Project LEAP Worldreader in Libraries

Project LEAP Final Report
February 2015

Executive Summary

Project LEAP— “Libraries, E-reading, Activities and Partnership” – was a groundbreaking pilot program implemented by Worldreader in partnership with eight public and community libraries in Western Kenya, and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The LEAP pilot aimed to increase the availability of reading materials in Kenya’s libraries with the provision of e-readers filled with relevant books.

The one-year pilot tested the use, function and adoption of e-readers in selected libraries to determine how e-readers affect library patronage, communities, staff, policies and procedures. Ultimately, these learnings will serve to inform the expansion of digital reading programs in libraries across Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa.

200 e-readers were deployed to the eight public libraries (25 each), preloaded with 100 African and 100 international book titles for a total of 40,000 books initially distributed. Additionally, in September each library selected 25 titles to upload, for a final total of 44,000 books (about half coming from African publishers and another half from US and European publishers). For children, the titles primarily include storybooks and some school curriculum, and for adults, pleasure reading and informational books. Overnight borrowing of e-readers was allowed selectively at the individual libraries’ discretion, however e-readers were used mainly in official outreach and training activities, and by individual patrons within the walls of the libraries.

This paper constitutes a final report for the yearlong LEAP pilot. The primary impacts of the program included an almost threefold increase in library visits, from 10,442 to 29,023 patrons per month, 254 library-initiated community events, and over 20,000 patrons trained on e-reader usage.

Additionally, both patrons and librarians reported frequent use of the e-readers and positive feelings towards the e-readers, with 90% of patrons surveyed reporting that they found the e-readers easy to use or very easy to use, and 86% reporting that they had recommended the e-reader to family and friends. The LEAP e-readers also showed a low breakage and loss rate of just 2.5%. Notably, 84% of patrons surveyed reported reading more since the e-reader program began.

The findings presented in this report show that digital reading programs may help libraries increase overall patronage and patron interest in the library, attract a wider age range of patrons, and increase the amount patrons are reading, in addition to rapidly expanding the collections of libraries to suit patron needs. Moreover, the results show e-readers are cost-effective: conservative estimates suggest that e-reader programs cost between $8-$15 per person impacted over a three-year period.

The program, however, was not without its challenges, including the heavy workload associated with managing the program, additional electricity costs for e-reader charging, and developing policies and procedures that work for diverse library settings.

This report poses recommendations to address these challenges and maximize the impact of future library-based digital reading programs. These recommendations are tailored to specific audiences,
Including librarians, implementing organizations and policymakers. However three over-arching keys to program success emerge from the report. These are:
1) Dedicated staff at each library for managing the program;
2) Relevant content on the e-readers;
3) Frequent community outreach to raise awareness of the library.

By bridging the traditional role of the library as a place for reading and books with the increasing presence of technology, the findings presented in this report indicate that digital reading programs may be a good first step for libraries just beginning to implement technology programs. They are relatively low cost, easy to set up, easy to train on, and allow libraries room to get their feet wet before implementing more cost and time intensive technology interventions. In short, these findings show that digital reading programs have significant potential when it comes to helping African libraries meet the needs of a 21st century patron base.

Read the full Project LEAP: Final Report.