Bringing books to kids: On the road with Nigeria’s first mobile library

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Bringing books to kids: On the road with Nigeria’s first mobile library

Funmi Ilori, a former primary schoolteacher, runs a mobile library network to help children in poor areas of Lagos discover and develop a love for reading.

She once had a dream about creating the biggest library in Africa and now she drives vans packed with books.

One of Ilori’s iRead Mobile Library vans recently stopped at the Bethel primary school in the working class district of Ifako, in the heart of megacity Lagos.

Inside the school compound, slides and seesaws rust in the humid air. The head teacher, Ruth Aderibigbe, said her 200 or so pupils only have textbooks at their disposal. “Books cost a lot of money,” she said.

When iRead turned up at the school two years ago with its wide selection of books, from toddlers’ colouring books to children’s novels, plus a few for adults, she welcomed it in with open arms. “The children involved in the programme now speak and spell better in English,” she said.

Inside the van, a young boy aged about 10 held a copy of Half of a Yellow Sun, the international bestseller by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The book has clearly been well-read: its spine barely held the pages.

Ilori is a former primary schoolteacher who began a book-lending business in 2003. “Books in a basket. I was going door-to-door,” she recalled.

Books could be borrowed for just a few hundred naira (a couple of dollars) but her experience led her to realise that few adults in Nigeria’s bustling economic hub had the luxury of having time to read.

Ten years after starting the “books in a basket” scheme, she came up with the mobile library idea and applied for funding from a Nigerian government development initiative.

The pitch was successful and landed her 10 million naira, which, with the exchange rate at the time, was the equivalent of about $60,000. With it, she bought a lorry and a small minibus.

As Adichie said in an interview published in The Atlantic in February 2017, the books she read as a little girl “and I think this is true for many other young children in countries that were formerly colonised, didn’t reflect my reality”.

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