When Sylvia Arthur left London for Ghana in June 2017, she had no idea that, just six months later, she’d realise a long-held dream to open a library. For years, she’d been shipping her books to her mother’s house in Kumasi when they became too many to accommodate in her London studio, and the idea to make her collection open to the public was one she’d harboured for years. “I remember visiting my mum around 2011 and being shocked when confronted by all these books which contained so much knowledge, but weren’t being read,” Arthur says. “It was then that I had the idea for a library.”
It took six years but, in December 2017, Arthur officially opened Libreria Ghana. Its purpose? To give Ghanaians access to books that weren’t easily obtainable and amplify the voices of Black writers on the continent. Located in the well-to-do suburb of West Legon in Accra, the library is home to a broad selection of literary fiction and narrative nonfiction by writers from across the world, but specialises in books by writers of African descent: African, African American, African Caribbean, Black British, and Afro European.
“It’s important for us to understand the scope of our presence in the world and our contributions to contemporary literature as this is so often underrepresented, particularly in the West but also in Africa, where our literature is restricted to the post-colonial writers.”
In the year since the library opened, its objective has evolved. “I quickly realised that catering to the middle-class isn’t where my heart is,” Arthur says. “I’d much rather be out in communities working with people who need opportunity.” Arthur’s focus now is as much on literacy as literature, and outreach work in underserved communities is a core part of the library’s raison d’etre. In Ghana, illiteracy is high (30%), particularly among women and girls.
“I believe in literacy for all, regardless of socioeconomic status, and develop programmes and events that meet the people where they are. We regularly serve over 1000 children through our two school libraries in underserved communities. We run reading and creative play sessions for the children of market women and a barbershop/hair salon programme that rewards children with free hairstyles in exchange for reading.”
Arthur is confident the library is making a difference. “Our impact is significant. I’ve seen lives transformed. I hope more libraries like “Libreria” will open across Africa.”
To find out more about Libreria Ghana or to donate, visit libreriagh.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.