Project LEAP: E-Readers in African Libraries with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Project LEAP, which stands for “Libraries, e-Reading, Activities and Partnership,” is a groundbreaking pilot program implemented by Worldreader in partnership with eight public and community libraries in Western Kenya, and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. LEAP is testing the use, function and adoption of ereaders in the pilot libraries in an effort to investigate the scalability of library e-reader programs across Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. The ultimate goal of the program is increasing reading through libraries, and thereby improving literacy skills with attendant impacts on poverty, health, gender equality and social mobility.
In early 2014 Worldreader deployed 200 e-readers (each preloaded with 200 digital book titles) to the selected pilot libraries, for a total of 40,000 books distributed so far. LEAP project managers were trained on e-reader operation, project management, monitoring and evaluation and more, and community launch and training events were held in the pilot libraries. This report outlines the needs, characteristics and observed trends among project libraries as part of a baseline exercise, and will be used for comparison in forthcoming midterm and final reports. Key findings include:
Both library patrons and staff identified diversity and size of library collections and the need for more technology programs as key concerns prior to the commencement of the e-reader program.
Library users at all eight pilot sites tend to be young, with patrons under 25 years old being significantly more active users of the libraries than older adults. This holds true despite there being great diversity among the settings of the libraries themselves, and points to an important need to engage young people.
Social interaction and public programs that engage patrons were identified as vital program components for connecting with current patrons, and raising awareness about the library and e-reader program for non-patrons. Nearly half of all patron survey respondents reported attending some public programs at the libraries prior to the start of LEAP.
Based on these findings, Worldreader is working with project managers at each of the pilot libraries to develop policies, procedures and actions that will set each up for success, including authoring regulations around e-reader borrowing, conducting patron training, brainstorming ideas for public programs specifically utilizing the ereaders, and more.
Worldreader expects that, due to the availability of existing resources and previous experience working with technology-based interventions, urban LEAP libraries will experience more ease with the technical implementation of the project. However, because patrons of rural libraries are less likely to have access to other technology resources, the project team expects that LEAP will drive greater increases in patronage and patron diversity among rural and smaller libraries, due to high levels of excitement around the e-readers.
Read the Full Baseline Report Project LEAP: E-Readers in African Libraries Baseline Report.