Lessons from Quarterly Reports

Every 3 months, librarians Janet and Fred each send a report on activity in the Akili community libraries at Kakuyuni and Dabaso respectively. We require these reports to document library activity for our governance and accountability.

For the past few years, I have encouraged Janet and Fred to write reports that are informative and also interesting. In the beginning, it was challenging to move away from a civil service writing style with lots of statistics to a more familiar, descriptive tone. Over time, however, the reports have become increasingly colourful and the observations of the librarians more personal and insightful.

When I read that ‘a cashew nut tree fell on a makuti shelter’ or that ‘the library has had fewer visitors the past two months because it’s the sowing season’, it brings alive the everyday experience of a completely different world: library members aren’t simply ‘visitors’ through a door.

For me, three themes stand out.

First of all, in Kilifi County, nature has a large impact on how the whole community functions. In drought, there is simply not enough food. Children and teachers are malnourished, exhausted and worried. During the rains, books are soaked, buildings are damaged, and transportation becomes more difficult; this environment is not conducive to learning.

Second, education is a family issue; it is not as simple as a pupil going to school. In this community, it is about collaboration between child and family (often extended family members will pay for or contribute towards the expenses for their grandchild, niece or nephew, brother or sister). It is also about collaboration between school and the land, and it is supposed to be about collaboration between government and family, although how much this actually happens is debatable.

Third, the libraries are not just places to house story books. They have become practical centres for learning and conversation: students go there to study (especially during the school holidays); people in the wider community come to read newspapers; teachers use the computer facilities; the space is used for local meetings as well. The Akili mission is to improve literacy and expand access to education and with that in mind, we ship books from London every 15 months. However, whereas in the past fiction idols like J.K. Rowling and Anthony Horowitz were popular, nowadays there is a thirst for study guides and books written in Kiswahili. Apart from picture books for the youngest children, English fiction and poetry are just not very popular at the moment. Newspapers are always well-read.

The Quarterly Reports keep us in touch with how the libraries are being used. More than facts and figures, they give us an implicit contextual understanding of life in Kakuyuni and Dabaso. We can see how national policy and seasonal traditions impact on day to day life, and how people’s relationship to study and education is evolving.

I thank Janet and Fred for allowing us to enter into their world and for sharing some of their library experiences.

Laura Gavshon, Trustee