The knls’ mobile library service was primarily introduced to bridge the gap between the conventional branch library users and the inconvenienced potential users from distant and or otherwise remote areas, particularly in the rural countryside. During the initial development stages from 1969 to 1987, construction of knls library buildings was basically concentrated in urban centers. This raised concerns, as it was utterly difficult for the rural public to access library and information services. To ensure that as many Kenyans as possible had access to these vital services, the knls Board incorporated mobile library services in different library branches to serve the respective communities. It need not be emphasized that illiteracy and lack of information is indeed a serious impediment to both individual and national development.
Mobile Library Vans
Mobile Library vans were introduced alongside the development of the library buildings. These were based in then provincial libraries with exception of Nakuru and Garissa Libraries. Rift Valley benefited with two mobile vans based in Eldoret and Kabarnet District Libraries.
The first mobile van was acquired in 1972 to serve the areas around Nairobi including Machakos, Kiambu, Kajiado and Kitui Districts. The government thereafter secured assistance from donor agencies namely NAROD, UNESCO and the British Council. Through this effort, five new mobile vans were incorporated into the library service in 1977. UNESCO provided the initial book stock for the mobile service and also donated another van in 1980. Two additional vans were acquired through Government grants in 1983.
Most of the mobile library users were students, teachers and civil servants. However, with time, the vans experienced major breakdowns and worse still, lack of spare parts in the local market since all of them were imported. Their maintenance cost also became quite exorbitant and this led to grounding most of them.
Nevertheless, the knls Board through the Government support purchased four locally assembled mobile vans to facilitate resumption of mobile library service provision in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu and Embu. The four Mobile Library Vans were re-launched on 27th April 2007. The Board had anticipated to replace all the old and grounded vans with new ones and acquire more for the areas that did not have, but this intention was hampered by financial limitations.
Other mobile libraries
Due to the key role played by mobile libraries in the promotion of reading culture, the Board also established other mobile means to provide library and information services to the public. These included:
i. The camel library in Garissa and Wajir
The Camel Library Service was launched in Garissa in October 14th 1996 where it operated within a radius of about 15 to 20 km from the knls Garissa Branch. Majority of the users were school children, adult learners, social workers involved in various community initiatives, retirees and the refugees. Following its successful implementation in Garissa, the program was replicated in Wajir and launched on April 13th 1999.
The camel was chosen because it is a culturally acceptable and treasured mode of transport among the nomadic communities. It is also able to walk through the harsh terrain in the region and is adaptive to the community’s nomadic way of life. The Camel library operated under three camel caravans one of which, was donated by Safaricom in 2004. One caravan comprised three camels each with specified tasks as follows: one camel carried two book boxes with 200 books each; another carried a tent, reading mat, two 2 chairs and a table; the third camel was used as a spare in case any of the other two had challenges. Two camel caravans comprising six camels operated in Garissa and one caravan at Wajir.
Once loaded, the camels moved out in a caravan up to designated stations such as village centers. A Librarian in charge, two assistants and a skilled camel herdsman lead the caravan. On arrival, the books and other items were unloaded, the tent was pitched and the books were then displayed on the mat. A floor mat was also provided as sitting space for those willing to make quick references to the materials. It is the culture of the local people to sit on mats. From this makeshift library all the basic library services were provided and at the end of the day, all the items were loaded on camels, which headed back to the library in preparation for the next day’s programme.
However, despite the tremendous success the project had achieved, it also faced various challenges that the library authority and management had had to contend with. These included (a) maintenance of the camels – like other animals, camels would get indisposed and therefore curtail the programmed service provision; (b) labour intensive – the Camel Library Service was a labour intensive exercise that involved exhaustive traveling under very high temperatures. These challenge made the programme become very expensive to sustain. With the improvement of the road network in the region, the Board discontinued the Camel Library service and replaced it with motorbike services. Besides, more people were able to travel to the Garissa Library for services on their own. In addition, schools embraced the institutional membership where they could borrow about 200 for their pupils to read from their respective schools.
ii. Donkey library in Nyilima, Bondo District.
Donkey library service in Nyilima, Bondo District was viewed with enthusiasm by the community and schools around the area. The donkey is commonly used as a mode of transport in that area. Like the camel, it operated within a 15-20 KM radius from Nyilima community library. This was a replica of the Donkey mobile library in Zimbabwe. However, it also faced challenges of maintenance and labor intensity. The road network also improved in the area, making it easy for people to travel to the Nyilima Library.