Local Children’s Library and US Embassy launch a Uni in Kazakhstan

On July 5, a new Uni went into service in Almaty, Kazakhstan. We never expected the Uni Project to go so far, so fast, and we’re thrilled that our kit of cubes, benches, and covers shipped out safely, and is now a roving, outdoor reading room in Panfilov Park, a busy place in the center of Almaty. The Uni will be open and operating in the park every day for two weeks; then it will begin moving to a new site in the city every week through mid-September.

The Uni in Almaty is a collaboration between the US Consulate in Almaty and the Children’s Library of Almaty. It is staffed by a team of Kazakhstani students, who have participated in US government-funded exchange programs for study abroad in the US. Their work is being supervised by experienced librarians from the Children’s Library. The Uni’s collection of over 500 books in Russian, English and Kazakh comes from the Children’s Library’s own shelves, and from donations by the US Consulate.

Photo: Dina Sabyrova

How did this come about? Last fall, during our Kickstarter campaign, we were contacted by Bill Middleton, a foreign service librarian with the U.S. Department of State, who serves as Information Resource Officer for Central Asia. He was taken by the Uni Project and was eager to try it in Almaty, where public spaces are heavily used in summer after bitter-cold winters. Like us, he saw the Uni as a way to promote reading, highlight the role local libraries, and give people a place and a reason to gather around books and learning.

In order to create a Uni that could be shipped abroad and run by others, we worked with Höweler + Yoon Architecture on an updated design. Then we brought on Massachusetts-based fabricator and furniture-maker Bill Bancroft, who made and packed the cubes for shipping. At the same time, Beartown a fabrication company in Corning, New York, made the lightweight benches and covers.

Here are photos just in from the first few days of Uni Almaty. Stay tuned for more as the Uni in Almaty begins to roam.


Uni Almaty Day 1:




Uni Almaty Day 2:




Video of Uni Almaty from Kazakh Radio:

(Slow server: press play, then pause, allow to load, then watch.)


Slideshow photos: Bill Middleton

7 Responses to Local Children’s Library and US Embassy launch a Uni in Kazakhstan

  1. Saparbay July 16, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Could you publish the other locations after two weeks in Panfilov Park?

    • Sam July 16, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      Yes, we’re waiting to receive those details ourselves, and then we’ll post. Thanks!

  2. Someone January 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Are there going to be any more deployments around the world?

    • Sam January 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

      We’d love that. We’re focused on New York, but we’re talking with people in other cities/countries. Some would like us to make them a structure to do similar work. We’ll keep you posted right here.

  3. Olga February 13, 2013 at 3:23 am #

    Hi! Great project! Will you accept book donations? Children’s and adult (fiction, but good fiction!) Thanks!

    • Sam February 14, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

      Thanks Olga! In Almaty, you can send an email to almatyirc [at] usembassy.kz to inquire about donations of books. The team over there is gearing up for another deployment soon, and I’m sure they would be excited to hear from you. Cheers.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Street Books Visits the UNI Project - September 6, 2012

    […] While on a recent trip to New York City, I paid a visit to an event in Queens put on by the Uni Project, a portable reading room in New York City. It’s the brainchild of Leslie & Sam Davol, who believe that ”books and learning should be prominent, accessible, and part of what we expect at street-level in our cities.” Those same ideas inform our work at Street Books, so it was a pleasure to meet them and see their work in action. They wrote us emails of solidarity and donated money to our kickstarter campaign last year — we’re grateful for their support. Watch for them next time you’re in NYC, and if you find yourself visiting Almaty, Kazakhstan. […]

The Uni Project is the operating name (DBA) of Street Lab, a 501c3 nonprofit.