The Kenya National Library Service (knls) Board is a corporate body of the Kenyan government charged with the responsibility of providing information for National Development. It was established in 1965 by an Act of Parliament Cap 225 of the Laws of Kenya, to provide library and information services to the Kenyan Public. In its service provision, knls plays a dual role of Public Library and National library of Kenya. The public library services are available in their 60 branches spread within Kenya, while the national library services are available at the headquarters in Nairobi.

National Library Services in Kenya

National Library services in Kenya are offered by Kenya National Library Service through the National Library Division (NLD). It serves as the repository for legal deposits in accordance with the Books and Newspapers Act (CAP 111) of the laws of Kenya which enforces the preservation of the National Imprint.

NLD is mandated to publish the Kenya National Bibliography annually which contains a list of bibliographic resources, print or audio-visual acquired as legal deposit. The Legal Deposit Act mandates all publishers to deposit two copies of their publications to the Director of Kenya National Library Service. NLD maintains a database of Kenya’s intellectual output with the aim of achieving effective National Bibliographic Control. In addition NLD is the sole organization mandated to issue the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) in Kenya and also the International Standard Music Number (ISMN) for print Music. NLD subscribes to thousands of e-journals, e-books and other e-resource sites. The National Library Division has a stock of specialized collection of government publications dating back to 1980. In addition it also acts as a data information centre for the World Bank.

Origin, Growth and Development of Libraries in Kenya

Library Institutions are as old as human civilization. Libraries have existed from time immemorial alongside writing, printing universities and archives. Library History in Africa dates back to Egyptian Civilization through the Ancient Library of Alexandria constructed in the 3rd Century BC.

An interesting feature of libraries is their non-imposing, humble, non-pompous environment which arises from there being seats for reading, research, relaxation, social and free welfare nature. The consequences of their nature have led to them being given less attention especially in developing countries on maters relating to funding. However, Kenya as a nation has already identified their vital role especially towards the achievement of its industrialization vision branded Vision 2030.

Kenya National Library Service (knls) came to existence after independence as the nation was crafting its road-map for Growth and Development. Poverty, Illiteracy and Disease were identified as major impediments to development and there was need to identify vehicles of development that would help deal with these challenges.

The report recommending a centralized state supported public library system for Kenya was made in 1960. After three years, Kenya gained independence and two years later an act establishing Kenya National Library service was passed. The mandate of knls was to promote, establish, equip, manage, maintain, and develop libraries in Kenya as a National Library Service.

However, public libraries did not come to existence after establishment of knls. Long before independence in 1931, a library known as McMillan Memorial Library was established and is located within the city centre of Nairobi. The building was named after US-born philanthropist, Sir William Northrup McMillan. Today it still stands out as one of the oldest buildings with a picturesque exterior architecture in Nairobi. Currently, the library facility is managed by the County Government of Nairobi.

Types of Libraries in Kenya

Libraries in Kenya are categorized on the basis of the following parameters:

  • The clientele they serve
  • The nature of their collection
  • Type of services offered

Other common categories used are:

  • School Libraries
  • Academic libraries - e.g. Universities, College and Polytechnics
  • Community libraries
  • Government (department) Libraries
  • Public Libraries
  • National Libraries - responsible for National Bibliographic Control and Nation's Intellectual Output or Input

Origin of Public Libraries in Kenya

Experts contend that a Public Library is that which welcomes all members of the public irrespective of their background, age of segment within the society. The libraries throughout history have been a place to study to gain information, to refresh the spirit and to communicate with the wise men and women of the past and the present. The Public Library's role therefore, is to open up these opportunities, formerly restricted to the rich and powerful, to all members of the community who wish to avail themselves to them.

Public Libraries in Kenya have existed since the beginning of 18th Century. These however, were mainly through subscription libraries that relied heavily on endowments, members' subscription and limited grants from both local and central government. The Libraries were exclusively for Europeans and Asians.

Role of National and Public Libraries in Kenyan Community Development

National and public libraries play a critical in the provision of information for development. Through these libraries, communities have been empowered to fight poverty, deprivation and illiteracy and thus supports reading and recovery programmes by the government. Rural and urban poor communities are better able to tackle their problems and introduce social change if they have access to relevant information that meets their needs and interests. In addition, access to information about the country enables citizens to participate effectively in the art of governance.

Through various reading campaigns, knls has provided opportunities for communities to enhance their reading and information seeking habits, and therefore sustain literacy. The 2006 Kenya National Adult Literacy Survey estimated the national literacy rate at 61.5% indicating that only 38.5% Kenyan adults were illiterate. The survey also revealed that only 29.6% of the adult population had acquired the desired mastery level of literacy. This meant that the majority of those termed as literate (61.5%) were at risk of losing their literacy skills or could not effectively perform within the context of knowledge economies.

However, a country with effective library and information services will achieve continuity in learning and reading beyond the formal school programme. Such systems cannot be explained any better than ensuring that library services are accessible to as many Kenyans as possible throughout the country. Public libraries go beyond formal education and they are at the heart of personal and community development. knls promotes reading by providing access to relevant reading materials to all communities. Libraries play a major role in stimulating public interest in books and in promoting reading for knowledge, information and enjoyment – thus knls is indeed a "people's university."

Kenya is indeed working towards becoming an industrialized nation through their blue-print dubbed "Vision 2030". Various flagship projects have been undertaken and very many others are underway. The knls has a major role to play in linking the pillars of development identified through bridging the knowledge gap. Similarly, they have also undertaken various projects for expansion and modernization of their facilities.

