Establishing a library: guest post from Carol Mwaura

Carol is the ILN Country Ambassador for Kenya and has recently had the very challenging experience of establishing a university library from scratch. Carol has shared her story with us here:

Second job interview and finally I got the job!!! Its moving jobs, I am excited but wait, its setting up a University Library, I previously established a medical college library. This is big, it’s huge -will I be able to do it? Definitely I have to. Hoping to get a supportive team. Ready for the job and what was in my mind is so much I want to create. The energy is there, a list of things to prioritize.

When establishing a new University in Kenya, the governing body is the Commission of University Education (CUE)  which was established by an Act of parliament. The mandate of the Commission is to ensure the maintenance of standards, quality and relevance in all aspects of university education, training and research. The body is responsible for accreditation of all universities in Kenya.

Ten months down the line the library is ready, excited soon we will be opening doors for students, and yes, I got a super great supportive team. Looking back it’s been a journey, a journey of perseverance that needs a lot of patience.

First, the building is ready and the library section had already been identified so we are to work with the available building and modify a section of what will become the library.

We started by establishing the courses that would be offered and identifying the books needed and then from there identifying the book vendors this takes us weeks to identify the titles that each vendor would supply, their prices and how long it would take for them to supply. At least the budget for book purchasing had been set.

Also a library management system had been purchased. We opted for KOHA, which is an open source library software common in Kenya especially for University Libraries. Readily armed with library software, we wait for books to arrive. The next thing is identifying a book security machine – the process of identifying a vendor is done and we are ready to purchase one.

Meanwhile we are purchasing computers for the electronic library and making sure the room has internet and computers are working. Books already arriving and suddenly we have too much in our hands to deal with. My colleague and I have to prioritize on what we do first and we start with the books processing: from receiving the books, counterchecking against the invoices and the delivery notes, stamping, creating due date slips all that is in our hands. Two months down the line the books are ready to be on the shelves . There is a problem though, the shelves were not made with the right measurements, so we hold on putting the books on shelves to strategize on whether to get new ones or get a local carpenter to redo them. Due to high cost of purchasing others we decided to stay with what we had and have them redone well. This takes two months and we finally get to move the books on the shelves. Meanwhile the library system has been delivered, so there is installing, testing, and making sure all books have the magnetic strips. Few challenges but we make it.

It’s January 2015 and we are still arranging and processing books on the shelves, the security system is ready, display section ready, circulation area ready – but we later notice the roof is leaking when we had a heavy downpour and we have to address that first and the problem is solved. We have to redo the newspaper reading area at this point – its redoing things that’s one of the discouraging things, yet we need to finish and submit a report to the management. My colleague and I decided we would multitask to finish all this. I work on the document to be submitted to the Commission – I had to redo from the previously created one. Its hard work since it’s creating the mission, vision, objectives and a lot more. In two weeks we are done and the document is submitted which includes the programs to be offered.

Meanwhile, it`s waiting for inspection by the Commission and making sure we have met all the requirements needed. We decided to change rooms since the reading area and where the shelves are, (two different rooms) – we realize that the reading area has not enough natural light. So again books out of the shelves, getting people to do the moving of shelves and the reading carrels. Each day is different since we realize we have to make changes – the circulation area is also redone but at the end of the day is to get the best. We will continue redesigning each place to suit us.

I have to mention that my colleague and I have been given other responsibilities away from the library work so the work is a lot but we manage.

If you are planning to start a new library or get hired to start one just remember a few things:-

  • Creativity
  • Patience
  • Persistence
  • Hard work
  • Teamwork
  • Ask for help and support from people who understand your goals
  • Finally don’t stop dreaming, treat the project as a small baby you would dream of and dream of good things happening to your baby.

We have still not addressed few issues but we are ready for inspection. I will post another update soon since we have not recruited more staff, or arranged subscription of online journals among many more tasks.

I found the following links about establishing a library useful.

America Library Association


Carol Mwaura

ILN Country Ambassador – Kenya

The image is of Mt. Kenya -it still remains my favorite feature around my working place and where I leave.


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  1. How exciting! To have the opportunity to start a library from scratch is akin to starting one’s own business.

    All the best, and success to you Carol, and thanks for sharing!

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