“We imagine that public libraries can be steered to become more than just repositories, acting as sites of knowledge production, shared experiences, cultural leadership and information exchange. We see them as sites of heritage, public art and memory.
Our formation as an entity is inspired by this core belief – that our shared spaces are more essential than ever to our collective Kenyan imagination.”
I still remember the day Sylvia Plath died. I was walking down the street talking to my friends about something that seemed to matter at the time when I quoted ‘the Bell Jar,” which I had been reading. Somewhere amidst my ramblings I mentioned that I would love to meet Plath one day – maybe she could tell me more about the book in person.
“Didn’t Sylvia Plath died in 1963?” a friend responded.
I was crushed. To me Plath had not died until that moment. She had been casually killed as I was walking down a parklands road by a man in faded jeans and an oversized t-shirt.
The thing is, Plath had been a comfort to me in my high school years – our school library having a collection of poetry that featured her alongside some other old white greats. Somehow she had stayed with me until that sunny afternoon in my 2nd year. And it wasn’t just her. I had received more guidance in my youth from Worsdsworth, Dickens, Kipling, Poe and Yeats long before I even knew to turn to Ruganda, Abacha, Soyinka or even Mailu.
“Democracy in a country where the public is uneducated is no different from having a dictatorship or an elected king.”
There is enough written about the importance of an informed and educated public to a democratic state have a fighting chance (worth it given democracy itself might be fundamentally flawed). As such, I’ll spare you the sermon on why we must educate. Today I’m interested in curiosity, history and identity and how these things are kept alive.
The 8-4-4 system of education has been repeatedly criticized for its focus on exams, creating students who are more focused on getting past the exam than understanding. Removing of the arts and humanities, which are process oriented, has been widely attributed as a part of this problem. Students who are not exposed to humanities have a harder time with lateral thinking and curiosity pursuing than others. Although it makes sense that a system that was built to create
And if we don’t start with art – how are we supposed to carry it with us into our adulthood? From whence will the innovators, creators and inventors spring? Where will we train our minds to see beyond the recurring nonsense of answer this one question using this formula for these results? Where will a lost child find Plath?
Plath here stands for the places we escape to. The places we retreat to deal when the world is too much. Like a lost child sitting in the corner of a library to avoid bullies. Or wandering into Tribeka because the traffic in town is too much and nobody needs to deal with it. Where are these places that we go to unlock the secrets within ourselves – and what do these places give us?
Currently there is little option beyond bars, brothels and theatres. You could go to a park but there’s little there that can keep the mind engaged. The museums are mainly archaic and their lens isn’t shaped to create an image around memory and identity. Precious books and artefacts are consistently misplaced (what happened to our moon rocks?) and there is little to no public space dedicated to the mind and the psyche of the people.
So this is why I dedicated today to talking about the Book Bunk. Angela Wacuka and Wanjiru Koinange came together to try and find a way to create these centres of knowledge production, shared experiences, cultural leadership and information exchange. They have partnered with the government and currently been allocated three libraries to start renovating, a job they have been doing for about a year now. So far they have done public tours, held events and initiated a “hepa jam” programme, turning the Macmillan library into a refuge for those who don’t want to sit in traffic.
And I’m here because I think every child needs a library to hide in and read Plath. Or find out about the solar system. Or figure out what life looked like in the country throughout history. To escape into a space that can them shape a story or shed perspective around who they are and what brought them to the library in the first place.