Rising bright and early for our first day at the KYGN School, and it was time to get down to proper work.
As I mentioned, the building itself was already up: more often than not, people looked surprised when I told them this was the case. But the simple fact is, the library building itself could be done by anyone. Setting it up so that it would be up and running when we left is something that couldn’t happen without us there.
If you think that sounds arrogant then I challenge you to turn the interior you see below in to an attractive space with 1000-odd hand-catalogued books, ready for the children of the KYGN school to read, explore and borrow. If you think it’s easy, then think again – it still staggers me just how many people seem to think that all you need for a library to function is some shelves and books, and that it will then just run itself. That’s a recipe for books to go missing and the library to become a White Elephant pretty quickly.
Anyway, I digress. As I’ve previously mentioned, we’d put a lot of hard work in to it, and the girls had to give up a lot of their free time to ensure we had got this far with it. Now, with huge boxes of books waiting in the corner, the shelves waiting to be filled, and the bare walls crying out for something to bring them to life, it was time to do all that previous hard work justice.
Starting with painstakingly cleaning the library floor.
So not the most glamorous way to begin, but very necessary. As anyone reading this who has been to Africa knows, dust is an ever-present problem, and as the interior and furniture had all just been recently painted, there were paint marks everywhere too, which had to be scraped off.
Whilst those who were selected for that job got on with it uncomplainingly (to their credit), a few luckier souls started work on our big art project for the wall outside.
A small but important part of our preparations had been sketching designs to go on the walls. After various discussions, brainstorming and rejected ideas – the idea to paint the whole of the Marvel Universe characters was one that stuck in my mind – we went with an ingenious idea of Louise*, the oldest girl in the group. She proposed we merge the logo of our own School with that of KYGN. Simple, but very effective.
She also had the rather clever idea of painting a mural of book characters, set against a backdrop of Mt Kilimanjaro. Originally, she’d proposed that we have the logo against Kilimanjaro, but the others – quite rightly – said there would be too much going on. So the Kili/book character mural would take pride of place on the rear interior wall, with the merged logo going on the outside wall.
Last but not least, we’d also prepared a few quotes to paint strategically around the library. And I also thought (yes, I had some ideas too!) that it would be good if we could have a space where the KYGN children’s work could be displayed as well. Those big empty wall spaces, then, were going to be filled!
Vibrant decorations are all-important if you’re to get your library looking good, but it’s nothing without its books, of course. So once the floor had been suitably cleaned up, it was time to unpack the books and put them on the shelves.
Sounds simple, but a proper library has books categorised properly. This being a primary (elementary) school, going with the Dewey Decimal Classification system for the information books seemed like a bad idea. Instead, we opted to use a colour coded spine label system to match the Tanzanian curriculum. We’d already got said coloured stickers on the books back in the UK, but now we had to separate them out and allocate to the various corners of the room…which, when there’s 1000 of them, takes more time than you think!
Fiction books are easier to categorise, as you store them in alphabetical order by author surname. But with the kids being aged between 5 and 12, and the younger ones in particular not equipped with great English, I decided with Ellie (one of our girls who was particularly outstanding on the trip) that we should break the fiction books up by age group, as those with limited English needed to be guided to the more appropriate books. Again, this took time.
Another necessary bit of admin was creating borrower cards for the KYGN children. After all, we wanted them to be able to take the books with them, without fear of them going missing. This was one of many things that, simultaneously with us doing it, I had to show the staff working at KYGN how to do as well, so that the library would keep running after we’d gone. This in itself presented some challenges, as I’d personally never set up a library before, never mind without the aid of computers and the like!
If you asked me which was the most difficult and time consuming aspect of all of the above, it would have to be the paintwork. It took ages to sketch out the pencil drawings and paint over them, just as long for the paint to dry, and we also had to mix paints if we wanted anything beyond red, yellow, blue, black or white. It was, however, also the girls’ favourite thing to do in the library, so it was important they all had a go at it!
But they knew all the less glamorous stuff had to be done, and they got on with everything I asked them to do without objecting (well, most of the time). They knew as well as me that this had been two years in the making, and we weren’t going to mess it up by taking shortcuts now.
It was all going very well in the library. But it wasn’t the only thing we had to do when we were at the KYGN School, as will become clear in the next post.
*Names of the girls have been changed.