Not Your Typical Community Library: Guest Post by Marilyn Lewis
What do you think of when you picture a community library? If you are like me, you see rows and rows of books in a bright sun-filled room with colorful posters on the wall. In Taru, Kenya the Community Library is in a small room with three bookcases and the only light comes through the open front door. At least that is the only light until school is finished for the day and the room is filled with the light of happy, smiling children waiting patiently for their time to come and select a book.
Then with a book in hand they read and read and read!
Although at first very shy with white people, soon they were laughing as they shared their reading skills with us. The librarian is Halima — a Kenya Keys secondary school graduate who is volunteering her time to work at the library while waiting to go to college. Her four year-old nephew reads books that a 2nd or 3rd grader might enjoy and he does it with confidence and ease. A six year-old girl stood and proudly showed off her English skills as she read aloud a book that is two or three years above her grade level.
Then there was Olga, a sweet 4th grader who comes to the library every day after school. A bit reluctant at first to answer questions asked her by this white Mama (the honorary name given to older women) she relaxed after a few minutes and shared her favorite story with me. After chatting for a while, Olga felt so comfortable that we were invited to walk home with her to meet her family. We gladly accepted the invitation and walked to her humble home. Olga’s father came out to meet us with a book in his hand that he had been reading to a younger child. Then he talked to us about his current library book, If I Had My Life to Live Over Again as he shared some of his life story. Turns out that Olga’s Father also frequents the Taru Community Library.
One last illustration of the power of books in this little community is the informal lending library we operated each time we were home. Children came in a steady stream knocking on our door with the request, “May I have a book please?” Sometimes they sat on the doorstep or under trees to devour the stories. Waldo was identified and found over and over again. Older children read to younger children. Those few that have lights at home asked to take books home and they were always returned the next day. One evening we had a story session by the light of our lantern and headlamps.
Maybe it isn’t at all like a typical American library, but the books provided by Kenya Keys are truly influencing an entire community.