National Library Service of Kenya

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Reading area
Maktaba Kuu Building

Kenya National Library Service (KNLS)[1]
TypeNational and Public Libraries
Reference to legal mandateLaws of Kenya Cap 225 of April 1965
Items collectedBooks, periodicals, encyclopedias, newspapers, journals, magazines, Braille materials, audio books, audio navigators for the blind, charts, maps and e-resources
Size1.4M books
Criteria for collectionPreservation of the National Imprint
Legal depositYes
Access and use
Access requirementsAccess through entry fee or registered membership for adults. Children have free access.
Population served16M
MembersEst 75,000
Other information
DirectorDr. Charles Nzivo
EmployeesEst 650

The Kenya National Library Service[1] (KNLS) is a corporate body of the Kenyan government with a mandate to "promote, establish, equip, manage, maintain and develop libraries in Kenya".[2] In its service provision, knls plays a dual role of Public Library and National library of Kenya.[3]

knls was established in 1965 by an Act of Parliament of the Laws of Kenya to provide library and information services to the Kenyan public.[4] 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 64 branches throughout Kenya, while the national library services are available at the headquarters in Nairobi.

Currently, the Kenya National Library Service is managed by the government under the Ministry of Youth, Sports and the Arts, State Department for Sports and the Arts, where the Cabinet Secretary is Hon Ababu Namwamba.[5] He has taken over from Amb. (Dr.) Amina C. Mohamed who was the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Heritage in the Uhuru Kenyatta Cabinet.

National Library Services in Kenya[edit]

KNLS library

National library services in Kenya are offered by Kenya National Library Service[6] through the National Library Division (NLD). It serves as the repository for legal deposits in accordance with the Books and Newspapers Act Chapter (CAP) 111 of the laws of Kenya which facilitates the preservation of books, magazines, and other publications produced in the country.[7]

According to books and newspaper Act (CAP 111) statute law, Miscellaneous Amendment No. 22 of 1989, the publishers of every book printed and published in Kenya "shall before or within fourteen days after publication of the book, at his own expense deliver to the Registrar such number of copies thereof, not exceeding three in number. And in order to facilitate the publication of the national bibliography of Kenya under 4 (k) of the Kenya National Library Service Board Act, before or within fourteen days, deliver to the Director, Kenya National Library Service, two copies.[7]

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.[8] Kenya National Bibliography is published annually by the National Library and contains list of bibliographic resources, print or audio-visual acquired as legal deposit. The Legal Deposit Act mandates publishers, to deposit two copies to the Director National library and three copies to the registrar of books and newspapers. All these materials are then published in the Kenya National Bibliography (KNB). The organization maintains a database of Kenya's intellectual output with the aim of achieving effective National Bibliographic Control in line with the principle of Universal Bibliographic Control. Kenya National Bibliography serves as a selection tool for scholars, lecturers, students', librarians among others. National Libraries over the ages have been potent instrument for creation, acquisition and dissemination of local content thereby preserving and promoting transmission of cultural practices and values from one generation to another. They are reservoir of recorded knowledge of a community, which is being preserved for posterity.[7] The bibliography was last published in 2018.[9]

The National Library Division is also the sole issuer of International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) and International Standard Music Numbers (ISMN) for print music. knls 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.


Public libraries in Kenya have existed since the beginning of the 18th century. These however, were mainly subscription libraries that relied heavily on endowments, members' subscriptions and limited grants from both local and central government. The libraries were exclusively for Europeans and Asians.

The first public library, Seif Bin Salim Public Library and Free Reading Area, in Mombasa,[10] was established in 1903. It was financed by Seif Bin Salim, the son of the then "Liwali" (Arab Governor) of Mombasa, Salim bin Khalfan.[11][circular reference][12] The McMillan Memorial Library in Nairobi was the second public library. It was built in 1931 in memory of Lord William Northrop Mcmillan who was among the first settlers in Kenya. The library was built through funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York through the efforts of Macmillan's widow, Lucie. Initially, the library was meant for Europeans and Asians. The third public library was the Desai Memorial Library which was built in 1942. It only offered services exclusively to Asians until the 1960s.

