Catching up with the Kenyan libraries

19 Dec 2017 |Written by Emily Redmond

Earlier in the year, Michael and I ran webinars for the 10 pilot libraries taking part in the Digital Life: Kenya project.

Michael and I were the original Good Things Foundation team who made the initial visit to Kenya in July, so it was the perfect chance for us to catch up with the librarians we'd met back in July and see how the project was progressing. Aptly these catch-ups took place online... proving just how useful digital can be.

We found out what activities they'd been up to, but perhaps more importantly, what challenges they've encountered and what their biggest needs are shaping up to be.

  1. "At university they have to use the digital platform to do research."

Naivasha Library have been concentrating on raising awareness in their community, recruiting digital trainees and training their staff. They view their biggest role as enabling the youth to acquire digital skills, as school age students are preparing to go to university and need to develop the relevant skills.

2. "Learn My Way has enhanced our programme."

Gilgil Library have been registering school children during vacation time and are planning to enrol senior citizens in their Reading Club onto Learn My Way. They believe Learn My Way is a good platform for people retired from public service, however they think older people can be discouraged from giving things a go because they think they're "not getting what they're doing."

3. "Everyone is a learner."

Timau Library have organised training of school children at a nearby girls school, but found "digital phobia and illiteracy" a major challenge amongst both library staff and customers. As well as showing customers they can earn money online, other librarians on the webinar advised Timau librarians to show colleagues that everyone has a role and - crucially - to support colleagues to learn too.

4. Running Digital Clubs

Kinyambu Library have registered over 50 customers on Learn My Way (Go Kinyambu!) and now run a 'Community Digital Club' every Saturday. Two customers have got jobs since completing Learn My Way and it's proving so popular that librarians have asked for more courses. Electricity and network failings are their big challenge, so customers are encouraged to attend in the morning when connectivity is better.

5. Supported learning is key

Kangema Library have been offering customers one to one sessions on the computers before using Learn My Way. They noted the importance of supporting customers after registration on Learn My Way, when they realised some unsupported customers registered and then did not go on to learn.

6. The need for connectivity

Malindi Library are trying to reach school groups, recognising these as the group with the biggest need in their community, but have found that most schools don't have computers or connectivity so are supporting children outside school hours at the library.They are finding that digital skill levels vary amongst children - some have never used a computer before and some are seemingly way ahead and so are disinterested in learning. Malindi have been trying to enrol older learners but have found they don't see the benefit of learning digital skills and tend to collect their books and leave rather than sit in the library.

7. Overcoming resistance

Silibwet Library have told the community about the courses and recruited learners, so far registering 24 customers on Learn My Way. But they have met with resistance from some library users due to existing computer literacy problems, and some customers are not interested as they come to the library to do their own work.

8."It's like trying to lead a horse to water."

Mbalambala Library's main challenges are due to the fact that they're in a very rural area, leading to infrequent visits from learners. They are finding that people want to learn but they haven't got time because they work. For instance local Police Officers come on Saturdays and Sundays but then the library doesn't see them for another month.

9. "So many people like the library and technology."

Moyale Library is in the process of moving into a new building. Although the computers are now in the new library, the staff and books are still in the old library, meaning the Librarians teach people on Learn My Way in the morning and support people with reading in the afternoon. Until they move permanently, they are going out in town and engaging with people there.

10. Language limitations

Rambula Library are finding Saturday to be the best day to support people but sometimes have no connectivity between 9am and 5pm! Located close to the Ugandan border, they have found supporting older people who speak the local language and have poor English somewhat challenging. Sometimes there are not the words in their local language for certain computer and internet related terminology!

Although each library is experiencing their own unique challenges based on their community make-up and location, sharing like this throughout the duration of the project is invaluable, both for the libraries involved and for the Good Things team. It allows libraries to feedback to us, so we can make sure project participants can be guided most effectively, and means that libraries can help each other build a collective expertise gained through their unique experiences.


We'll be catching up with these 10 again in early 2018 but in the meantime you can find out more about Digital Life: Kenya here

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Digital Life: Kenya