It pains me to say it, but I haven’t been in a library for a while. If I want to read a book, I buy it. Even worse, I download it. So, when I was told that I was going off to Tsavo in rural, rural Africa to help the local community of ex poachers to set their library up, I was quite bemused.
I didn't think I knew anything about how a library should run or the first thing about library protocols. But, as it transpired I did because I had the luxury of being taken every week as a child to read stories, then all the way through school. We didn’t even think twice about it. Going to the library was part of our routine and then at university the library was my second home.
However, for lots of people here a library is a concept that someone told them about and a book is something that they’ve rarely touched. So really our job was not daunting at all – get people into the library and get them reading.
My first task was to organise and categorise a huge pile of donated books. It was a long and arduous task but I consoled myself with the thought that if I could explain how I’d done it, then my system would be used for years to come, maybe even generations.
In the meantime, others were making magazine racks, jewellery racks and display units out of wire and as one of the villagers said, “out of the same wire that was once used to snare animals.” We were also busy making posters for the grand opening of the library and designing workshops to educate the community about how to handle books, how to use the categorisation system and how to make the most of their brand new resource centre.
The Grand Opening of the library was scheduled for 12 noon on Saturday, but anyone who has been to Africa will know that there is a whole different concept of measuring time, where people come when they’re good and ready, and eventually, they did come.
The ceremony took a while. There were lots of speeches (lots of long speeches!) but looking around me I saw so many proud faces of people who had worked so tirelessly to come up with a concept of building a library, then building the actual library, then filling it with books, that my numb bum didn’t matter.
Our final contribution was to have a discussion with the community group about the logistics and running of the library. We talked about book loan systems, rules, memberships and fees, data bases and reading groups – nothing was decided then, but the ideas were set in motion ready for a group meeting that will take place later in the week. This is glorious Africa after all and things happen when they’re good and ready.
Jessica Lewis – Combination Volunteer