Beyond the surface

Monday in Nairobi brought an opportunity to visit the University of Nairobi library, where I was reminded that ALP began in that city in 1984. Many people in Kenya have been associated with ALP at various points in time, and it’s always great to talk about how things are now, and to hear more about its history.

I didn’t have a chance to visit TechHub, Frontline SMS, Ushahidi or any number of other incredible ICT and development projects that were founded or based in Nairobi, that will have to be next time. Which there will have to be, since being in Nairobi was just really great.

Now, Gaborone. It’s my third time here in less than three years. One of the strangest things about travel I have found is that the further you go, the closer you come to home. As someone who grew up in the world’s most isolated city (Perth), I find this somewhat comforting. The drive from Buenos Aires airport in the Winter reminds me of the drive into Canberra. The wattle trees in Portugal are the same as Sydney. The buildings in Gaborone are very much like Perth’s, down to the light switches. The climate too is very nearly the same – the dry heat, the afternoon breeze, and the light. It feels very much like home in very subtle ways.

Weather aside, Botswana is a unique place. It has benefited from the exploitation of its national resources, primarily diamonds, which have led to a decent level of living for many at least in the urban areas. It is close to the mighty South Africa, with close trade links. Yet the nation suffers from a devestatingly high rate of HIV infections, and educational and income inequality for the rural population. ICT connectivity in remote areas is very difficult.

Botswana Library Association began their project two years ago in a climate where the library community did not really communicate with each other, and the association was on the outer following a long period of dormancy. Now, the association has a voice, and the confidence to turn towards the future – to advocate for better staffed school libraries, and to take an active part in the country’s new national library policy.

One of the issues we’ve been discussing here is one that most of us know innately, but that we don’t always recognise – life is complex. So many things are beyond the control of not only the project, but our organisations, our sector, and us as people. The influence that government, history, and societal norms has how we work and how we can build libraries cannot be underestimated. Yet, we should not let these issues make us feel defeated, but rather, to recognise that everything we do is within a context, and that knowing this and working within it, even if is not the ‘right way’ or how we might do it in our own home is what is right for them – no matter how similar one place may seem to another on the surface. Tomorrow, we’ll watch the association put all this into practice as they lead a presentation to a number of their stakeholders, building their own future.

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