Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Books as Objects

A great article by Alexandra Perloff-Giles about the various lives and uses of books. Thanks to Nivi for sharing!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Update from the field: “The kids, they will kill me. Their books!”

Sad news on visiting the Busia library today. I arrived at the library this morning to see water coming out of the door. I pensively sat down outside to do some work while I waited for Esther, the librarian, who opened the door. Water everywhere! This government building, the Cooperative Development House, shut off its water last year, I guess because they didn’t need it anymore, having renovated its bathrooms into offices. Last weekend I supposed the building manager changed his mind—the water was turned on for testing and was never turned off. The resulting flood soaked the bottom shelf of the children’s section, and many of the books on it. We laid out all the books in the sun and separated all the pages, and Esther carried buckets of water out of the library.

What better evidence for the need for a new building!! As if we didn’t know it before, the library should be moved as soon as possible to a stand-alone building in which it has control over its own inventory. We are moving forward on this: after 3 (or 30, depending on how you’re counting) years, the land issues are finally settled. Disputes on the title deed have been settled. As of two weeks ago, the land is clear, peaceably, and Kenya National Library Service is set to build a fence around the library this month. The community has chosen an architect, Architronic, who has come up with a gorgeous concept design for the library. There is a great plan for sustaining the library for the generations it’s supposed to be open: KNLS has agreed to take over management as soon as the library is built. That means they’ll make sure its staffed with paid, trained librarians, that the electric and water bills are paid for, and that the needed changes come when needs change in Busia. One important change is happening right now: there’s a new university campus in Busia that just started holding classes. Students have already come by the library looking for study space and curriculum books.

After the emergency was over, I got from Esther the updated stats on the existing library. An average of 10 adults come each day to borrow books, which, depending on the popularity of the book and the number of copies in the library inventory, they can use at home for 3-14 days. 20-35 children come each weekday to read, but more like 50 on the weekends (the kids aren’t allowed to take books home). Esther and the library’s management committee, Family Support Services, must be credited with holding regular hours and keeping close watch on the existing library and its stock. They are stretching very scarce resources (fewer than 3000 books) and a very small space (~20ft x 20 ft) to serve quite consistently an impressive number. However, there are more than 40,000 people in Busia and 600,000 in the county. With more capacity, the library could offer books, services, programming, and computer access to a huge portion of the Kenyan population that currently has to drive nearly 3 hours to Kisumu for similar service.

So, all we need is a building. A fully-equipped, modern library capable of serving the county would cost about $300,000. Eva and I are writing grants for this but it’s a stretch—there are just so few funders who are interested in building projects. This effort will likely have to be done privately. So, that’s where you come in! Donate to build the new library in Busia. Send checks to

Maria’s Libraries

93 Sterling Street

Brooklyn, NY 11225

Send us a cash-free donation via MPesa on 0704 090 755 until July 8.

There is no overhead taken out on either of the above methods of donation!

Credit card donations may be securely made via Paypal.

Thanks so much. Let's get this thing done!