Working on the library

Working on the library

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.

20160712_124901Anyway, 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.

20160713_113130So 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.

20160713_145943Sounds 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!

20160713_145948If 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.


  • Heather Hastie

    August 19, 2016 at 2:41 pm Reply

    So great to see the library finished! My family and I were volunteering at the school when they started work on the roof of the building. Congratulations to you and your students for such a great job!

    – Heather Hastie

    • Joe

      August 19, 2016 at 2:52 pm Reply

      Hi Heather, thanks for dropping by! It’s not actually finished at the point of our time there this post covers though…! Pictures of the completed library still to come 🙂 Hope you had a great time with your family at KYGN. It’s fair to say it’s a great place, huh?

  • Ruth McGrath

    August 19, 2016 at 5:36 pm Reply

    Really looking forward to seeing everything when we visit in February. Think the girls’ ideas for categorising books is excellent – In Moshi library you can find the same Harry Potter books under R, H and P ( probably J and K too !) QED!

    • Joe

      August 19, 2016 at 7:11 pm Reply

      Hahaha, that’s absurd! You’d never find any books if they were categorised so erratically, in my opinion. Hope you have a good trip in February – let me know if the books are out of order 😉

  • Shayne

    August 23, 2016 at 1:01 pm Reply

    I used to do some volunteer work for a local public school library before and we did something similar to this! We cleaned the rooms and painted the walls! It was a fun whole day activity. Looking to do some more volunteering works in the future. Keep it up, Joe!

    • Joe

      August 23, 2016 at 1:11 pm Reply

      Thanks 🙂 That was just a small part of it, of course, as there was a lot of other stuff to do. But without the paint job the library sure wouldn’t have looked as awesome as it eventually did when finished…

  • Samantha

    August 23, 2016 at 1:28 pm Reply

    When will the library be completed? Will you be posting a photo of the library completed? The kids visiting the library will definitely appreciate all the time and effort you gals put into the library.
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    • Joe

      August 23, 2016 at 2:07 pm Reply

      Thanks Samantha…am I one of the girls as well now then? I’m honoured! 😉 I’m writing this retrospectively, so you’ll just have to wait and see if the library was completed before we left! Hahaha, I’m a big meanie like that 😀

  • Maggie

    August 23, 2016 at 1:49 pm Reply

    You have some awesome volunteers! It’s so nice to see younger people get involved in things like this. I hope my daughter (who is 4 now) is drawn to things like this when she’s older. Great job on the library!
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    • Joe

      August 23, 2016 at 2:09 pm Reply

      Thanks Maggie 🙂 I hope your daughter gets an opportunity like this: the girls who I took with me had to put in a lot of hard work not just when we were at the school but in the build up to our time there as well. And, y’know, no one’s too old to volunteer, if you were thinking about doing something like it yourself one day…

  • Jon Barr

    August 23, 2016 at 11:33 pm Reply

    Great job helping out.. You know the expression, “like watching paint dry.” I look forward to reading more about this library.

    • Joe

      August 24, 2016 at 7:03 am Reply

      Thanks mate, it’s an expression I know all too well, and there was certainly an element of that going on here 😉

  • Hallie

    August 24, 2016 at 1:05 am Reply

    That’s such a great thing to be doing. I love that first pic. How many people does it take to hold a ladder still? haha I definitely wouldn’t have been the artist painting. Put me with the books, sorting and shelving and I’m good. ^^

    • Joe

      August 24, 2016 at 7:04 am Reply

      Thank you Hallie 🙂 The ladder was, shall we say, somewhat makeshift! And so it definitely needed a few people to steady it, and at the very least one person sitting on the lower rung! The sorting and shelving was just as an important job, so your input there would have been most appreciated 🙂

  • Marry

    August 24, 2016 at 8:23 am Reply

    You guys are doing really great job! And its so amazing that younger people also want to be involved into such things! Good luck to you)

    • Joe

      August 24, 2016 at 8:40 am Reply

      Thanks Marry 🙂 These young people constantly exceeded my expectations of what they were capable of throughout this trip, which is to their credit!

