Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Worldreader’s LEAP 2.0 Report Launched in East Africa

Written by Alexander Nderitu
Photos courtesy of Worldreader

Kenya National Library officials, young students, and Worldreader staff at the launch of the LEAP 2.0 Report
On 1st August 2018, as Kenyans gladly said goodbye to an exceptionally wet and misty July, Worldreader and the Kenya National LibraryService (knls) released a report from a joint program dubbed ‘LEAP 2.0’. The LEAP (Libraries, E-reading, Activities and Partnerships) project brought Worldreader’s digital reading platform to 61 public libraries in Kenya. It took place over 3 years (2014 – 2017) and delivered 3,000 e-reading devices and over 600,000 e-books across Kenya. It was funded by the Bill & Melina Gates Foundation (BMGF). The ‘breakfast launch’ of the project’s findings was held at the Sarova Panafric Hotel in Nairobi and was attended by publishers, librarians, authors, Worldreader staff and journalists, among others. 

Registered in 2010, Worldreader is an international not-for-profit organization that was founded by David Risher, a former Amazon.com Senior Vice President, and Colin McElwee, a former director of marketing at ESADE Business School in Spain. 

Worldreader’s electronic library consists of 42,233 African and international book titles in 43 languages, including Kiswahili, Hausa, Arabic, English and Hindi. The library can be accessed through Worldreader-branded e-reading devices or through the Worldreader mobile phone app which is freely available from Google PlayStore. ‘Featured books’ in the library currently include The Angel of Mexico City by Aminatta Forna, The Girl With the Magic Hands by Nnedi Okorafor, Zvakwana by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Grandmother’s Winning Smile by Stanley Gazemba, The Ghost of Sani Abacha by Chuma Nwokolo and The Baobabs of Tete by Kari Dako. Thus far, over 6 million people from 50 countries have read from the digital library. Worldreader collaborates with device manufacturers, local and international publishers, government agencies, education officials, and local communities in order to boost reading worldwide. 


Members of the public are introduced to e-readers outside a knls branch

The project began with a one-year pilot (LEAP 1.0) which tested the use, function and adoption of e-readers in selected libraries in order to determine how e-readers affected library patronage, communities, staff, policies and procedures. The initial testing sites, in 2014, were eight public and community libraries located in Western Kenya, specifically Kisumu, Kakamega and Busia. According to Juliana Muchai, Principal Resource Mobilization Officer at knls, Western Kenya was chosen because Worldreader was already active in the region. 200 e-readers, each pre-loaded with 200 digital book titles, were deployed. The twin objectives were to increase availability of reading materials in public and community libraries and to promote reading using technology. The overall goals of LEAP were:

  • Building patrons’ technological skills
  • Improving literacy skills through reading
  • Attracting different age groups to the library
  • Building a reading culture at the library
  • Saving time lost during manual book identification processes
  • Enhancing the library’s public profile
The project was later scaled up cover the entire country through knls’ 61 libraries, hence ‘LEAP 2.0’. Lessons from Phase one guided Phase 2. The aim was to increase knls’ capacity to use digital reading to serve its patrons and to create a sustainable digital reading program. The initiative was supported by grants totaling $3.5 million received in form of equipment (e-readers), digital books and training.

Juliana Muchai, Principal Resource Mobilization Officer at knls
It is noteworthy that LEAP 2.0 was the first-ever project to cover all knls libraries, thereby achieving national scale, contributing towards the gov’t’s Vision 2030 (a local blueprint for industrialization), and creating a model that can be replicated in other countries, especially in the Third World.  Speaking at the report launch, knls board member Sam Madoka said:

‘It is pertinent on this occasion to take a brief look at the partnership that knls and Worldreader have had in the past 4 years with the inaugural LEAP 1.0 project back in 2014. The partnership with Worldreader has brought digital reading to the communities and transformed the reading culture in the grassroots. Libraries are cornerstones of our community, clearly, and public libraries are a place where literacy can grant those living around the library the ability to grow and develop their personal, social and professional goals.’

