Led by a dedicated part-time Welcome To Your Library project officer, Newham library service in London worked developmentally with local refugee community organisations, including the Somali community, for over two years. In August 2005, with the Somali communities' involvement in the selection process, it launched a collection of over 80 Somali books for adults and children.

Background - about Newham

  • 61% of population non-white ethnic minorities (highest in London). 
  • Population is 246,000. 12.9% increase 1991-2001. London average 5.3%. 
  • Estimated 8% of the population are refugees. 
  • Youngest London borough: 40% of the population aged 25 or under.  
  • Estimated 17% of primary school pupils are refugees (13% in secondary schools) with 110 languages spoken in the borough's schools.
  • Somalis are one of largest refugee communities in Newham (c8-10,000) and there are over 12 Somali community organisations in the borough. 

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Key issues

The library service wants to provide an inclusive and responsive service and increase usage and involvement by refugee communities.

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Project description

Barriers to library access

The Welcome to your Library Project Officer in Newham, as part of the early stages of the project, consulted over 25 refugee community groups about barriers to library access.  For Somalis, these included:

  • lack of awareness of services on offer
  • lack of confidence
  • poor mother tongue literacy.

Participation in sourcing materials in Somali

They wanted materials in Somali, but few resources are available. Through Neighbourhood Renewal Funding, the library service invested £25,000 in foreign language material, involving the communities directly in stock selection.  The library service identified and worked with Scansom, based in Sweden and Canada, as the leading publisher of Somali materials. At the launch, Mohammed Hassan from Scansom presented the books and talked about Somali literature in the diaspora. Six Somali authors talked about their work, the celebrated Somali singer, Sahra Ahmed, performed live and excellent Somali food was on offer. The launch took place on a Saturday evening and most of the event was in Somali.

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Impact and outcomes

  • Active community involvement led to effective word-of-mouth promotion and a real sense of engagement.
  • Representatives from most of the Newham based Somali community organisations attended the event.  
  • Over 110 people attended from all over the country. 
  • Mohammed Hassan said it was the most successful book launch he had worked on. 
  • Over 50 people joined the library at the event and over 100 Somali materials were issued.  
  • The Project Development Manager of a Somali community organisation said 'Do you know you have done the most amazing, remarkable and important job for the Somali Community....'

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Key lessons

  • Try and invite the local press or at least take photos to record the event.
  • Work not achieved in isolation – success of the event depended on engagement with the community to spread the word.  
  • Impossible to get the whole picture as the Somali community tends to be very fragmented.  Important not to be seen as favouring one particularly group and Somali organisations are often divided along clan/tribal/geographical/political affiliations.  
  • Work involved in organising such an event is very labour intensive
  • Miracles do not happen overnight. Need long-term process to sustain and develop relationships

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Contact information

Mike Roberts, Acting Stock Development Manager

E-mail model: firstname.surname@newham.gov.uk

Scansom Publishers
Somali books and CDs. Scansom also distributes books in many other African languages including Amharic, Tigrinya, Swahili and also Asian languages.

Somali weekly newspaper aimed at Somali communities in the UK
PO Box 14094
London, NW10 0XW
Tel. 0208 962 0675
Email: editor@kasmo.info

Jamhuuriya Press
Free paper with lots of information local to West London regarding jobs, adverts and information. 

Contact details of Somali community organisations in London.

Other library services working in this area:

Cardiff Library Service lands Somali book collection
For more information contact:
Preeti Pathak

Email model   FirstInitialSurname@cardiff.gov.uk

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Useful resources

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Share your experience with us

Have you worked with particular communities to get their involvement in stock selection to suit their needs? Please contct the Welcome To Your Library Project Co-ordinator Helen Carpenter.

E-mail model: firstname.surname@llda.org.uk,


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