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The Library Of The African Nile

Books For Development's Most Ambitious Library Project

Houston’s Books for Development, a non-profit devoted to addressing the book famine in the developing world, in March tackled its most ambitious ever project--establishing a major new library in Northwest Uganda on the Nile River. Called “The Library of the African Nile,” this facility celebrates the river and the African people who have for millennia thrived on it.

The Library was established by an all-volunteer force (Books for Development has no paid staff) in Pakwach, Uganda, just north of Lake Albert and opened on April 1. It is by far the largest library in the West Nile region, except for the Muni University Library in Arua. Aside from having an extensive collection--over 20,000 volumes--the Library also has entire sections devoted to the Nile River, African History, famous Africans, as well as a section devoted to African stories, proverbs and the oral tradition.

The most eye-popping feature of the Library is its thirty foot long by seven-foot-wide map of the Nile River painted on the floor which shows all eleven countries through which the Nile runs and uses over 225 pictorial elements to inform about the people, history and culture along the river.

The Library’s focus on the Nile is also found in 24 book displays that showcase the books about topics such as the birds, fish and other animals of the Nile, the exploration of the Nile, and various visitors to the West Nile region such as Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway.

Finally, the Library also has a large special section devoted to children, with a mural depicting the wildlife of the Nile. Like most of the libraries Books for Development establishes, it also houses a local Chess club and serves as a base for the distribution of book boxes that operate as mobile libraries for surrounding schools and villages.

Aside from the good that this major library can do for the area, it is also hoped that the Library will usher in a new class and type of library for Uganda. According to Books For Development's President and Founder Mark Cotham:

“Pakwach is literally the gateway for the vital West Nile region, which contains 4 million people and borders South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, since it has the bridge that must be crossed to enter. Both before and since the opening, we have received feedback from surrounding major towns asking “what do we need to do to get a library?”

Two groups of volunteers (a total of 16) traveled to the Nile to work with Books for Development to establish this and other libraries. This was done using donated books-mostly repurposed from library discards. The organization accepts volunteers through Volunteer Houston and book donations at its warehouse found at 3709 Polk on Saturday mornings from 9am to noon.


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