According to Joan Mwachi-Amolo, the Director, Worldreader, East Africa, ‘Worldreader and knls strongly believed that in order to move the needle on Kenya’s national ICT strategy and catapult Kenya to a new level of digital access and information sharing, it was necessary to harness and enhance the power of libraries.’ 

Once again, Sam Madoka:

‘LEAP 2.0 has had tremendous impact on knls and the community. Over the course of this project, libraries conducted outreach activities to institutions and members of society who were unable to come to the libraries – from hospitals to prisons to schools in far-flung areas, to physically disadvantaged homes as well as mental health institutions thus increasing knls visibility across the country…This project has changed the traditional role of libraries and helped them remain relevant in a growing digital age. Libraries are now disseminating information outside of their walls. This value-added service has helped them increase revenue due to patronage and facilitated perception change with the public in general…Libraries have been recognized for local and international awards for ICT-based  innovations. Innovations such as these have brought change in a local context, exposing knls to the pan-African global audience, benefiting generations.’

In 2016 and 2017, knls branches in Nakuru, Kibera, Kisumu, Koru and Buruburu emerged winners at the Library of the Year Awards (aka Maktaba Awards) in the Public and Community Libraries categories.  Thika and Nakuru Libraries received the EIFL Public Library Innovation Awards for contributing to education, and creative use of ICT in Public Libraries.


‘Harnessing the power of libraries’: Schools were the biggest responders to digital devices in libraries.
‘Libraries are not just for reading any more,’ said Kaltuma Sama, the soft-spoken Head Librarian at knls Buruburu. ‘There has been a paradigm shift in what libraries are all about…Librarians are no longer the desk librarians. Librarians go out to disseminate information. We go out with the e-readers and reach as many schools and settlements as possible. The introduction of the e-readers has had positive influence inside the library as well as outside. We have been able to reach children in areas that normally cannot be reached. My library works with children in Kamiti Prison...We give them the e-readers and let them have a normal, comfortable hour with us. We also reach children in remand, like Buruburu Remand Prison. These are what are often called chokoras (street kids). When they are taken off the street, they are taken to remand prison and then to court…We sit on the floor and read to them…The membership of my library has increased, patronage has also increased…Schools normally come for a (pre-booked) slot…’

Kaltuma Salma, head librarian at knls Buruburu
Sejal Shah, Worldreader Board Chair, Kenya also chipped in on this one-of-a-kind outreach: 

‘knls Buruburu takes readers to prisons, knls Embu takes readers to hospitals, and Meru knls to special schools. Congratulations to them!’

Sam Madoka, whom we were informed has a hidden talent for singing, added:

‘Before, outreach typically involved a librarian going out of the library with as many books as they could carry. But now, that is different. The introduction of readers changed outreach opportunities as librarians were now available to travel with hundreds of books at a time instead of dozens.’  

Two Trainers of Trainers (ToT’s) from each library were coached on e-reader technology and they, in turn, trained their colleagues. The librarians were trained on E-Reader Basics, Project Management, Patron E-Reader Training, Project Launch, Monitoring and Evaluation, Sustainability and Worldreader Mobile. The librarians then went out on ‘outreach activities’ and loaned out the e-readers 250, 807 times during the project period. Library membership increased by 38,604 and users checked out e-readers a total of 314, 414 times.

A section of the audience
Two uniformed school children from Grandstar School gave glowing testimonials of their experience at the knls Buruburu, which they frequent. The grades of Wanja (11) shot up after she discovered the joys of reading, with the added bonus that she stopped being a notorious class noisemaker! Njeru (13) formed a book discussion group with fellow library attendees his age, and became ‘fascinated’ by all things Indian after discovering the country in a book. ‘Juniors’ (young children) made up the bulk of e-reader users and library attendees. They borrowed the devices an average of 1,200 times per month while adults borrowed an average of 480 times per month.

According to UNESCO, there are 740 million illiterate people in the world today, and 250 million children of primary school age who lack basic reading and writing skills. 