  • Ruben Arribas

    August 24, 2016 at 9:45 am Reply

    Amazing job!! I hope you can complete soon and read here 🙂

    • Joe

      August 24, 2016 at 2:59 pm Reply

      Thank you 🙂

  • Paige Wunder

    August 24, 2016 at 2:49 pm Reply

    Looks like you’re really making a difference! I love that you’re getting young people involved in important work! Thanks for sharing!

    • Joe

      August 24, 2016 at 3:01 pm Reply

      Thanks. It’s a two way benefit thing really – both the kids from the UK and the kids at the Tanzanian school get so much from the experience 🙂

  • Ana Ojha

    August 24, 2016 at 4:06 pm Reply

    Great Job! Glad to see your enthusiasm and your efforts for such a wonderful cause!

    • Joe

      August 24, 2016 at 4:46 pm Reply

      Thank you 🙂

  • The Toronto Seoulcialite

    August 25, 2016 at 8:31 am Reply

    I can’t wait to see the finished product! What a great thing you’re doing. I hope the reward is as great as the workload. Sounds like you’re giving it everything you’ve got!

    • Joe

      August 25, 2016 at 9:17 am Reply

      Yep, it’s been something of a labour of love, but it was all worth it in the end. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  • Christina

    August 25, 2016 at 12:19 pm Reply

    Good job! It looks like a satisfying and rewarding project to be involved in. And a great way to meet locals too.

    • Joe

      August 25, 2016 at 1:51 pm Reply

      Thanks Christina, although these ‘locals’ were a bit younger than the ones you usually meet 😉

  • Danielle Des

    August 26, 2016 at 12:53 am Reply

    Learned so much about the process of creating a library, I definitely take this all for granted. Painting looks like a lot of fun but I’m mindful of all the effort it took!

    • Joe

      August 26, 2016 at 7:22 am Reply

      Hahaha, it was effortful fun 😉 Believe me I learnt a lot too, it was an old school library, with card catalogues and everything!

  • Kari (Happy Coconuts Travel Blog)

    August 29, 2016 at 9:30 pm Reply

    Nice work, libraries are so important! Nothing like holding a book in your hand 🙂

    • Joe

      August 29, 2016 at 10:33 pm Reply

      Thanks, and glad you see the importance of libraries 🙂

  • Christine K

    August 30, 2016 at 12:45 am Reply

    Fantastic job creating an environment where the kids can learn. Such important work you’re doing.
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    • Joe

      August 30, 2016 at 6:20 am Reply

      Thank you 🙂

  • Renne Simpson

    August 30, 2016 at 12:27 pm Reply

    The book character mural idea is awesome <3 <3 <3 Can't wait to see the photos of the completed project
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    • Joe

      August 30, 2016 at 12:56 pm Reply

      Thanks 🙂 The completed library photos will be arriving in the near future…

  • Hridya

    August 31, 2016 at 5:11 am Reply

    It always feels good to get something like this done, and with team work, it becomes more fun to work. Great job, my best wishes to you and your team!

    • Joe

      August 31, 2016 at 6:44 am Reply

      Thank you! I can’t fault the teamwork and general work ethic of the girls – they were fantastic 🙂

  • Anne

    August 31, 2016 at 1:30 pm Reply

    I loved looking at the bits and pieces of the transformation! I would love to see the finished result as well! Your enthusiasm also really shines! I love when people get involved in great causes!

    • Joe

      August 31, 2016 at 2:40 pm Reply

      Thanks Anne 🙂 Yeah, it seemed like a good idea to document the progress of it all, which is every bit as important as the outcome. Speaking of which, the finished result will be posted on here soon…

  • Claire

    August 31, 2016 at 5:32 pm Reply

    This is very inspirational stuff. You must be so proud of those girls
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    • Joe

      August 31, 2016 at 5:51 pm Reply

      Very much am Claire, they were a credit to themselves 🙂

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