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 consultant in 1948, Elspeth Huxley who was an author, journalist, broadcaster, environmentalist and government advisor of the colonial government in Kenya.[clarification needed]

In 1960, a report recommending a centralized state-supported public library system for Kenya was made. That same year, The Macmillan Memorial Library was handed over to the Nairobi City Council, which opened it to everyone. During this same period, the Desai Library was also opened to the general public.

In 1965, an act establishing Kenya National Library Service was passed.

Provision of information for development through the national and public library network enables people to fight poverty deprivation and illiteracy and thus supports reading and recovery programs 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 provides 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 program. 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."[13]

Core functions of the knls Board[edit]

According to Kenya National Library Service Board Act CAP. 225 of the Laws of Kenya, knls has the following core functions:[14]

  • Acquire books and information sources produced in and outside Kenya and such other materials for a National Library
  • Preserve and conserve the national imprint for reference and research and maintain the National Bibliographic Control through issuance of the publication of the Kenya National Bibliography Kenya Periodicals Directory and ISBN.
  • Promote, establish, equip, manage and maintain libraries in Kenya as a National Library Service;
  • Plan and Coordinate library, documentation and related services in Kenya
  • Advice the Government, local authorities and other public bodies on all matters relating to library, documentation and related services.
  • Provide facilities for the study of, and for training in the principles, procedures, and techniques of librarianship and such other related subjects as the Board may determine
  • Sponsor, arrange or provide facilities for conferences and seminars for discussion on matters in connection with library and related services
  • Carry out and encourage research in the development of library and related services[15]


The library offers the following services;

  • Adult, junior and institutional lending
  • Mobile library services[16]
  • Inter-library lending
  • Advisory on library services
  • Technical assistance on library development to interested government and private institutions
  • Free access to computers and Internet connectivity
  • Health information
  • Services to visually impaired persons
  • User education
  • Digitization services
  • Board games for users above 14 years old
  • Data center services[17]
  • Virtual Library services The library also offers eBooks that can be accessed online

knls Network within the country and county[edit]

Kenya National Library Service (Maktaba Kuu Building) Community Area, Ngong Road P.O. Box 30573-00100 NAIROBI

No. County No. of libraries Area situated
1 Baringo 3 Kabarnet, Meisori, Eldama Ravine
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 4 Meru, Mikumbune, Timau, Gatimbi
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 3 Wundanyi, Voi, 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[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Kenya National Library Service". Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  2. ^ "Service Charter, Kenya National Library Service". Kenya National Library Service. August 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  3. ^ "Home". Kenya National Library Service. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  4. ^ "Background, Kenya National Library Service". Kenya National Library Service. August 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  5. ^ "Ababu Arrives To Take Charge of Ministry of Sports". Capital F.M. Retrieved 26 November 2022.
  6. ^ "Kenya National Library Service (KNLS)". UNESCO. 21 October 2017.
  7. ^ a b c "Kenya National Library Service". Kenya National Library Service. Archived from the original on 26 January 2021. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  8. ^ Anderson, Dorothy (January 1977). "The Role of the National Bibliographic Centre". Library Trends. 25 (3). Johns Hopkins University Press: 645–663. Archived from the original on 10 May 2017. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  9. ^ "National Library, Kenya National Bibliography". Retrieved 9 September 2022.
  10. ^ "Saif-Bin Salim Library (Mombasa), Kenya / Coast / Mombasa". 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2023.
  11. ^ Sheikh Ali bin Salim is mentioned on the List of honorary British knights and dames#Religion
  12. ^ "Sir Ali Muslim Club | Since 1934".
  13. ^ "Kenya National Library Service". Kenya National Library Service. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  14. ^ "Kenya Law". Kenya Law. Retrieved 9 September 2022.
  15. ^ "Kenya National Library Service". Kenya National Library Service. Retrieved 9 September 2022.
  16. ^ "Mobile Library Services". Kenya National Library Service. Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  17. ^ "Uvumbuzi Center". Kenya National Library Service. Retrieved 21 September 2022.

External links[edit]