[page 12↓]



All governments and many international and private agencies invest in higher education, however, although there is widespread commitment in principle to such investment, in Africa, development of library and information services is generally perceived to be inadequate and inputs into library development have been typically small scale, piecemeal and lacking in co-ordination. At the same time university libraries have remained central to the management of scholarly communication and for centuries they have been repository of the written record and a powerful symbol of human intellectual achievement. Although traditionally libraries have been the most important of the university facilities in supporting advanced scholarship, today, perhaps as never before fundamental questions are being raised concerning their nature and purpose as institutions.

A number of issues are at play. First, there is the explosion in the quantity of desirable published material and secondly rapid escalation of unit prices of these items. These jeopardise the traditional research mission of the university library of creating and maintaining large self-sufficient collections for their users. The third is the rapid emergence and development of electronic information technologies which make it possible to envision radically more efficient ways of organising and managing collections but which present a big challenge of adaptation.

In Africa, it has been observed that the university library has become just one among the several sources of information available to the academic community. In a recent study, Rosenberg1 has observed that since mid 1980s, in Africa the relative value of local university libraries has declined to a near total loss of faith in their own existence, which [page 13↓]has led to their marginalization from the teaching, learning and research process in the university.

The state and prospects of university libraries in developing countries has been examined against a background of severe economic challenges facing the continent and in particular in the context of deterioration in the higher education sector. Commenting on universities in developing countries, Daniel2 has observed that at present, their total capacity is small vis-à-vis national populations hence low participation rates and that the condition of university buildings, equipment and libraries is poor and sometimes deteriorating.3 In a proposal to create the African Virtual University, the World Bank has noted that tertiary institutions in Africa are overwhelmed by problems related to access, finance, quality, as well as internal and external efficiency.4 It is also noted that limited space and declining budget levels prevent universities from servicing the growing demand for education. As a result, universities in Sub-Saharan Africa suffer from low numbers of trained faculty, virtually non-existent levels of research, poor quality educational facilities including libraries, laboratories and outmoded programs.5

In spite of the recognition that libraries play a key role in development and success of higher education, in many parts of the developing world there is a near total collapse of university library and information services. For example, the rise and fall of African libraries has been aptly expressed by Zeleza thus:

“All was well in the heady years immediately following independence when healthy commodity prices and booming economies kept modernisation hopes alive…Then from the mid-1970s many Africa countries fell into spiral of recurrent recessions, which wrecked havoc on development ambitions and the bookshelves grew empty. The ‘book hunger’ joined the litany of Africa’s other famines of development, democracy, and self determination”.6

[page 14↓]

According to UNESCO, the economic situation in many developing countries is such that many libraries have not had the resources to purchase any books for the past five to ten years which has had very negative and damaging effect on training and research capacities and has also seriously limited the possibilities for good policy analysis and planning based on the most up to date information.7 Therefore in spite of the fact that there are many public institutions of higher education and others supported by international and private agencies in developing countries such as Kenya, they have to cope with the challenge of an increasing demand without compromising the quality and relevance of teaching and research.


Increasingly, academics and in particular senior faculty members in Kenya have adopted strategies to obtain information, other than using the university library.8 These include: personal contacts in the first world to obtain reports and journal articles, writing for reprints, travel outside the country and development of personal libraries, the purchase of key texts and subscription to journals. For undergraduates there is increasing dependence on lecture notes and handouts as well as purchase of textbooks, methods that are felt to be in the end more reliable than depending on the university library. Amongst the academics in Kenyatta University (KU) and Moi University (MU) (Kenya) 50% and 75% respectively of the academic staff reportedly never enter the library.9 At the same time there is widely held opinion that the library remains highly cost-effective in providing information service to the university community especially in Africa.10 The alternative information strategies used in obtaining scholarly information among academicians in Kenya rely on “invisible funding”, the goodwill of friends in the first world and heavy cost of travel, which are both erratic and unsustainable. Although the senior academics [page 15↓]are able to survive without library provision, for junior academics and students who have no network of research contacts life is obviously difficult.

This apathy towards university libraries in Kenya has been partly attributed to the alienation and deteriorating quality of library services in the country resulting from poor funding by their parent organizations. This is true especially of public universities. Teaching methods, which do not support independent study by students and which devalue the role of libraries as well as poor management practices on the part of librarians have also been blamed for the poor state of affairs.11 The overall impact of deteriorating university libraries is poor teaching and research in the universities themselves and if the trend continues unchecked the quality of university education in Kenyan will be in jeopardy.

To remedy this situation it is imperative that the policies, attitudes and practices that surround university libraries in Kenya are examined and a decision be made on what needs to be done. This was the focus of this study. It aimed at investigating the present state and performance of university libraries in Kenya in terms of the quality of resources and services available. More specifically, the study aimed at:

  1. Investigating various factors (financial, personnel, technological, etc) that affect the activities of university libraries in Kenya.
  2. Investigating and analysing the services provided by university libraries in Kenya in the context of their universally accepted roles in facilitating learning and research in the universities.
  3. Assessing the performance of university libraries in Kenya and identifying the main problems they face in fulfilment of their goals and obligations and make suggestions to measures, corrective or otherwise, towards solving these problems.

[page 16↓]


This study was undertaken against a background characterized by:

  1. Rapid expansion in university education with a dramatic increase in student enrolment in national universities (both private and public) in Kenya.
  2. Dwindling government allocation of funds to universities for current and development budgets and subsequently fewer funds being made available for library and information services.
  3. Rising costs of information sources e.g. books and pressure on libraries to apply modern information technologies to achieve success.

Libraries in Kenya must continue to acquire the information sources, both in print and electronic form, necessary to maintain collections in support of learning, teaching and research in the universities. However a number of challenges including, firstly, a rapidly proliferating universe of published material that seems desirable to collect, secondly, expansion of knowledge and introduction of new courses, thirdly, rapidly escalating unit prices, especially for some journals, and fourthly, worsening university budgetary constrains which force university libraries to acquire an even smaller share of the universe of materials from which they are accustomed to make selection.

Therefore the study:

  1. Provides information on existing services and evaluation of their effectiveness, which is vital for formulation of viable development plans for university libraries in Kenya.
  2. Identifies some of the reasons for the existing gap between expected roles and actual performance.[page 17↓]
  3. Identifies changes in the educational field that have had serious implications to the development of university libraries in Kenya.
  4. Offers some practical solutions to problems facing university libraries in Kenya.

Footnotes and Endnotes

1 Rosenberg, Diana: University Libraries in Africa: A Review of their Current State and Future Potential. Vol. I: Summary. – London: International African Institute, 1997. - p. 53.

2 Daniel, Stephen: Mega Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education. – London: Kegan, 1996. - p. 16

3 Ibid.

4 AVU: The African Virtual University / World Bank. - Washington D.C: World Bank, 1996. - p. 20

5 Ibid.

6 Zeleza, P. Tiyiza: Manufacturing African Studies and Crises. – Dakar: CODESRIA, 1997. - p. 72

7 Policy Paper for Change and Development in Higher Education / UNESCO. – Paris: UNESCO, 1995. - p. 12

8 Rosenberg, Diana: University Libraries in Africa: A Review of their Current State and Future Potential. Vol. II: Case Studies. - London: International African Institute, 1997. - p. 45

9 Ibid.

10 Wolpert, A. : Services to Remote Users: Marketing the Library Role. – In: Library Trends 47 (1998) 1, p. 34

11 Kavulya, Joseph Muema: Determinants of Effective Library User Education in Public and Private Universities in Kenya. - M.A Thesis (Unpublished). – Nairobi: Kenyatta University, 1995. - p. 70

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