I think archives and libraries are unique and special because they serve as a meeting point for knowledge seekers. People who may have never met under any other circumstances may meet at these places and it can lead to collaboration and supporting each other in respective projects.
Libraries and archives could also be considered unique because they possess collections of material that may be out of print and not easily found. This is valuable as it ensures that no information is lost and is preserved for posterity. Archives and libraries also have print material in this technological age. It is good for offering variety and satisfying preferences (some people prefer printed and published books over soft copy).
Through my personal experience, I have encountered innovation in libraries and archival centres by working at the BIEA/IFRA library. The library uses a local call number derived from the Dewey Decimal Classification system (DDC). Since the library deals with the arts and social sciences, the system used summarizes the call numbers provided by DDC [rather than using them in full because] the call numbers in DDC are sometimes very long...
Archives and libraries are needed as repositories [of] information for institutions and society. For society to be able to continually progress, information is needed. Information on solutions applied in the past, challenges encountered and history is very important. To prove this point, it has been challenging for African societies to keep track of our history because we have been oral societies. The discovery of the printing press revolutionized changes encountered by humanity. There was a marked accelerated development in societies that embraced and preserved the printed word.
They could also be considered as a social space, in this age of increased isolation, libraries are one of the few social spaces that are non-discriminatory as far as gender, age, class or race are concerned. Anyone can be at the library. This serves as an important space for integration and interaction.
Archives and libraries also serve as the core and heartbeat of institutions and cities. Many institutions or cities are defined by their libraries and it is hard to mention them without having these places in mind.
I think libraries and archives are important in fostering and preserving national identity. Kenya is a relatively young nation and having good libraries and archives mean that we can start off on the right foot by having information about the nation well preserved. This information will help in development, tracking changes in culture and in defining the character of the nation.
Libraries and archives ensure that society can afford access to information that has been edited with a critical panel or mass of writers, in this heavily commercialized world. It ensures that at least information makes it a level playing field to ensure the equality of capitalism (freemarket economics and democracy) for the development of society and the self. [One] doesn't have to buy expensive books or go to Columbia School of Journalism to know the going-ons of the world.
It also cultivates a reading culture because in Kenya we have a countable number of good bookstores. Then since they are few it makes the supply less than the demand. This makes books expensive and inaccessible; the affordable books are second hand, this means those books are hand me downs from abroad or maybe unfinished titles (not read to the end, pulp fiction, sensationary kind of books). With libraries and archives, it gives the common family, woman and man access to information that is part of (or influencing) global trends. This makes the world a more level playing field regardless of circumstances.
Both offer an alternative leisure activity. With this I mean something aside from religious extremity, crime and alcohol/drug abuse. Religion in our context is determined by a shepherd/captain who is unquestionable. Several tricksters have figured this out and they use their upper hand to gain wealth, political mileage and, power/religious clout. Since reading empowers, this will help eliminate exploitation of earnings, political violence (from brainwashing and religious/political rhetoric) and a saviour mentality from the masses. It will allow the people to exercise their individual will in the most responsible ways and as a collective, have a better society.
AO: These are typed responses that I received from one of the BIEA librarians, Jimmy Maranga, with whom I also conducted an interview with in June 2019. I sent him these additional follow-up questions which he responded to via email on August 10, 2019. I have lightly edited them for clarity.
Jimmy Maranga, "Thoughts from Jimmy Maranga (BIEA Librarian)", contributed by Angela Okune, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 13 August 2019, accessed 27 May 2022. http://www.stsinfrastructures.org/content/thoughts-jimmy-maranga-biea-librarian