Core Functions of the knls Board

The core functions of the knls Board are;

  • Preservation and conservation the national imprint for reference and research and maintain the National Bibliographic Control through Issuance of the ISBN, publication of the Kenya National Bibliography and Kenya Periodicals Directory.
  • Promote, establish, equip, manage and maintain the National and Public libraries services in Kenya;
  • Promote information literacy and reading among Kenyans;
  • Enhance stakeholders participation for equitable development of libraries throughout the country;
  • Advise the Government, local authorities and other public bodies on all matters relating to library, documentation and related services.

Services Rendered

Through the public library, the library offers these services;

  • Adult, Junior and Institutional Lending
  • Inter-library lending
  • Advisory on library services
  • Technical assistance on library development to interested government and private institutions
  • Internet services in the libraries that are connected
  • Health information
  • Services to the visually impaired persons
  • User education

Accessibility - hours of operation

All knls libraries are open to the public as follows:

  • Monday - Friday 8:00am to 6:00pm
  • Saturday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • The libraries remain closed on Sundays and public holidays
  • Administration offices are open from 8:00am to 5:00pm from Monday to Friday

Unless in known insecurity prone areas where closing time may be dictated by other factors on the ground, the above remain as the hours of operation. It is good to appreciate the fact that the library has operations in some of the interior parts of the country which are over 900 kilometers away from Nairobi, which is the capital city of Kenya. Some of the branches are near the bordering countries, and one can walk across to the neighbouring country. As a result, we also have citizens of the neighbouring countries coming to the libraries in Kenya. These branches are:

  • knls Moyale branch - Boarders Ethiopia
  • knls Mandera Branch - Boarders Somalia

Due to the nature of life of some of the communities living in Kenya, it has been difficult to offer library services to them. The Kenya National Library Services has as a result established outreach services through Mobile vans, Camel Libraries and Library Cupboards in schools. These outreach services are not strictly tied to the hours of operation, but at the convenience of the clients and that of knls.

knls Network within the country and county

Kenya National Library Service (Headquarters) Mumias Road/Ol Donyo Sabuk Road Junction, Buruburu P.O. Box 30573-00100 NAIROBI

No.CountyNo. of LibrariesArea Situated
1 Baringo 2 Kabarnet, Meisori
2 Bomet 1 Silibwet
3 Bungoma 1 Kimilili
4 Busia None
5 Elgeyo/Marakwet 1 Lagam
6 Embu 1 Embu
7 Garissa 3 Garissa, Mbalambala, Masalani
8 Homa Bay None -
9 Isiolo 1 Isiolo
10 Kajiado None -
11 Kakamega 2 Kakamega, Lusumu
12 Kericho 1 Kericho
13 Kiambu 1 Thika
14 Kilifi 3 Kilifi, Dzitsoni, Malindi
15 Kirinyaga None -
16 Kisii 1 Kisii
17 Kisumu 2 Kisumu, Koru (Dr. Robert Ouko Memorial Library)
18 Kitui 1 Mwingi
19 Kwale 1 Kwale (Ukunda)
20 Laikipia 2 Nanyuki, Rumuruti
21 Lamu None -
22 Machakos None -
23 Makueni 3 Mutyambua, Kinyambu, Kithasyu
24 Mandera 1 Mandera
25 Marsabit 1 Moyale
26 Meru 3 Meru, Mikumbune, Timau
27 Migori 1 Awendo
28 Mombasa 1 Mombasa
29 Murang'a 1 Murang'a
30 Nairobi 3 Nairobi Area, Buruburu, Kibera
31 Nakuru 3 Nakuru, Naivasha, Gilgil
32 Nandi 1 Kapsabet
33 Narok 2 Narok, Lelechonik
34 Nyamira None
35 Nyandarua 1 Ol Kalou
36 Nyeri 4 Nyeri, Munyu, Chinga, Karatina
37 Samburu None -
38 Siaya 3 Nyilima, Rambula, Ukwala
39 Taita Taveta 2 Wundanyi, Werugha (Mary Patch Turnbull Memorial Library)
40 Tana River None
41 Tharaka Nithi None -
42 Trans Nzoia None -
43 Turkana None
44 Uasin Gishu 1 Eldoret
45 Vihiga None -
46 Wajir 5 Wajir, Griftu, Habasweni, Tarbaj, Bute
47 West Pokot None -
  TOTAL 60  

Transformation of Livelihoods through Libraries

Libraries have played an instrumental role in transforming livelihoods through provision of information resources. To achieve this objective, The Kenya National Libraries Service (knls) has partnered with other institutions like Book Aid International in the acquisition of information materials and supporting the reading culture among Kenyan communities. In empowering farmers, a partnership between knls and Ministry of Agriculture, through National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS) has made it possible for farmers to access online information services regarding farming activities (i.e. Crop farming and Animal farming) and also know the prevailing market prices for their produce. In addition, farmers have access to an online extension officer who responds to any of their queries. Another major step in provision of information has been the partnership entered between knls and Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) with an aim of developing e-Resource centres in all rural libraries. This will be very instrumental in the provision of access to information for all. Kenya as a Country has demonstrated the commitment to improve education, create opportunities and empower communities through the digital platform. Various mechanisms have been identified in order to achieve this goal, and ensuring that the rural citizens have access to computers and internet services, is a major milestone. Many other partners continue to support libraries in Kenya and some of them include EIFL, Safaricom, Finlays, Practical Action, KASNEB, American Embassy and Goethe Institut among others.

Libraries will be instrumental in the achievement of the Kenya's Vision 2030 and the government acknowledges that. This is clearly demonstrated by the commitment of the government in funding an ultra-modern facility which will cost the nation KShs 2.5 Billion, which will be a landmark information resource centre.