UK and Kenyan libraries: Learning from each other

30 Jan 2018

Written by Charlotte Self

As project lead for Digital Life: Kenya, I've recently been working closely with Kenya National Library Service (knls) on the programme - a pilot designed to test the effectiveness of elements of Good Things Foundation's digital inclusion programme, exploring how the internet can help alleviate economic and social challenges people in Kenya face.

Before coming to Good Things Foundation I spent nine years working in the public library sector, so when I was asked to work on our Digital Life: Kenya pilot I was really excited at discovering how libraries fit in to digital and social inclusion in Kenya. I soon realised that the librarians at knls face many of the same issues as library staff in the UK - they passionately strive to meet the needs of their communities, and as with in the UK, librarians in Kenya are supporting people to find work, helping children to develop a love of reading, and making their libraries inclusive for all spectrums of society.

During the first project visit to Kenya, Emily and Michael witnessed first hand some of the fantastic work knls staff are doing in their communities:

  • For instance in Kinyambu Library, one of their customers - who is a wheelchair user - has set up the ICT4Digital Generation Self Group. The group members hope to become digital champions to help and encourage others in their community to learn digital skills.
  • One of the customers at Gilgil Library, where the typical wage is less than $1 a day, earned $500 in one month translating a book using the library computers and WiFi. Most families in the community can't afford toys, so the library purchased some swings and allow children to use the swings for an hour if they come in to the library and read.
  • Librarians at Kangema Library are delivering outreach sessions at local schools teaching digital skills. Young people often use the library WiFi on their smartphones, but don't actually come in to the library. This is something that many librarians in the UK reading this will be familiar with!


Although some of the challenges faced seem like they'd be very specific to the Kenyan communities they're in, I've begun to recognise a lot of similarities to challenges that both UK libraries and other organisations in the Online Centres Network typically face. This got me thinking... if I was learning new things from Kenyan libraries then surely centres in our network could learn from each other too!

63 libraries across Kenya are taking part in Digital Life: Kenya and we're asking Online Centres in the UK to 'buddy up' with one of these libraries, to learn from each other, compare what works (and doesn't!) and find new ways to tackle digital inclusion challenges.

I'm sure there'll be lots to learn - by putting our heads together we can find new solutions to common problems, and hopefully make a few new friends along the way.

Interested? Get in touch to find out more