Mobile Library Services in Kenya
Mobile library service is offered without cost to the public by the Kenya National Library Services Board (KNLS). KNLS was established in 1965 with an initial bookstock of 25,000 volumes that had been inherited from the old East Africa Literature Bureau. The first public library was opened in Nairobi, in February 1969.
KNLS was concerned with constructing library buildings in urban centres, but also gave attention to the rural population. People in rural communities were served by bookmobiles based in provincial libraries. The first book van set out to the villages around Nairobi in 1972, meeting enthusiastic responses.
The government could not finance all the needs expressed from other parts of the country, but was fortunate in securing assistance from donor agencies overseas, and five new vans were put into service in 1977. UNESCO provided about 15,000 books for the vans, and offered further assistance in 1980, including another van. Two additional bookmobiles were acquired by the Kenya government in 1983.
In 1990 the stock of the operating bookmobiles, by home station, was as follows: Nairobi, 9,400 volumes; Nyeri, 10,657; Embu, 8,017; Eldoret, 10,359; Kakamega, 8,060; Kabarnet, 10,960; Kisumu, 9,190; Mombasa, 9,190. There have been great difficulties in recent years in funding additional bookstock, because of the general economic climate.
The number of users by station in 1989 was as follows: Nairobi, 1,450;
Nyeri, 4,212; Embu, 1,960; Eldoret, 396; Kakamega, 3,624; Kabarnet, 3,280;
Kisumu, 2,330; Mombasa, 2,491. Among stations that reported also in 1988, the latest figures reveal a 29% decline in the number of users. Most of the mobile service patrons are high school students, civil servants, and teachers.
A number of problems of the mobile service have been identified: (1) money is needed to replenish bookstock and recondition vehicles; (2) steps must be taken to keep staff, as there is a high turnover of experienced personnel; (3) road surface conditions are not suitable yearround; (4) materials wanted by users are not always available, e.g., magazines and childrens books; (5) rate of visitation to given points is infrequent, up to three weeks; (6) books are not always returned to vans by the borrowers; (7) service to the rest of the country, outside the present service areas, is much needed.
While no specific remedies for these problems have been announced, it is the governments stated policy to promote and expand the public library service to the village level before the year 2000.
About the Author
S. K. Nganga is Director of the Kenya National Library Service, Nairobi.
© 1990 S. K. Nganga
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