AO: Wanjiru points out that despite popular narratives about Kenyans not reading, there is still a demand for books that perserveres despite lack of investment by government.
...Yes, the government did stop pumping money into libraries along the way because there was no tangible return on its investment, but this doesn’t mean that Kenyans stopped reading.
AO: Mnjama (2003) points to an incorrect assumption that automation is the only way of providing quick and accurate information for decision making. More than fifteen years later, I see similar echoes in contemporary public narratives about the capacity of big data/machine learning to do pattern recognition and automated analysis that goes beyond the capacity of humans. Mnjama also points here to a key issue which is the lack of integration of the computer systems with the manual filing systems (in fact leading to more disjuncture between what the online records show and what can be found in physical copy as pointed out by Carotenuto and Luongo (2005).
Although the introduction of information and communication technologies in government ministries and departments might have been hailed as a major step towards improved information-processing provision, it has had negative effects on the development of an efficient records management programme. First, the introduction of ICTs has led to an increase in the generation of paper records, especially accounting records. Second, the introduction of computers and the incorrect assumption that automation is the only way of providing quick and accurate information for decision making, leading to a neglect of the management of paper-based records, which still constitute the vast majority of recorded information in the country. Finally, no efforts have been made to link the use of computers with an efficient records management programme. As a result, while many departments have embraced the use of computers, registries have been left to struggle with unqualified registry clerks, thus contributing to many of the problems discussed above.
AO: Mnjama (2003) points out that ... "increasingly, government institutions are creating records in electronic formats. As the introduction of modern information and communication technologies is a welcome development, the underlying issues relating to the management of electronic records remain yet to be addressed" (98). He calls for a country-wide records survey to understand how records created electronically are being managed. Ten years later, Wangutusi (2013) writes her master's thesis on assessing the "e-readiness" of KNA. However, she focuses less on the underlying partnerships and division of labor between KNA and other government ministries and more on the technical systems and accessibility of computer technologies. The question of the management of electronic records seems particularly important to address given that the majority of the microfilm collection for the Kenya National Archives continue to be hosted and managed by Syracuse University Libraries, something that seems particularly ironic given KNA's successful migration of archives from the colonial government.
AO: Mr. Joseph Murumbi (1911-1990) was a Kenyan politician who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya from 1964 to 1966, and its second Vice-President between May and December 1966. Murumbi played a key role in promoting the arts in Kenya and according to Fedha (1972) (below) played a big roll in setting up the archives.
Mr. Joseph Murumbi who was Minister of State in the Prime Minister[‘]s office played a big roll in setting up the Archives service as he had immense interest in Archives and books. He had been a book collector in U.K. for many years before independence and if I may say he has now today the finest collection of African books in this country and perhaps in the whole of East Africa.
AO: As the paragraph below describes, the process of signing up to become a reader of the archives is quite straightforward. The fee is 1,500 KES for foreign researchers for the year.
Unlike the national archives of its East African neighbors, the KNA is a truly public institution that does not require that users hold a research permit in order to read documents. KNA readers' cards are available in the search room for 50 Kenyan Shillings (about 65 US cents), renewable each year. A photo I.D. and a passport-size photo are required for issuing the card. The search room is located upstairs and is open from 8:30am- 4:30pm, Monday to Friday, and from 8:30am-1pm Saturdays. New read- ers should inform the receptionist at the main entrance that they would like to visit the search room.
AO: This quote from Carotenuto and Luongo (2005) continues to hold true today - perhaps even more so - and speaks to me of the requisite time and level of commitment that the archival researcher must have in order to develop the expertise and patience to search the archives.
... the authors experienced the researcher's chagrin of finding that "key source" in the bound or computer indexes, only to discover that it was improperly cataloged or missing altogether. New researchers should be warned that it is necessary to devote a considerable amount of time to learning how to locate and identify sources, and that they should be prepared for disappointments.
AO: This excerpt from Carotenuto and Luongo (2005) highlights the reuse of the physical infrastructure of the bank to store archival materials instead. How did existing infrastructure of the bank shape the design, perceptions and use of the archives?
During the late 1970s the KNA moved from its basement beginnings to its present location on Moi Avenue. The current facility first housed the Bank of India and later the Kenya Commercial Bank. Not surprisingly, the building's architecture suggests a depository of currency much more than a repository of information. Indeed, documents are currently stored in bank vaults throughout the building's eight repository rooms, and the most highly-sensitive documents in the KNA's collection are secreted away in the old bank's "strong room," which can be accessed only by the director of the KNA.
AO: While it may seem self-evident, this excerpt from the workshop summary report underlines the continued importance of physical buildings to protect archival material. Especially at a time when digitizing has become the focus of archival and library science, the continued maintainance of physical spaces and material culture is highlighted here. Workshop participants also raised the fact that processes for maintaining and archiving the physical artifacts are better understood and established than for maintaining and archiving born-digital materials.
Physical buildings and storage conditions matter greatly when it comes to protecting archive material. Indeed, the 1965 Act of Parliament that established the Kenya National archives and Documentation Service, Frances Mwangi informed us, gave it responsibility “for proper housing, control and preservation of all public records and public archives.”
TM: Here we see as an insider looking out on the way in which researchers at KNA struggle to find the data they require at KNA. So we look at a sample of Maasai community archival users owing to an important to them, i.e., land. We see how this important aspect of their lives following land lease settlement with pre-colonial British at expiry is most dependant on the efficiency of the KNA infrastructure. The efficincy of KNA record managment system comes under the microscope as it demonstrates how important archival records are in the lives of the people they are supposed to be there for.
" ...with the recent expiration of the controversial Maasai Land treaty, an agreement through which the British colonial government acquired Maasai lands for settler development for a period of 99 years, elders from Maasai communities are searching the KNA collection for information to aid their campaigns to reclaim the leased lands.
According to the KNA staff, many of these elderly patrons are semi-literate or illiterate, and their lack of skills only exacerbates the difficulties which challenge the professional researcher and casual user. While search room staff is willing to help all patrons, KNA staff limitations prevent the search room archivists from providing specialized help to these patrons and require that the patrons bring their own reading assistants. In addition, colonial documents pertaining to these cases contain significant spelling discrepancies, and numerous place and proper names have been changed since the colonial era, making it difficult for the casual user to trace people, places, and events. In such circumstances, many of the KNA's users leave frustrated, and empty-handed."
AO: This excerpt from the interview outlines how the library is governed and who the most frequent users are.
The library is run by a steering committee of five people which ensures teamwork, efficiency, transparency and accountability. Membership is open to all who agree with the vision and Principles of PALIAct. Many contribute their labour, skills, experience or other resources to PALIAct. Members pay an annual fee together with a refundable deposit. Anybody can join the library irrespective of ethnicity, religion, gender, region, race or disability. Membership is open to individuals or to institutions whose members then have access to the material.
The majority of members at present are university students and human rights activists. The library is trying hard to attract workers who are the main target as the main objective of PALIAct is to create a people-orientated information service that can meet the information needs of workers and peasants.
(Shiraz Durrani and Kimani Waweru)