An African Journey Begins at the Library

You’re planning a trip aboard, but not to a tourist destination.  How do you get the information you need to make the trip?  If you’re like part-time adult reference librarian Regina Lawler, you know exactly where to go … the Rochester Hills Public Library, RHPL.

When Lawler was invited by a friend to join her last winter on a three week trip to Ghana along the equator on the west coast of Africa, she knew she needed more information.

Through her search of the Michigan Electronic Library, a RHPL service known as MEL, she was able to obtain a hard-to-find travel guide to Ghana. 

“Ghana is a tiny country about the size of Oregon with a population of about 22.5 million.  My friend has been helping establish a children’s nursery school in the little community of Axim.  Our task was to provide some furniture for the school they called a “crèche” and start a library for children who had never even seen books before.  We discovered the children would have to be taught not only how to care for books, but even how to turn a page,” she said.

Lawler’s search at the Rochester Hills Public Library netted her maps, modes of travel, reviews of places like Accra, the capital of Ghana, as well as important visa information required by the U.S. state department. 

“I learned I had to write to the Ghanian Consulate and prove that I had enough money to get there and back. And there were the many required health precautions including for malaria,” Lawler added.

“We discovered that while Ghana was one of the few democratic countries in Africa, it was still very much governed by the customs of both matriarchal and patriarchal tribes.  Polygamy is widely practiced and people are cared for largely by their extended families,” she said.

While Lawler and her friend stayed in a nearby resort with running water, she saw few other conveniences during her stay.

“One of the most poignant reminders of this tiny country’s sad history was the slave castles near the Atlantic shoreline.  Built between 1400 and 1500, they were the final departure points for slaves being transported to the West,” she added.

While in Ghana, Lawler was able to persuade the Axim Public Library director, an employee of the Ghana Library Board, to provide outreach services to the five primary schools within walking distance of the library.  Her goal is to provide the children’s books so that the library will regularly service each school with a rotating set of books targeted at the younger children and even provide access to children when they are not in school.

By holding a local concert to raise funds for the purchase of books, Lawler is hoping to realize her dream of helping to break the cycle of poverty for the children of Axim.

“Songs for Stories,” will be held Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 7 p.m. at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Rochester Road at Romeo Road in Rochester.    Sian Davies, a noted soprano, a graduate of Michigan State University and Indiana University, who is now with the Chicago Opera Theater, will be singing a variety of musical selections.  She will be accompanied at the piano by her brother, Mark Davies.  Tickets are $10 each and may be purchased at the door or in advance by calling 248-893-3192.

Retired from the Auburn Hill Public Library after 10 years of service, Lawler sometimes may be seen serving at the reference desk at RHPL.  Having also worked at school libraries, Lawler has a lifelong love of books and belief in their ability to improve lives.

“While the adult reference librarians at RHPL can help you find information about almost any place on the planet, they leave making actual reservations up to you.  We are the first place to consult when planning a trip,” she said.

The Rochester Hills Public Library is located in downtown Rochester and is open from 9 – 9 Monday through Thursday, 9 – 6 on Fridays and Saturdays and from 1 – 6 on Sundays during the school year.

About Tom and Ann Gendich

Founders of Rochester Media. Looking to provide great local news to all people in and around Rochester and Rochester Hills. Send them a note at