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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 16:00 GMT
Tackling Kenya's 'booklifters'
Empty library shelves
The thefts are leaving the shelves of Kenya's libraries empty
A student in Kenya has turned to the BBC to help investigate the problem of continued theft of books from the country's libraries.

Ruben Gitahi asked BBC World Service's Outlook programme to look into the practice of "booklifting" - which he said was becoming "rampant" in the country's cities.

"Most of our library users and library staff that I spoke to have told me they have been losing books from the bookshelves, day in day out," he said.

"Most of the shelves are empty. They're very concerned about this issue."

Poverty reduction lifeline

Nairobi's MacMillan library, one of the oldest libraries in Kenya, has long suffered from booklifting.

"It has been going on for a long time," Lorna Maruti, the chief librarian, told Outlook.

She explained that the books usually stolen are textbooks, which were intended for students and schoolchildren.

Children reading library books
Books preserve our culture, they are our lifeline in education
Attienna Okundu, National Book And Development Council Of Kenya
The library has now instigated a rule to only allow the books to be read if a staff member is around.

Ms Maruti added that she wished for a photocopying facility, so readers could copy the pages they required.

Although library users have to leave their bags at the entrance, some manage to take even large books by hiding them under jackets.

"You can't know unless you check properly," Ms Maruti said.

"Sometimes if a security person has gone to the toilet, [the thief] might get away with it."

One library user, Bernard Ador, described booklifting as "commonplace."

"A lot of people around Nairobi are poor," he added.

"They would grab an opportunity to steal a book."

And Attienna Okundu, of the National Book And Development Council Of Kenya, said that booklifting is a concern "for almost every library."

"When we train librarians, the issue of security is one of the central issues addressed," she added.

"If books get lost and they are out of print, it is like dealing a death blow to the book collector."

She called for Kenya's government - together with book handlers - to educate the public.

"Books preserve our culture, they are our lifeline in education," she stressed.

"They are also our lifeline in poverty reduction. It is important that we know how to take care of our resources.

"Stealing is something that we are grappling in every sector. I think it's important for the public to know that stealing anything is a vice."

BBC World Service's Outlook programme will continue to follow the story of Mr Gitahi's investigation on air and online over the coming weeks. Click on the link above if you have an issue you would like the programme to investigate.

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