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Librarians On Loan To Kenya


Special to The Courant

4:49 PM EDT, August 21, 2009


Books are in short supply everywhere in Kenya, and that’s tough on a population of avid readers. But in its five years of existence, American Friends of Kenya has done more than donate 150,000 books. It has helped libraries organize and share them.

Audra Zimmermann of Colchester is president of Windsor-based Donohue Group Inc., professional librarians who provide consulting and development. She is in Kenya for the second time with AFK.

Theft and vandalism can be problems anywhere, but Zimmermann was shocked to find the books in many Kenyan libraries locked up behind glass. Kenyans treasure their books but can be afraid to lend them.

Another obstacle to overcome is that Kenyan libraries aren’t accustomed to networking and sharing resources.

Maureen Macinko of North Stonington, librarian at Wheeler Middle and High School, is AFK’s vice president for libraries and education, and the team leader for this year’s library team.

Along with setting up a library at the new Kibera School for Girls in Nairobi’s largest slum, the team has been helping to open a regional library outside Nairobi, in Thika, that will serve an estimated 900,000 people.

AFK has raised or donated about 80 percent of the $70,000 spent so far on constructing the Thika library, and donated all the books.

Buildings and books are basics. But the greatest gift may be the workshops AFK holds for librarians to find out what books they want.

Kenyans are gracious people, says Zimmermann, and will accept anything they are given. But you must send people what they actually like and need, she says, if you want results.

Sets of textbooks?

“Totally wrong,” she says, because the texts may conflict with curriculums established by the government. Better to send books that supplement or expand curriculums, not undermine or confuse them.

References and atlases?

“Always popular.”

The latest pulp romances?

Grin and send them.

And what about Reader’s Digest condensed books?

Excellent, says Zimmermann. They may always turn up at tag sales in America, “but Kenyans love them.”

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