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How to Grow a Library

A couple of years after moving with my family to Nairobi (where we lived between 2013 and 2017), I started thinking about the fact that the school my children attended didn’t have a library and I felt unhappy about this. A reading culture in a school is so vital and I don’t need to go into the reasons why. To be fair, there was a library of sorts but it was old and uncared for and had fallen into disuse. But what do we do when something is absent in our lives? We change it, with love and dedication, with our head, heart and hands.

Along with another mother at the school, we started slowly going through what was already there to see what was salvageable, then we accepted donations from families and when I was back in the UK for holidays I would collect books from friends and hunt for inexpensive books in charity shops.

Each day we would go home with books and give them a number and log them online. Once this was finally completed, the library was open to the children. It was quite a small room (it used to be a store cupboard) but witnessing their enthusiasm made all those hours of work more than worth it. The picture below shows the library in the early days – my son is on the left side with the orange stripes on his jumper and the friend I set it up with, Jana, is sitting with her daughter on her lap.

The new school library was a hit from the beginning and different classes visited on different days to borrow books. Yes, some books were lost or damaged but on the whole, the library was a source of pride and the books were really respected, alongside new items continuing to be donated. It wasn’t long before we were branching out into World Book Day celebrations, with children and staff alike dressing up as different characters from books with raffles and prizes.

Fast forward a number of years and I’m still in touch with Jana (whose children still attend the school) and I knew the library had gone from strength to strength but really wanted to see some photos of what it looked like now. The library has moved from its humble beginnings in a store cupboard to having its own dedicated building replete with chairs, cushions, baskets, book displays and regular events such as readathons.

(Photos used with permission of children and parents)

It’s hard to express how happy it makes me to see these photos. Even though I did not have any involvement in moving the library to its new building and expanding it, I love that from a small seed of an idea (how wonderful would it be if this school had a library) this thriving world of books, stories, knowledge and imagination has grown. Hats off to Jana and her band of book-loving volunteers.

So, how to grow a library? Sprinkle a few seeds, water them constantly as you gather in books, volunteers and resources and then stand back and watch its inevitable, inexorable growth.

Rebecca Stonehill

Thank you for reading this blog post. Compliment it with reading my poem entitled The Public Library Love Letter and why, back in the early days of the pandemic, I had my first moment of the enormity of the situation whilst standing in my local library.

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