Though The Camel Bookmobile is a novel, (read reviews and the story behind the book,) the camel-borne library actually exists. It operates from Garissa in Kenya’s isolated Northeastern Province near the unstable border with Somalia. Initially launched with three camels on Oct. 14, 1996, the library now uses 12 camels traveling to four settlements per day, four days per week. The camel library is now operating also in Wajir, Kenya, even further to the northeast. The camels bring books to a semi-nomadic people who live with drought, famine and chronic poverty. The books are spread out on grass mats beneath an acacia tree, and the library patrons, often barefoot, sometimes joined by goats or donkeys, gather with great excitement to choose their books until the next visit. The books are written in English or Swahili, the two official primary of Kenya. (For more about languages of the region, see here.)
In 2006, I visited the region and walked the bush with the real camel library. I was moved by the excitement with which the people greeted the camel library. But the bush is hard on books and, of course, the traveling library badly needs more. Also on the librarian’s wishlist is a tent to provide shade against the 100-degree-plus temperatures and a dozen sturdy boxes to hold the books that travel by camelback.
Thanks to the more than 235 authors who acted so quickly and generously to donate, and also reached out to colleagues and friends since the project began Feb. 13. (At left, see the wooden donation board in Garissa for those who contribute to the camel library.) Thanks, too, to the bloggers who have written about the drive and those who love books and decided to contribute. Special thanks to the incomparable M.J. Rose for helping birth the idea and organize the drive, and the amazing Susan Ito for crucial help in setting up this website and running the drive.
Warmly, Masha Hamilton
Another great organization helping African libraries is Chris Bradshaw’s African Library Project.
Books for Africa, founded in 1988, has shipped over 15 million books to 28 countries from a warehouse in St. Paul, MN. Thanks to Catherine Martignacco for approaching me at a reading to tell me about this wonderful organization.
Check here for the New Orleans Public Library Rebuilding Campaign.
Also check out Cindy Dyson’s Book Club Works, a new and wonderful literacy site.
For a whimsical look at Shelley Jackson and Christine Hill’s Interstitial Library, click here.
The librarians in the Northeast Province who travel with the camel bookmobile told me children’s storybooks are most popular, general fiction for kids and adults is also high on the list, and much interest is shown in nonfiction books covering topics ranging from astronomy to geography to history. We also like to send books by African authors. Gently used books are welcome.
The librarians also said patrons especially love it when a book is inscribed with a note from the sender. It helps them feel connected to places only barely imagined.
Those planning to take school exams to further their studies focus on English since this is the language of government and education. Take a look at the Amazon wish list for ideas, or select some of your own favorite books.
Last year all of the books carried by the camel library were in either English or Swahili. To see small children practicing their English in their “classroom” under an acacia, take a look at the video. Somali is spoken by many of the library’s patrons. To see a great exploration of language in Kenya, visit this blog.
BOOKS NOT TO DONATE: We want to get the camel library the kinds of books they most need. Based on my time spent with the camel library as well as consultations with the camel librarian, Mr. Farah, books you might consider donating elsewhere include: textbooks, books about American, European or religious holidays, books with lots of slang, or racy adult books.
If you opt to donate by any of these methods, please send us an email and let us know so we can thank you.
You can order online and have the store mail your books. To make a donation without leaving home, take a look at the Camel Bookmobile Amazon Wish List. Amazon will ship the books and charge you for shipping (choose the standard international rate). Or you can order from a Powell’s wishlist, (just add the Kenyan address for shipping) or from your favorite independent bookstore. If you want to send books in Swahili, you can order from Language Lizard or Peppercorn Books and Press. Books written in Somali can be ordered from Afgarad Online or WorldLanguage.com.
Or you can buy your own books, box them up and mail them at your local post office. Gently used books can be included. The camel library carries both hardcover and paperback books, but the majority are paperback due to weight considerations for the camel.
Books for the camel library can be mailed to:
P.O. Box 1204 -70100
Attention all U.S. donors: postal rates increased on May 14. The U.S. Postal Service eliminated the M-bag possibility, both surface and mail, for books to Kenya.
The most economical way to send your books is by FLAT RATE BOX. You can pick up these boxes free of charge at the post office or make sure you mail your books in a square box. Twenty pounds or less of books mailed to Kenya will cost $37 at the post office, or $35.15 if you purchase your postage online. But if the box weighs above 20 pounds, the cost spikes up because priority mailing kicks in. For example, mailing 25 pounds of books to Kenya costs $126.75. SO better to keep each individual box of books at 20 pounds or less.
To order postage online, go to usps.com, click on the rates calculator, select international mail, select Kenya, enter the weight of the box, select “Flat Rate Box” as your option and then click “print postage.”
You can also donate any amount of money (nothing is too little) directly to Camel Librarian Mr. Farah to help pay for three she-camels to be stationed at the new outpost library, wooden book boxes, or local purchase of books.
To donate via Western Union, call: 1-800-325-6000. Wire the money to
Rashid M. Farah
Secret Code: camel
They will give you a control number. Then email Mr. Farah at email@example.com to notify him of the donation amount, the control number and your name. If you have something in particular that you’d like the money to be used for, be sure and let him know. For instance, he will be purchasing three she-camel for use in the new outpost library, and those camel cost approximately $350 apiece. He also wants to raise money for a tent to provide shade.
Prices for a Western Union money transfer vary from state to state. From New York, for instance, Western Union charges $8.50 for any amount up to $100, and $10.50 for any amount from $100 to $500.
Email us with any questions.