How libraries in Kenya are turning into digital hubs

kids_in_class
School children study at the Kenya National Library Services library, Nakuru

A partnership between global digital books provider Worldreader and the Kenya National Library Service (KNLS) is boosting access to reading resources for young learners across Kenya.

The project Libraries, E-Reading, Activities & Partnerships (LEAP) — launched in 2014 to test the adoption of digital reading and increase the availability of learning materials in Kenyan libraries has already delivered more than 500,000 digital books across the country.

According to data released last week, at least 3,000 e-readers — mobile devices designed primarily for the purpose of reading digital books — with about 200 books each have been delivered to 61 libraries a cross the country, translating into about 600,000 e-books.

“Worldreader and KNLS strongly believed that in order to move the needle on Kenya’s national ICT strategy and catapult the country to a new level of digital access and information-sharing, it was necessary to harness the power of libraries,” said Worldreader’s director of East Africa programmes, Joan Mwachi-Amolo.

The first phase of the project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, involves eight libraries in western Kenyan and achieved notable success, with the number of readers nearly tripling.

In the second phase, more than 200 librarians were trained and 3,000 e-readers delivered across Kenya, raising libraries’ book stock by 57 per cent and e-readers loaned out to learners more than 500,000 times.

“With access to a mass of new reading materials and innovative digital reading technology, often brought outside of the library walls during outreach activities, communities have improved digital literacy in ways that would not have been possible before,” said KNLS CEO Richard Atuti.

“The technology has helped librarians to market their services, motivated them and helped to build the capacity of the library system.”

The project is hailed as a significant step towards the country’s digitisation goals under the Kenya National ICT Masterplan 2012-2017, which seeks to “provide the integrated infrastructure backbone required to enable cost-effective delivery of ICT products and services to Kenyans.”

According to Mr Atuti, the KNLS is currently establishing a national virtual library where it will store digital copies of all its books, allowing readers to buy or borrow books online.

“The main challenge has been piracy, but we are working with IT experts to help us protect content from theft,” said Mr Atuti.