The Library Landscape in Kenya. An Overview
The network of public libraries in Kenya is expanding slowly but steadily. More than 10 percent of the population are registered users of a library. Sometimes one has to be creative to reach the people outside the urban centres.
Prior to colonization, the Kenyan population thrived on oral transmission of knowledge, skills and cultural traditions. Older people served the same purpose that schools and libraries do today. Foreigners introduced libraries to serve their own needs. The earliest libraries included the Sir Seif Bin Salim Public Library and Reading Room (1903) in Mombasa and Desai Memorial Library (1942) in Nairobi. These two were designated for Arabs and Asians while the Lady McMillan Library in Nairobi (1931) served Europeans.
In 1948 the East African Literature Bureau (EALB) set up the first library for Kenyan Africans in Nairobi. The EALB had been set up to serve Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Its mandate was to encourage African authorship, publish materials in vernacular languages, and establish libraries. It was later disbanded and each of the three countries set up its library bureau.
Public Libraries as community meeting places
Majority of public libraries are funded by government. They serve the general public as social meeting places and learning centers. The McMillan Library is still in existence, and is managed by the Nairobi City Council. The McMillan Library has a branch in the city center and some branches in the suburbs. There are 11 libraries within the slums in Nairobi, which are run by the communities in collaboration with Non-Governmental Organizations.
The Kenya National Library Service (KNLS) was founded in 1965 and became operational in 1967. It has a network of 58 libraries; 8 provincial, 8 district and 42 community based. They offer inclusive services to children, youth, adults and visually impaired persons. There are 4.7 millions registered adult users and 2.9 million children. 8.9 million items were borrowed in 2011-2012.
Despite the fact that the public library network has continued to expand, Kenya still does not have a full-fledged independent national library. The Central Library building in Nairobi houses the Nairobi Area Public Library, the Central Acquisitions and Collection Development Department and the management offices of the Kenya National Library Service. The National Library is a department of the Kenya National Library Service. A new building to house the National Library is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in 2015. Functions and management of the public and national library will be separated once the construction is complete.
The National Library Division (NLD) is one of the Government’s legal deposit points, where newly published books are deposited as a legal requirement. The NLD publishes an annual National Bibliography. The 1980 to 2007 issues of the publication have been digitized, while the 2008-2010 are available electronically. The NLD issues International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and ISMN (music) numbers and has a large Kenyana collection of materials written on Kenya from the Diaspora. The NLD has digitized 747 rare books, some government reports and sessional papers from the Kenya National Assembly from 1947 to the latest. The department is a research centre heavily used by local and international researchers.
Ultra-Modern libraries providing space for study and social activities, ICT facilities, multi-media, and vibrant interactive sections for children have lately been started in Nakuru and Buruburu in Nairobi.
Library user statistics are worth noting: 72% / 28% are males/females, 62% aged 21-30 years, 55% have post secondary education while 64% are students. The gender-imbalance in library usage can be attributed to the fact that women generally have more home chores leaving men with more time to visit libraries. The youth use the libraries mainly for leisure reading, studying for examinations, and also as meeting places for social activities. 64% of students who visit the library mainly do so to prepare for examinations while children frequent the library mostly during school holidays. Reading tents activities to promote a reading culture amongst communities who do not have access to libraries and books are held annually by all libraries. During such events, community libraries get a chance to display traditional artifacts and participate in cultural activities.
The KNLS has four mobile libraries in major towns, a donkey library in Nyanza and 2 Camel libraries in Wajir and Garissa. There is a small van that serves the visually impaired persons in Nairobi and the environs. They also have motorbikes that take book boxes to schools.
The Community Libraries initiative began in the 1990’s and remains a success as a combined effort of KNLS Board and respective communities. It is the platform on which 42 of the 58 libraries have been created.
The Mathare Youth and Sports Association (MYSA) has 7 libraries in several slum settlement areas such as Githurai, Dandora, Kayole, Mathare and others. The Slums Information and Development Resource Centers (SIDAREC) have 3 and a mobile van serving schools within the slums. Majority of the schools use these libraries for library lessons and reading rooms after school and during holidays.
Public libraries tend to be located in urban areas across the country. The Community Based Library (CBL) initiative by the KNLS Board has boosted reading in the rural areas. The need for more of such libraries is urgent as road and ICT infrastucture opens up such areas.
Academic Libraries are found mainly in Universities. They provide print and e-resources for teaching, learning and research for faculty, students and neighboring communities. There are 7 public universities with 15 constituent colleges, 14 private universities, ones of which has4 constituent colleges. Most of the libraries are fully automated and are members of Kenya Library and Information Sciences Consortium. The consortium negotiates payment and provides e-journals/books with pooled funds from stakeholders. The libraries have qualified staff who comprise the bulk of the Kenya Library Association (KLA) membership. The KLA’s core mandate is to empower all Library and Information Science professionals through professional training in emerging trends and linkage globally. The association, in partnership with the Goethe-Institut Kenya and the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation has organized the Maktaba Library of the Year Award since 2010.
There are five schools at public and private universities offering bachelors and post graduate degrees in library and information science.
School libraries in public schools have been largely ignored to date while a large number of private schools have modern, well stocked libraries manned by trained staff. Most public schools built during the colonial era and a few more recent ones have libraries but. In the absence of a national policy framework on the establishment and management of libraries, majority of school managers do not give libraries priority. Non Governmental Organizations in collaboration with communities have helped a number of schools build libraries. A good example is the National Book Development Council of Kenya (NBDCK) which has supported the establishment of 25 school libraries at public schools in Kisii County and 18 in Kajiado County. These facilities are pilots – there are expectations that the programme will expand to other regions. Kissii was chosen because of its high population and poor examination performance while Kajiado was chosen because of its aridity and underdevelopment. Many other efforts by individuals and school alumni have been noted. Future surveys will be able to give a good picture of the impact of these initiatives.
Government libraries provide information to staff of the respective government departments and ministries as well as members of the public. Foreign missions/embassy libraries present opportunities for host populations to experience foreign culture, languages and content. These are vibrant and provide information, print and e-resources and internet services to students and the general public. They also work closely with their local colleagues and share emerging professional trends. Leading in this area are the libraries of the Goethe-Institut and the American Embassy.
Irene Muthoni Kibandi is the immediate former Director of the Kenya National Library Service (2006-2009). she has worked in public and private University libraries and as a part time lecturer in two Library and Information Science schools. She is an active member of Kenya Library Association and is the Chairperson of the 2012 Library of the Year Award committee;a University Librarian in one of the private universities and a consultant for the Public School Libraries projects. She is passionate about libraries especially for children and strongly believes good reading habits, friendly customer service and the use of modern technology are the basis for high level utilization of libraries in Kenya and globally.
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Kenya