Organizing the MOI Library and Other Post-Project Reflections

Eloa and I with a portion of the new books we’ve purchased for the collection.

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Last week, our Live It! Project at the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute (MOI) continued as we labeled over 1,000 books that were already in their collection. 1,000! Eloa and I spent many hours pulling off old labels, putting on new colored labels that correspond to three age level categories, and putting on new labels that indicate the book is MOI property. Green stickers indicate kindergarten through 3rd grade reading level, yellow stickers indicate 4th through 7th grade, and blue stickers indicate 8th through 12th grade. Once all of the books are labeled, we organized them on the shelves in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. We’ve finished two out of the three different sections of the library, and it’s really exciting to see the progress we’ve made over the past couple of weeks.

My main role in the project is to research and buy the new books we’re adding to their collection. My goal is for the vast majority of books I purchase to contain protagonists of color and plots that embody the experiences of the students that MOI serves. I’ve found everything from picture books about kids who have recently immigrated to the U.S. to teen novels about what it’s like to be a Muslim girl growing up and finding love in a culture that’s different from her parents. It’s been a fun process to research and explore the genre of multicultural children’s literature, which is definitely something I was not well-versed in prior to this project! By the end of the project, we will have purchased around 100 new books for MOI’s library. The library is now more accessible to the students (books for kindergarteners are no longer on the highest shelf of a bookcase) and students will be able to check out and take books home for the first time.

As J-Term and our project come to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the overall experience. It’s interesting to look back at the original list of possible books to purchase I made back in December before I had spent much time at MOI or had conversations with the people who work there. Just being in the space and overhearing what kind of things the MOI staff were saying about their students was when I learned the most about what is at the heart of what MOI does. They believe that kids are silly and creative and full of limitless potential when given the chance. With that in mind, I tried to choose books that would foster that creativity and love of learning. I have loved working with MOI and it’s been immensely rewarding to be able to use my time and resources as a Macalester student to fulfill a need that this organization would not have been able to meet on their own. I’ve decided to start volunteering with MOI’s after-school tutoring program this semester, and I’m excited to see the long-term impact of our project as the students explore their new library.

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The newly labeled and organized 4th-7th grade section of the library!

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The cataloging marathon and book buying frenzy

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In our project we are organizing the library at the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute (MOI), a nonprofit that offers free homework help and writing workshops to St. Paul public schools students. Most of the students that  MOI assists are students of color from immigrant families, so a large part of the project is to buy new books that have protagonists of color and relate to the students’ lived experiences.

The first step to organize their library was to make a list of the books that MOI already owns. I took pictures of the book shelves at MOI and on the first day of our Winter Break I started going through the pictures and cataloging the books. Two weeks and 1,000 titles later I was done with my cataloging marathon.

Meanwhile, Emily was researching and creating a list of books that we would buy. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, finding early readers books that have non-white main characters has been a challenge.  As an Educational Studies and Psychology major, Emily has come in contact with a lot of research that describes the importance of having access to books in which the characters represent you. It is empowering and can also help increase the interest in reading, improving literacy and success in school. Therefore, the difficulty in finding the books is depressing. But with research and digging Emily has found many relevant titles,  we have acquired 50 new books to MOI library and the book buying frenzy has only began.

This week we will be spending more time at MOI, now physically organizing the books. We will code color them according to grade level, add stickers that identify them as MOI property and shift the books around. Soon, MOI will have a better organized library, more accessible to the students and with a more diverse book collection. We are excited about how the project is progressing.

Tunaenda wapi? (Where are we going?)

“Tunaenda wapi?” or “where are we going? is the question we’ve been asking all over the city of Mwanza for the past two days. The answer seemed clear enough as we prepared earlier this week in Nairobi buying the GPS-enabled Daladala outside viewsmartphone units we planned to use here to track our routes in Tanzania. Even as we drove down all day Wednesday the answer was clear: we were headed to Mwanza, Tanzania to map the local daladala transit system.

As we drove into town, however, we realized the neat Excel list a government official had handed me this summer didn’t quite match the labels on the daladalas we were passing on the road. So, we scrapped our original plan and headed out Thursday morning writing down every route name we saw, riding every new one we could, and always asking “tunaenda wapi?”

Asking questions has paid off. In two days we’ve found our way all over town from major airport routes to bumpy dirt roads. We’ve had conversations with all kinds of people and have laid down GPS tracks for nearly every route in the city (tomorrow we’ll do a sweep to catch any we’ve missed). From here it’s on to the detail work with online mapping and tracking down health data.