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Muthoni Kibandi: The mother of all readers

By | March 22nd 2009

From the helm of Kenya’s granaries of knowledge, Muthoni Kibandi wants to see everyone reading and that is why in a few years’ time you will have a library next door, writes KIUNDU WAWERU

Muthoni Kibandi: Outgoing director of Kenya National Library Service

Muthoni Kibandi eats, lives and breathes books. Like Dr Ben Carson, author of Think Big, she passionately believes in-depth reading opens one’s mind to new ideas, which leads to knowledge and ultimately, success.

"Thank you for bringing in your daughter and be sure to tell your neighbours about the library," she tells a visitor at the Kenya National Library Service (KNLS) headquarters at Community, Nairobi.

Kibandi, the outgoing and down-to-earth KNLS director, interacts easily with staff and book loving clients.

In her immaculately furnished and welcoming office, Kibandi talks of her love for books and the places they are housed — libraries.

Growing up in Murang’a, Kibandi loved to read.

"In primary school, I would read secondary school set books which I got from my older sister," she says.

A few years later, as an ‘A’ level student at Kieni Girls’ High School, she was made the school librarian and her career path was charted.

"I fell in love with the library, which I see as a granary of knowledge and it was only fitting that I should study librarianship."

However, this was not to be as the only institution offering this course at the time was Makerere University and Uganda at that moment was at war.

Kibandi helps children learn cognitive skills at KNLS headquarters.

She opted for a bachelor’s degree in Education where she majored in Literature. She taught English and Literature for five years at Pumwani Boys’ and Githunguri Girls’ high schools.

Then she worked as a trainee librarian at Kenyatta University for six years before doing her masters degree in Library Science at the same university.

"My research thesis was on the provision of reading materials for young children in libraries. My research found public libraries had little reading materials for children. Consequently, I felt there was need for people to write more for children."

Kibandi then worked as the librarian at St Mary’s Girls’ High School and later at Daystar University.

In September 2006, she joined KNLS as the director. In only two and a half years, under her leadership, the organisation has undergone tremendous change.

The first item on her agenda was to revamp Kenya’s 48 libraries — eight provincial, seven district and 33 community-based.

Mobile libraries

"The libraries were in dire need of renovations, painting, fixing leaking roofs; in other words, an extreme makeover. We got funds from the Government and repaired the libraries," she says. The second item on the agenda was to buy books.

Readers using the library facilities at the KNLS headquarters

Photos: Maxwell Agwanda/Standard

They bought books worth Sh36 million and Sh24 million in 2007 and last year, respectively.

Kibandi then felt that KNLS should revive the mobile library that had stalled. They bought four new buses that were dispersed to Kisumu, Mombasa, Embu and Nairobi, taking books to schools in the community.

In marginalised areas such as North Eastern Province, KNLS operates camel and donkey mobile libraries.

In addition, at the headquarters, they fully automated the acquisition and processing of information materials as well as the provision of library services. Every book in the library is entered into a computer system to make it easy to account for.

Pitched reading tents

"However," says the director, "we have not fully embarked on the e-book as the Internet bandwidth is too low and downloading a book is difficult. Hopefully, with the completion of the laying of the fibre optic cable in June, we can provide e-books."

KNLS has also reached out to schools and communities by pitching reading tents, where staffers spend a whole day reading with children and their parents.

The organisation has also opened four new branches.

"Some communities have realised the need for a library and have asked us to help them out."

Next month, they will open a library in Murang’a.

The project had been started by the Murang’a community, but had stalled until KNLS stepped in and helped them finish it.

Kibandi has made public appeals, through radio and TV talk shows, for communities to realise the benefits of having a library.

"Towards this end, we have formulated a policy that will guide people — the local council will give the communities plots, the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and Local Authority Trust Fund (LATF) funds will oversee the construction, and then the KNLS, with money from the Government, will run the libraries," she says adding that Kangema, Murang’a, has a beautiful two-storey library that has been facilitated by the CDF.

Tongue in cheek, she says she will ask area MP and Minister John Michuki to advise his colleagues on how he achieved the feat.

"I had a chance to meet with the parliamentary library committee and lobbied for more libraries in the constituencies. My dream is to see everyone having a library five kilometres from where he or she lives," she declares.

In Karatina, the library was small but KNLS expanded it.

"We have received requests from communities who lack a library. These include Lodwar, Kerio Valley, Gilgil and Loitokitok."

Perhaps the most impressive of Kibandi’s achievements are the construction of the Buruburu and Nakuru libraries.

"Rift Valley and Nairobi have no provincial libraries. In Nakuru, we are building a five–storey library," she says.

The facility in Buru Buru is a state-of-the-art ultra modern library. Five storeyed, the majestic building has a conference facility, "for Buruburu people to have a place to meet" and a commercial centre to help meet the daily expenses. Some of the shops are already taken and running — a bank, a mobile phone agency and a German language school. There is also a cafeteria and small meeting rooms. To the side is a two-storey wing for children.

Buru Buru branch opens soon

Construction is complete and the Buruburu branch will open as soon as KNLS gets funds for furniture and books.

Looking to the future, Kibandi envisions overseeing a 10-storey building at the headquarters.

"The land where KNLS is currently headquartered has potential for a lot of development. I am thinking of a library that is flanked with book-related services such as conference halls and recreation facilities where even publishers can hold big book launches," she says.

Her dream is to see all Kenyans read including children, as well as the visually impaired and handicapped. The Buruburu branch has a winding ramp alongside the regular stairway, making it wheel-chair accessible.

Married to Isaac Kibandi, the mother of 24-year-old Ng’ang’a Kibandi says her family is her greatest inspiration and have made her who she is.

"My husband is a wonderful supportive gentleman. He has always been there for me and I cannot thank him enough."

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