Lawrence Njagi, Chairman of the Kenya Publishers Association
Kenyan publishers were ably represented at the gathering by veteran publisher Lawrence Njagi, CEO of Mountain Top Publishers and Chair of the Kenya Publishers Association. ‘I am very excited with the partnership of Worldreader with publishers and now knls (the Kenya National Library Service),’ he said. ‘We like calling knls our “mother” because, not only do they support us financially, but they also stock and display books for us free of charge.’ He went on to say that:

Worldreader has been a godsend for publishers. We have our books in very many platforms and I will tell you that the one platform that publishers are very confident about is Worldreader. Two reasons. One, publishers exist to make money. We’re profit-making companies. They (Worldreader) make us profits. Secondly, they provide us with data. Data that tells us where our books are going, in which markets our books are more popular, how many of those books are selling, reports, and most importantly at the end of the day – payments…There are some platforms where we have hosted our books. We get statements saying we’ve sold (units) but we’re still yet to see the cheque.’ 

Kenyan publishers have been grappling with a 16% tax on educational material, including books, which successive KPA bosses have insisted is counter-productive to the nation’s development as a whole. One strong argument is that the various components that go into the manufacturing of printed matter are already individually taxed so there is no need to place yet another levy on the final product. The previous KPA Chair, David Waweru of Word Alive Publishers, once told a press briefing that the gov’t is itself the biggest buyer of school books and is therefore also taxing itself! Lawrence Njagi, also addressed this thorny issue:

‘We must make books, whether in digital form or print form, affordable. We are one of the few countries in the world that is taxing information. How is that possible? It is like taking a gun and shooting your own leg, to see how far you’ll bleed, and then you take yourself to hospital to get healed…Information should be easily available and affordable to everybody. That, I think, is the difference between ourselves and developed countries: the power of information. Why do we want to put 16% VAT on our books? Why do you want to put duty on the (e-reading) gadgets as the come in?’


‘There was lack of data connectivity in some areas’

Some librarians felt that the new digital division and its outreach program constituted ‘extra work’ and, naturally, that is something that employees eschew.  The ‘extra work’ was especially evidenced by the Monitoring & Evaluation forms that the librarians regularly had to fill. Other challenges included:

  • Inadequate number of devices
  • Lack of data connectivity (phones, network) in some areas
  • Data collection (Handwritten, entry time, self reported)
  • Device allocation
  • Some resistance to technology
  • Need for more resources to support outreach programs


Outcomes of the LEAP project include:

  • Increased library patronage (by over 60%) and outreach programs by over 80%.
  • Acquisition of over 3,000 devices
  • Acquisition of close to 1M e-books
  • Out of the success, partners bought additional devices for some branches (Kibera, Meru & Isiolo)
  • Loss or damage of the devices was extremely low: 98.5% of the devices were fully functional which translates to a breakage/damage rate of just 1.5%.

Impact of LEAP:

  • 178% increase in library patronage
  • Over 20,000 patrons reached through e-reading
  • 254 library-related community events
  • 84% of patrons reported increased reading habits 

Other interesting Worldreader statistics:
  • 79,302 school readers have been reached by Worldreader since 2010
  • 31, 326 e-readers have been deployed
  • 5,340,511 e-books have been delivered
  • In 2017 alone, readers spent 29 million hours reading content on Worldreaders’ mobile phone library and e-readers. This is the equivalent of reading Tolstoy’s voluminous masterpiece, War & Peace, 900,000 times over!
  • Worldreader has thus far distributed USD $1.5 million to more than 400 publishers around the world for digital rights, boosting local publishing ecosystem and cultures.
The African countries Worldreader has been most active in are Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Liberia, Togo and Cameroon.


Joan Mwachi displays the next-generation of e-reading technology

The next phase of Worldreader’s library-centric propram is dubbed LOCAL (Local Content for African Libraries), and focuses on local language content and library activities for young children across Ghana, Uganda and Zambia. ‘Worldreader is proud of the success and impact of the LEAP 2.0 project and of knls’ dedication to its libraries, librarians, and patrons,’ says Rebecca Chandler-Leege, Worldreader’s Chief Impact Officer. ‘In the coming years, Worldreader plans to iterate upon the lessons of LEAP 2.0 and our knls partnership, to launch nationwide library digital reading projects in new geographies. We are excited to see the continued impact of digital reading on individuals, communities and countries.’

