The State of Libraries as Kenya Turns Fifty

January 15, 2014Anne Eboso

Anne Eboso works with Storymoja which partners with Start a Library, a program seeking to foster a reading culture in Kenya through provision of libraries.

It is very sad indeed that fifty years after independence only 2% of public schools in Kenya have libraries. In rare cases where a library does exist, it is often no more than a few shelves or a cupboard stored in the head teacher’s office. Furthermore, these libraries stock, nearly exclusively, textbooks and reading materials that are outdated or culturally irrelevant. This dire reality shows that the importance of school libraries has not yet been fully recognized in Kenya. On the contrary, school libraries are regarded as luxuries that cannot be afforded by the public school system.

This is re-affirmed by Lily Nyariki in her 2007 publication, “The
Role of a School Library in the Implementation of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Education Access, in Public Schools in Kenya.” Additionally, the report states that “well equipped libraries with qualified librarians provide information and ideas that are fundamental to every student so that they can function successfully in our increasingly information and knowledge-based societies.”

The lack of available libraries has likely had a significant impact on literacy levels in the country. According to the 2012 Uwezo Kenya Report, one third of all children in Class 3 cannot read a Class 2 level story. Furthermore 7% of Class 8 children can neither read simple English nor a Kiswahili story. The Start a Library  initiative is a Reading Revolution campaign that seeks to redress these issues.

Fostering Reading for Fun

Start a Library intends to excite children about reading for pleasure. Its vision is to facilitate a library in every school in Kenya. It focuses on three major campaigns: library installations, the Jaza Matatu na Vitabu campaign, and the Read Aloud campaign. Since its inception, 40 libraries have been erected in public primary and informal schools. Currently, Jaza Matatu na Vitabu acts as a collection point for books during special events such as the Storymoja Hay Festival. Start a Library also offers a variety of book packs ranging from bronze to diamond with materials that individuals and organizations can buy for students.

Read Aloud is Start a Library’s campaign geared towards changing children’s attitudes towards reading. Its methodology involves children from different schools and locations reading out loud from the same text at the same time. Of the three Read Aloud events that have occurred thus far, the National Record stands at 86,267 children in 10 countries. With the help of different partners, Start a Library hopes to break the World Record which currently stands at 235,000 people reading together across 900 venues in the United States. By doing so, it hopes to put to rest the awful saying that goes: “if you want to hide something from an African, hide it in a book.”

Most of Start a Library’s service users are children aged between 2 and 14 years. These children are at a critical stage of acquiring habits that will significantly impact their lives. They are also at a stage where they can embrace a reading culture and make it a part of their daily lives. According to an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study, reading for pleasure is one of the most important factors for a successful future. Hence in a country like Kenya, with such economic disparity, fostering a love of reading could be the MOST valuable gift given to Kenyan children.

Start a Library addresses the children’s needs by providing them with storybooks and exciting them by allowing them to experience different ways of reading. The initiative has partnered with Storymoja Publishers during Storyhippo fun days and the Storymoja Hay Festival. To find out more about the program check out its profile on CEI.  

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