Promoting Reading Among Immigrants from an Oral Culture: Ethiopian Jews in Israel

  • Irene Sever University of Haifa


With the arrival in Israel of Ethiopian Jews, libraries—like other institutions— have an important challenge. The immigrants come from an oral culture, and have difficulty in adaptation to a society where reading skills are expected. Libraries have acted as socialization agents, and have endeavored to facilitate the transition to literacy. The greatest attention has been toward children. Library use itself presents great problems for the Ethiopians, since such familiar elements as indexes and tables of contents have no counterparts in their culture. Librarians have emphasized reading aloud, picture books, and establishment of small reading centers in the Ethiopian settlements. At the same time, librarians strive to preserve the Ethiopian culture that the newcomers bring with them; they record stories, myths, legends, and songs. The effort appears to be succeeding: children are learning quickly to become Israeli without losing their original identity.

Author Biography

Irene Sever, University of Haifa
Irene Sever is Senior Lecturer and chair of Library Studies, University of Haifa, Israel. She has an M.A. from Haifa University, and a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne, Paris. After working as information officer in several scientific institutions, she changed course to anthropology and communication, and began to concentrate on library services for children and communication skills of children and librarians. Together with Shmuel Sever she created the Laboratory for Children’s Librarianship, a research facility for observing children acting in a library milieu independantly from adults. Dr. Sever is the author of Beginning Readers, Mass Media and Libraries (1994), Library in Society (in Hebrew), and articles in various journals. She is a member of the IFLA Round Table on Research in Reading.