Back in Lamu, I did a site visit to Shella Primary School to see the state of the library (our last donation was delivered 4 months ago). I also wanted to see how the library was actually being used, what books were being borrowed most frequently and which less frequently.
I was happy to find the library still organized and popular with students and the community, who I was informed by Principal Mohammed have also taken to borrowing books from it.
I was delighted that Mohammed was able to assist our Islamic faith based school library book list by informing us on the popular versus unpopular titles. Without exposure to titles, this information is impossible gather.
Unlike all other schools in Kenya that we have worked with, popular series like Harry Potter and Twilight are not favourites here. In fact they were rarely borrowed. Mohammed explained that the books are too long and too difficult for most students at Shella and not popular with teachers either. Much of this has to do with the academic level of the students at Shella. In our experience, primary school children at competitive Kenyan schools are eager and capable of reading and comprehending more complex and long books. To inspire and challenge the academic and spirited student, we will continue to include books like Harry Potter in our book lists.
Reference books were among the students favourite ones. Top of the list was ‘The Human Body’. Science related books and the Guiness Book of World Records were the next favourites.
A reference book on Slavery fascinated the students and is also a popular one. Until we introduced this book at the Shella library, students were completely unaware of slavery and its history. Which is surprising, especially because Kenya’s indian ocean was once part of the route of the slave trade.
Shella’s students still prefer local African stories (which range from 20-70 pages in easier text). We donated them to the library in 2009. They are books that are designated for school libraries by the Ministry of Education. In 2012 we decided to introduce more complex and longer books to cater to students who told us that they wanted to read the more complex, issues based and best seller fantasies to challenge themselves and increase their awareness.
Since our 2012 book donation which was focused on building Islamic historical and cultural content, community members have started borrowing books from the library. Mohammed informed me that they come to borrow the Islamic poetry books and religious texts.