Thursday, July 16, 2009

local v. KNLS management

In partnership with the Busia Community Library Service, we have been discussing issues of community ownership and the identification of an appropriate plot of land on which to build. These concerns are intertwined, and not because land is a resource that we lack. To the contrary, Busia community has a couple of options open to it. I think that the discussion is interesting, and hope that you will weigh in with your comments.

There are many benefits of working with the Kenya National Library Service, who owns a well-located and nice-sized piece of land in Busia, set aside specifically for the development of a community library. It is up to the community to construct the building. Once the building is complete, KNLS will undertake a competitive national search for the identification and hire of trained librarians, outfit the library with books and other materials, and take responsibility for the maintenance, management, and functioning of the library.  The Busia community, at this point, as the capacity to contribute a bit to some of these activities, but lacks the resources to fully manage any of them, so the KNLS involvement would be a boon.

Busia has, however, been operating a small-scale community library in some form since 2001, and local aspirations and local knowledge should not be discounted. The library is the project of the community, intended to serve Busia district and the surrounding region. In an underserved area, it would be nice if the new construction led to long-term positions of employment for locals. True, building the library will create some temporary positions, and maintenance and low-skilled staff positions will likely be created once the library is in operation, but holding a national competition, giving no preference for locals, for the skilled staff positions (save one) leaves it very unlikely that there will be continuity between the old library and the new, or that the community leaders who have been so involved in coordinating the maintenance of the existing library and the development of the new library will have more than nominal involvement in the functioning of the new library.

Acceptance of the KNLS offer of land means that once the library is built, Busia will hand over the keys, literally and figuratively, to KNLS. Identification of a different plot of land on which to build will be expensive for the community but will free it to negotiate, once the library is built, the level of involvement that KNLS will have with the community library moving forward. KNLS provides many services to unaffiliated public libraries, including training, technical assistance, and material support.

These ideas have implications for Maria’s Libraries beyond the Busia initiative. KNLS owns land in 72 communities across Kenya, on all of which they hope libraries will one day be built. Maria’s Libraries is very happy to work with KNLS to help develop these latent projects, but both organizations are very aware of benefits and drawbacks associated with partnering with KNLS.

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