For years, Kenya National Library Service (KNLS) has thrived on offering physical hard cover books to readers visiting its 64 outlets, physical and mobile libraries in 33 counties.
Covid-19 and the fast-paced adoption of digital technology and digitisation of services that revolutionised how Kenyans consume various online services from shopping, banking, insurance, education, transport, medicine purchases, ticket purchase for a sports event, comedy night or cultural show made KNLS to tinker its strategy.
The pandemic challenged the physical movement of people from one place to another. Indeed, it also defined a new direction for most businesses that quickly set up online ‘stores’ to keep their clients coming. Learning institutions were not left behind as they fast tracked adoption of e-learning platforms thereby ensuring uninterrupted delivery of learning materials and lessons as planned despite closure of public and private institutions.
The accelerated digital adoption in various sectors added impetus to KNLS efforts to digitise. The adoption of the virtual library is testament to the power and ease of access to information and services provided at one’s fingertips. Having registered on the platform and with good internet connectivity, one can read for leisure or study. One can also hone their skills and keep their reading hobby alive regardless of where you are via videos, podcasts and other literary materials.
From the comfort of their homes, students now attend lectures via video-conferencing portals where quizzes and continuous assessment tests are handled via mail services.
At KNLS, we initially launched partnerships with various stakeholders to set up e-resource sections within our libraries and the next phase was to open Kenya’s knowledge heritage to the world via our own digital portal.
The virtual library not only enhances availability of knowledge but gives us feedback essential for decision making on how to serve ardent readers from Kenya and the world better. We now receive more visitors who have access to a mobile phone, ipad, laptop and are connected to desktop computers to access various resources at our libraries.
Unlike the past when a book could only be read by a single reader who borrowed from KNLS or those visiting any of the libraries, a virtual library now offers access to a single book by as many people as possible. Readers can also request for any book on any topic. Some of these materials are available for free, while others will be accessible at a fee so as to ensure the originators of the information get some money out of their literary works.
The virtual library(Vtabu) is a must have for learners who will find helpful books for their studies at different levels from pre-school, primary, secondary, tertiary to university level. Competency based curriculum textbooks for learners and teachers have also been included to help deepen gains made on the recently introduced CBC curriculum. For tertiary institutions, skills-based learning material is also available on the portal that opens new possibilities for enhancing knowledge on various knowledge spheres.
Of topmost advantage is the ability to access the portal around the clock on any day and from any internet enabled gadget. There are e-books, audio books, maps, music and audiovisual materials available for consumption. The first phase has a total of 200,000 ebooks and the exercise to have many more available on the platform is ongoing.
The journey started with the arduous task of uploading all content within its libraries onto an online portal, setting up of a cloud-based service and training staff on operating the new system. Eventually, KNLS had about 800,000 works, some dating as back as a century ago among them books, journals, reports, conference papers, poetry, song lyric books, podcasts, case studies, photo galleries and infographics uploaded on the electronic KNLS portal, vtabu https://vtabu.knls.ac.ke/
In addition, creators of literary works, non-fiction and fiction work authors, publishers, artists, entertainers, bloggers, vloggers, film producers and music producers now have an opportunity to monetise their talent by having their works uploaded onto the vtabu library. The content creators stand to earn royalties from their works, an initiative being promoted in partnership with the Talanta Hela programme.
With a virtual library, Kenyans have no reason not to rekindle their passion of reading on the go, in a matatu heading to work or at home.