Do you know about the Kenyan 'matatu' which is a Library? [Pulse Contributor's Opinion]

A case for keeping libraries in Kenya open

4 reasons libraries are important: A case to keep them open [Pulse Contributor's Opinion]

In a country like Kenya where books are taxed (16% VAT) while helicopters are zero rated, libraries are more important now than ever.

According to a report, the Kenya adult literacy rate was at a level of 81.5 % in 2018, up from 78.7 % in 2014. Libraries help foster literacy and learning.

Through the Kenya National Library Service (KNLS) Board, the government can instill and promote a reading culture country-wide. Public libraries where citizens and non-citizens can access books, access a community, and safeguard cultural heritage.

Other organizations like The Book Bunk have come in to fill this gap. They have restored the McMillan Memorial Library in Nairobi CBD, Kaloleni and Makadara.

The K-South Bus Library, a bus that has been turned into a library, serves the youth in Kariobangi South and the surrounding estates. It sits on community land and it acts as a safe space for children and a space for them to nurture their creativity.

Why Libraries Are Key

Here are some reasons why we need libraries across the country and why we need to keep those doors open.

  • Libraries keep you busy 

I love reading. I spend almost every waking moment reading. Growing up I spent so much time at the library. Poring over volumes and volumes of comic books, storybooks, newspapers, magazines, and solving puzzles.

These kept me occupied for hours on end. My mom didn’t have to worry about where was and I didn’t have to worry about how to spend my time.

I would carry this habit into high school where I would pass a lot of time reading novels, magazines and newspapers.

Worldwide, children and adults alike need access to libraries to keep them occupied and away from trouble.

  • Gain knowledge 

You spend so much time reading you soon become a walking encyclopedia of information. When did country A gain independence? How many comic book characters exist in X universe?

Your memory gets the necessary exercise to stay sharp. This skill comes in handy throughout life.

With the wide pool of leasable books being accessible, it becomes so much easier to gain knowledge. From science to history to literature, to computer science and so much more.

Some libraries have computers and internet. Through these resources, library goers can access more learning materials online and connect with other users worldwide.

  • Socialize with other kids and adults 

Despite Narok being a small town on the South Western part of the country, we have had three libraries in the past twenty years. Two of these have been run by the government and one was privately run.

Over the years I made friends from other schools and kept in touch with the ones I went to school with.

These libraries would serve as meet points and places to pass time. From the basketball court to the tree-filled, carbo-paved compound.

Thus we can use libraries to create communities where children, youth, and adults come together to interact with each other. A space to share skills and knowledge.

Library spaces can also be used to hold events such as film screenings, book readings, festivals arts and crafts sessions, and more.

  • Safe haven for the community 

For children who have a troubled home situation, libraries can become safe havens for them. They can become one of the places where the trauma doesn’t permeate.

Therefore, we need to look at libraries as a source of solace and protection for children. A comfortable place where they can get away from the stress of their world.

For instance, in 2018 during the Trump administration, The Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which sits on U.S. – Canada border, acted as a safe haven and a commons for immigrants. They didn’t have to worry about the travel ban once they set foot in the building.

More libraries around the world need to take up the mantle and act as safe spaces for people from all walks of life.

Libraries are key to keeping people busy, being a place to gain knowledge and socialize with other people, and act as a safe haven for kids.

We need a change in legislation to zero-rate books, a fund for writers, editors, and publishers so that they can produce more educational and non-educational books.

I would strongly recommend you visit a library near you today and experience the magic that lives within those walls.

The foregoing is an Opinion Article submitted to Pulse Live Kenya for publication as part of the Pulse Contributors Initiative.

Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.

Should you wish to submit an Article to Pulse, do so via contributors@pulse.co.ke.

Muthoni Njoki is a Kenyan Writer, Marketing & Communications Consultant and civil servant, with over 8 years in private and public service. The world is her oyster so she lives life to the fullest. Her mantra is, "Every moment on earth is a story to be told".

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