathenjwa’s passionate approach to the work she does. Beyond the reading, Ms Mathenjwa has also formed a number of book clubs, providing learners with a platform where they can write, share and ultimately spread their stories.

Taking place on 17 September 2021 as part of National Literacy Month proceedings, Ms Mathenjwa was tasked with introducing the Nal’ibali newspaper’s story supplement to the local community at an event organised by Nal’ibali and Ligwa FM in conjunction with the Ermelo Post Office. Here she spoke about the importance of communication and information-sharing in the community while also highlighting the importance of literacy. Using postcards provided by Nal’iBali, learners were given the chance to write messages to friends and family which the post office then delivered for free — a perfect opportunity for the learners to display their creative writing skills. At Sabinet, our goal has always been to facilitate access to information for our users and seeing Thembi acting as an ambassador, truly embodying this value for her learners and the community at large, is hugely inspiring.

An opportunistic innovator whose mind is constantly on her ‘kids’, Ms Mathenjwa actively seeks out donors who might be willing to assist the learners at her primary school. Donations of backpacks, various school stationery, clothing items and lunch bags go a long way to help those learners in need. However, keeping the wider community in mind and being acutely aware that Covid-19 led to family members losing jobs, Ms Mathenjwa arranged food parcels to help supplement learners’ diets, ensuring that they were still getting healthy food during the pandemic.

Sabinet applauds Thembi’s commitment to keeping things fresh for the children and for her can-do attitude when it comes to finding exciting ways of encouraging them into lives enriched by libraries and learning.

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