Wednesday, July 15, 2009

a tour of some KNLS libraries around Nairobi

I arrived in Nairobi, against all odds (particularly unfriendly weather and cancelled flights) at 6:30am on Wednesday morning. My friendly driver Edward and I quickly realized that he’d also taken Eva from the airport a few days earlier. He knew why my bags were so heavy (they were full of books), and knew that I’d passed through his hometown, Kitale, last year with Eva. Upon arrival at the Upper Hill Campsite and Hotel in Lavington, a nice section of Nairobi, we found Eva in the dining room, working away. She told me to drop my bags at the front desk and keep Edward near—we were to go directly to KNLS for a tour of a few KNLS-run libraries in and around Nairobi.

Our first stop was Thika, a busy suburb roughly 50km from Nairobi proper. A library had been built there in 1981, and the library’s director, Beatrice, answered our incessant questions and showed us around. A clean, well-lighted space, the Thika library consisted of a very large adult reading room, an only slightly smaller children’s space (both including an impressive book collection), a cyber cafĂ©, a news area (both for adults and children), a large reception area, nice office space, and good public space both indoors and outdoors. KNLS was very proud of this well-functioning branch, with 27 full-time trained librarians and support staff. Beatrice was happy to let us know that its location on the border of Thika and a very large slum allowed for its use of much ground, provision of a quiet public space, and opportunity to serve a vastly underserved population of local children who were used to being shooed away from other public and private buildings in town.

We moved right on to the new library construction in Bura Bura, a middle class area of mostly civil servants just about 2km outside of Nairobi. As modern as they come, the shell of the building complex was complete—in addition to the 5-story main library building, there were shorter wings for a conference center, a business center (already in use by a bank, a print shop, and Safaricom, a Kenyan cell-phone provider), and a residence for a caretaker. Internet ports for more than 50 computers per floor revealed the modern aspirations of the town. After imagining the space filled with books, computers and people, we headed back to Nairobi with Omar, our host from KNLS, to get a look at the Nairobi branch, which was connected to KNLS headquarters.

The main branch had an impressive digital accounting system for tracking both members and books’ movement in and out of the library, as well as specialized resources for special needs groups, including the visually impaired.

After a quick, early dinner, Eva and I rushed back to pick up our things to bring to the bus station. We were soon on an overnight bus to Busia, where we dropped everything at the Farmview Hotel, to start a new day!

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