National Library Service of Kenya

Kenya National Library Service (KNLS)

A 2013 artist's rendering of the proposed Kenya National Library Service Headquarters
Type National and Public Libraries
Established 1965
Reference to legal mandate Laws of Kenya Cap 225 of April 1965
Location Nairobi
Branches 60
Items collected Books, Periodicals, Encyclopedias, Newspapers, Journals, Magazines, Braille Materials, Audio books, Audio navigators for the blind, charts, maps and e-resources
Size 1.4M Books
Criteria for collection Preservation of the National Imprint
Legal deposit Yes
Access and use
Access requirements Access through entry fee or registered membership for adults. Children have free access.
Population served 16M
Members Est 75,000
Other information
Director Mr Richard Atuti
Staff Est 700

The Kenya National Library Service (KNLS) is a corporate body of the Kenyan government with a mandate to "promote, establish, equip, manage, maintain and develop libraries in Kenya".[1] It was established in 1965 by an Act of Parliament of the Laws of Kenya to provide library and information services to the Kenyan public.[2] 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 61 branches throughout 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 of the laws of Kenya which enforces the preservation of books, magazines, and other publications produced in the country. The Legal Deposit Act mandates all publishers to deposit two copies of their publications to the Director of Kenya National Library Service.

The National Library Division of the Library Service is charged with annually publishing the Kenya National Bibliography which contains a list of bibliographic resources, print or audio-visual acquired as legal deposit. The bibliography was first proposed in 1975.[3] The bibliography was last published in 2010.[4]

The National Library Division is also the sole issuer of International Standard Book Numbers and International Standard Music Numbers (ISMN) for print music. The NLD subscribes to thousands of e-journals, e-books and other e-resource sites and 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

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.

Public Libraries in Kenya have existed since the beginning of the 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. The first Public Library in Kenya was known as the Seif Bin Salim Public Library and Free Reading Area in Mombasa and it was established in 1903. The establishment of this Library was financed by Seif Bin Salim, the son of the then "Liwali" (Arab Governor) of Mombasa, Salim bin Khalfan and brother of future Liwali, Ali bin Salim (who was later to become Captain Sir Ali Bin Salim Al-Busaidi),[5][6] in an effort to promote reading among the residents of the town. The Macmillian Memorial Library in Nairobi was the second public library which was built in 1931 in memory of Lord William Northrop Mcmillian who was among the first settlers in Kenya. The library was built through funding from the Carnigie Corporation of New York through the efforts of Macmillian's widow, Lucie. Initially, the library was meant for Europeans and Asians. The Macmillian Memorial Library was eventually handed over to the Nairobi City Council in 1960 and opened to all regardless of the race. The third public library to be built in Kenya was the Desai Memorial Library which was built in 1942 and only offered services exclusively to Asians until the 1960s. The library was eventually closed down in the 1970s when the Desai Memorial building was sold and brought down. By In the late 1950s and 1960s, the British Council and the American Cultural Centre provided limited public library services across racial lines. These libraries did not cater for the information needs of the Africans until after independence. Following the recommendations of the East African Library Association and the report of Sidney Hockey, a British Council Library consultantIn 1948, Elspeth Huxley who was an author, journalist, broadcaster, environmentalist and government advisor of the colonial government in Kenya.

Role of National and Public Libraries in Kenyan Community Development

National and public libraries play a critical role 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.

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 the provision of information has been the partnership entered between KNLS and the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) formerly known as 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.

Core Functions of the KNLS Board

The core functions of the KNLS Board are:

Services Rendered

Through the public library, the library offers these services;

Accessibility - hours of operation

All KNLS libraries are open to the public as follows:

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:

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. County No. of Libraries Area 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 2 Murang'a, Kangema
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 -

See also

List of libraries in Kenya


  1. "Service Charter, Kenya National Library Service". Kenya National Library Service. August 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  2. "Background, Kenya National Library Service". Kenya National Library Service. August 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  3. Anderson, Dorothy (January 1977). "The Role of the National Bibliographic Centre". Library Trends. Johns Hopkins University Press. 25 (3): 645–663. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  4. "National Bibliography, National Library Service of Kenya". 2010. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  5. List of honorary British knights and dames
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