To build a library with simple means in a village was the basic idea behind this project. A library in the open air, or a space with a bookcase. This place, managed by children, was supposed to facilitate access to knowledge for the village and the community and be a project mastered in a short period of time in cooperation with the villagers.
In the context of the community that AfricaBougou works together with, we chose N’Golofala as a suitable location. Building a library in a Malian village can only be considered an additional feature. Essentials such as wells, schools, and health care centers must already exist. N’Golofala has these necessary institutions and its geographical location makes it a crossroads in the village community Yelekebougous. For the people, especially for the teachers of the surrounding villages, the library would provide access to educational material. The place would also attract the attention of the people that visit the health care center. We met motivated people with whom we could set about this project. Modibo, the village doctor, was our ally and on our side, full of zest for action. A gifted communicator, he organized the relevant meetings and work on the construction site, where he was always the first energetic helper.
This place of books could be built next to the health care center. This way, access wouldn’t be restricted by opening hours and holidays. The formation of an administrative committee in collaboration with the teachers would make sure that the use and maintenance of this place and its books run smoothly.
A group of children would form the main management body. This group of volunteers would come together and ensure that the place remain clean and the collection of books complete. They would also advise the younger ones how to use the reading material.
A durable place, created with simple materials. The cost factor must be kept low. A structure made of cement blocks and stone slabs would be most appropriate, given the climatic conditions. Sand and stones could be found in the surrounding area. Only the cement and the metal cabinet protecting the books would have to be purchased.
Books, beanbags, cleaning material and a blackboard would complete the library. The books, in French, already existed at the headquarters of AfricaBougou and were only waiting for a suitable place. Beanbags could easily be made out of old rice sacks filled with straw. A surface coated with blackboard paint would be used to write on. All other items could be found on the market.
After AfricaBougou had agreed to the project as described, we presented it to the chairmen of the various village committees. They were immediately enthusiastic and showed us the potential location. However, this was not an area on which a square could be built but an abandoned house next to the health center. This house was owned by the village and had originally been built as a health care center by an NGO. Since the spatial dimensions had proved insufficient, AfricaBougou had erected another building. The former one was therefore empty. The project „open air library“, as a public space, became the „room of books“.
The arrangement for the cooperation was that the physical work would be provided by the villagers. Our party would take care of the coordination of construction, blueprints, material, transport, and supervision during construction. In terms of materials, we deliberately used what could be found in the surroundings. These are clay, as a raw material and the clay bricks made in the village, as well as sand. Other elements as a corrugated sheet from the previous roof, which was still in good condition, were reused. A lavish door which had been purchased for another project but not employed was now made use of. We bought everything else, such as cement, metal windows and cabinet, wood for the roof construction, additional sheets of corrugated iron, whitewash, blackboard paint and colors in Kati and hauled it to the village.
After everything had been discussed and organized, the reconstruction could begin. First, we dismantled the roof to replace the wooden structure and some rusted corrugated sheets. We enlarged the doorway and pulled a cement fall. The new window openings were knocked out of the walls. Benches were bricked. Then the interior was lined with cement and the roof was covered. A reinforcement made up of nails and wire was formed to stabilize the cement mixture for the blackboard. The outdoor plastering consists of soil, sand, asphalt, kerosene, motor oil and water. This composition has proven suitable for clay buildings. It adheres to the clay construction, resists termites and bad weather. The interior was painted with whitewash, the window and closet colored: in yellow, orange, and blue. The shades of color provide a contrast to the health care center, a building with sublime flair due to its architectural form.
We created a quiet and bright interior, with three opposed openings on the long sides. This generates a pleasant and refreshing indoor climate. The different height of the windows and the colored shutters give the building a playful appearance, drawing the attention of passers-by. To brick the benches in the interior as static elements was a conscious decision in regard to design but also material-dependent. They structure and organize the space, using its full surface and still make it look generous and light. Since termites are always in search of food, furniture made of wood or bamboo has no long life expectancy, whereas metal is too expensive.
The two levels offer many possibilities of usage. The floor, the bench and the backrest become one. The users can place themselves freely on them. In a country where tables are not anchored in the native culture, they are also not necessary to write on. In two places the window sill ends directly on the bench surface. Children can pop out their heads or sit in the window while reading. The functional elements are on the two narrow walls. The bookcase is situated opposite the blackboard. It is arranged centrally and allows for further cabinets to be placed on each side. A small threshold stages these two areas, which make the place what it is. It is a room of books, a room of knowledge.