One Man's Quest for Community Libraries

Philip Mainge Wanjohi is a lover of written word and an advocate for establishing of libraries at ward levels to foster a reading culture. The man in his seventies is rooting for every ward in Kenya to have what he terms as Community Library Services, CLS, which will promote an interest in reading at grassroots levels, seeing that many jobless youths are wasting away in rural areas engaging in unproductive habits like gambling and drugs. 

You are an advocate for library services at the ward levels countrywide to foster a reading culture, why are you championing this?
I have read over 2000 books on various genres and the impact they left on me is immense. I was an avid book worm at the Kenya Library Services, Nakuru branch, for many years, and having read a great many books, I realized reading is informative and educative and our young generation of today should embrace reading, not only in classes for purpose of passing examinations like in set books, but as part of recreation activities. And the best way to begin this is by bringing library services closer.

From the number of the books you have read, which would you say left a great impact on you?
There are many, but I can single books like Einstein Universe, as it has very good topics about politics and explains socialism well. Another is Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions which is a great read. It has a page titled, ‘society and personality’ with important nuggets on qualities one needs to be a leader. Another one is Maisha ya Hatari by Henry ole Kulet.
Someone said we are a literary desert, do you think the idea of community libraries can work?
We have not given it a try yet, but I don’t see why it should not work. I know majority of young people are hooked to their technological gadgets from where they consume information or can access soft versions of the books. I would advocate reading the traditional way, than having eyes focused on screens of phones or computers. More, there are rare books you cannot find online, and I think such is what you will find in libraries.

Which writer, either living or dead, would you love to meet?
The one who comes immediately to mind is Albert Einstein. The Ideas and Opinions book has very appealing lectures mostly his interviews before he died. He refused to have an operation done to him. What I admire most about him is his refusal to be Israel’s first president, because he said he said he could not stop doing mathematics and be president of another country!

What is your take of our reading culture?
I would say we’ve not inculcated a love for books well. Reading through social media posts, it is hard to reconcile with fact some of posts written in a pathetic manner are from educated people. I struggle to understand what young persons are trying to communicate to me in a Martian sounding language. I don’t know sheng, and prefers writing words in full and in English. And to illustrate that not everyone who studies to a high level is most read, a young business graduate wrote to me the other day and his language grasp is pathetic. We are a literary desert, truly! No wonder I went through a thesis by another graduate only to discover his ‘work’ is copy and paste!


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