Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Alternative libraries

I can't imagine life without easy access to books, and libraries have always been part of my life, as a child, as a student, and as a parent. Whenever I go into one, I look around at all the shelves, all those books, and feel a sense of delight and wonder at all of them there waiting for me.

Ideally everyone should have the same opportunity of access to books, to widen their horizons, to learn, to be entertained while learning. But many live in remote areas where it's just not possible. In most western countries we have mobile libraries and the internet to fill the gap, but what of developing countries? The gap has been filled ingeniously.

Today my friend janeway sent me a link to an article in the International Herald Tribune telling about Biblioburros. Every weekend for the last 10 years, a mobile library looking remarkably like two donkeys sets out for remote villages in Colombia. This particular project is run single-handed by a primary school teacher , Luis Sorian, in La Gloria Columbia.

A very similar project is running in Venezuela, there called Bibliomulas. In this case it is run by a Venezuelan univerisity, the University of Momboy, and it's being extended to carry laptops and projectors. Miles and donkeys are essential when it comes to the steep slopes that need to be climbed in order to bring reading material to the more remote communities.

In Kenya a different approach is needed to bring books to nomadic communities.  A static library would be of no use, so instead the library follows them. Ships of the desert are the best way to travel in the Garissa area, 400km from the capital, Nairobi.

Books are important to the people in the area but they can't afford them.  There is a very high rate of illiteracy, partly because of the nomadic way of life and partly because of poverty.  Any spare money has to be spent on food.

BookAid has had a programme in Kenya since 1965 and providing books for the Kenya Camel Library is just one of the areas they support.

Books Change Lives


  1. That is amazing. I think how sad it is that most Americans don't take advantage of all of the free knowledge accessible at libraries, and here you have people doing whatever it takes to get books to the people - even if it means strapping them to a donkey.

  2. Very true GM, I think we take an awful lot for granted in the western world.

  3. Very interesting. I personally love the library and never thought about people not having access to it.

  4. Politics in every country have always been there to ensure the education of their people is ensured. Unfortunately war in many third world countries takes priority.
    Getting book and knowledge to these countries needs a a "kick up the 'ass'" quite appropriate phrase in this instance.
    Stimulating reading.

  5. A, I am going to look into this. Very good program. It would go well with the teaching Freedom from Hunger.

  6. The postman the other day commented, as he delivered another parcel from Amazon, that I had more books than the library. Reading this makes me ashamed at how I take reading for granted and I now truly admire the effort made by devoted volunteers to bring books to people who otherwise would not have them.

  7. Ditto with Elaine, I am grateful for the books that I have even though I lust after others not yet read. I can't imagine what it would be like not to have the time or the books to read.

  8. That's wonderful! I love having so much information available over the internet, but books are my first and abiding love.

  9. Those are some awesome programs! I love to read and I can't imagine what it would be like to live in some of those remote areas with so little access to books...

  10. this is the first time I hear about these libraries around the world! How nice are these actions! I love books too and keep them all since I am teenagers in my own library in my living room. And when the girls need one for school they often find their author and title. I gave many pedagogic books to a teacher living at Senegal! I think some kids are now learning with them in a small african village!

  11. Although we take books and libraries for granted in the western world, I don't really think we need feel too ashamed about it. I would rather everyone could take them for granted. Having an excess of books doesn't seem to be in the same league as an excess of food. They don't go to waste in the same way.

    These three schemes seem to be to be ingenious and deserving of all the help they can get. There may be others but I'm not aware of them. There are of course other places which just don't have books at all.

  12. It was fine to hear there are people who appreciate the books till now. Thank you for the post.
    What's interesting: people who can't afford the books appreciate the wisdom/honor the word much more than the wealthy world that sinks in papers.


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