Joan Mwachi, Worldreader Director for East Africa:

‘What’s next after this project is replication of the model, from the learnings that we have had. We are doing that in Ghana, Zaire and Uganda. We need to look at libraries as centres of development…We leverage technology and we will continue to do so…Technology also allows the production costs of traditional print books to go down. Our next step is to continue to integrate technology with traditional methods because we’re already digital. It’s not the future – it’s here…And then advocacy for digital reading. If I take the example of the e-reader, it has 200 books. Picture carrying 200 books everywhere you go. By having this library, we are creating opportunities for access to information on a platform that is easy to use and affordable…We have a product that we’re working on. It’s tablet-based. It’s going to operate on Android (operating system). The product is called “Worldreader Student”.  It’s a single-purpose device, basically just for reading. We’re testing it…So there is opportunity for us to collaborate much more, with gov’t and other partners.’

The next steps in Worldreaders’ mission include:

·         Developing trainers to support project implementation

·         Securing knls commitment of resources to sustain the project – personnel, financial, content

·         Improved service delivery overall, through motivated librarians

·         Increased book stock to better serve the needs of patrons

·         Integration of ICT programs using basic manipulations skills acquired

Richard Atuti, knls Director
And the knls has some forward-looking plans of its own. Richard Atuti, knls Director:

‘I have been engaging the book industry for quite some time now and we have these portable devices, we have technology but we are not able to give nationwide coverage in terms of access to information.  But the Kenya National Library Service Board is having an ambitious program to establish a virtual library…And we have been working on this idea even with big players in the private sector whom we want to partner with because we realize we don’t have a platform, we don’t own content, and we need other players to give us that accessibility.  For us, we will manage the content, as the National Library, and that platform is to have a system where we can store all the books the publishers have in this country. And there are three functions that will be integrated in that system. Number one, you register with the National Library. You can borrow books online from wherever you are…If you borrow this book and it lands in your device, after a week or so, that content should be able to lapse from your device. It’s not transferable, so that we protect the content. The second one is…we want to create a semblance of Amazon in this country whereby we can sell books on their (publishers’) behalf. Because they don’t have one single synchronized platform where they can store content which can be sold to any customer. And we have borrowed heavily from the practice in the market now…Using that platform, someone can be able to buy a unit or a chapter of a book which is relevant to what they need at that moment at a very subsidized rate of 50 shillings, 100 shillings, 150 shillings. Lastly, they (publishers) spend so much to print physical catalogs for you to know what is available in the market. But now, what we have in mind is to give them a free platform. We display and market books for you. We shall be giving them free marketing.’

Austin Okoth, the event’s MC, ended the ceremony with an elegant zinger: ‘Read and let read!’

I leave you with more scenes from the LEAP 2.0 Report Launch:

The launch meeting took place at the Sarova Panafric, Nairobi

Delegates arriving at the venue
Joan Mwachi, Worldreader’ East Africa Director displays a copy of the LEAP 2.0 Report
Sejal Shah, Worldreader Board Chair, Kenya makes some remarks
Some of the delegates
Perusing the report
L – R: Richard Atuti, Joan Mwachi, Sam Madoka
L – R: Sam Madoka, Sejal Shah, Joan Mwachi, Richard Atuti
Worldreader Kenya staff members
# # #

The author of this article is a Kenyan writer, e-book aficionado and arts critic. He can be reached at www.AlexanderNderitu.com

View / Download the Worldreader LEAP 2.0 Report here: https://comms.worldreader.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/LEAP-report_digital.pdf

A paper titled ‘Digital Reading in Kenyan Libraries: Lessons from Pilot to
Scale’ (about how Worldreader brought the LEAP project from pilot to broad
scale adoption) is available here: http://bit.ly/PilottoScale

Official Worldreader website: www.worldreader.org


No comments:

Post a Comment