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Public Library to Issue Books in Digital Format
Source: Business Daily
Source Date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Kenya
Created: Dec 01, 2011

Local book publishers and libraries are turning to newer technologies to increase efficiency and uptake of reading materials to grow access. The Kenya National Library Services (KNLS) is banking on the shift to add value by providing access to rare books, government reports and past newspapers in the first phase of the project. Publishers are turning to ebooks to cut costs and improve margins. "The margins for publishers will be higher even though prices for each unit will be lower," says Ms Amolo Ng'weno, the managing director of Digital Divide Kenya, a digital and business process outsourcing company based in Nairobi. "Using e-books, publishes can increase sales and there will be no books sitting on the shelves." Digital Divide Kenya is digitising a series of publications for the KNLS, which has been using mobile offices to reach remote locations. Cost of printing In the recent past, publishers have raised the alarm that books would be more expensive since the Government removed a tax cushion. An e-book is an electronic version of printed materials that can be read on gadgets such as Apple's iPad, Kindle, Samsung Galaxy Note, and on phone. Other organisations on the digitisation project are the public curriculum developer Kenya Institute of Education and Google in partnership with publishers. Besides reducing the cost of printing and distribution, e-publishing will eliminate the threat of piracy for local publishers, which takes over 30 per cent off their income. A good e-books management system comes with tight security features that ensures that only those who pay get access. "The initiative is one of its kind in Kenya and it is a welcome move that libraries and publishers should benefit from," says Mr Omar Abdi, a librarian at KNLS. Information permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo said that the drive by the local publishers to release their books in soft copies would reduce the reliance on foreign content. "Currently 95 per cent of online content is all foreign which we need to change because the Government cannot build telecommunications infrastructure only to be used by foreign firms," said Dr Ndemo. The evolution of technology and changing lifestyles have inflated demand. "Most private schools are offering kindles and, it is evident in churches that most people carry their hard copy bibles but instead use the electronic readers." After the landing of the fibre optic cables, techpreneurs and governments have been in a hurry to build online clients, cashing in on fast-speed Internet. "Government organisations, especially, are moving towards digitisation," says Ms Ngw'eno. "The problem is that international portals such as Amazon, iTunes, do not have local content," she said. "Local libraries where people subscribe to e-books do not have local content. Local content has not yet been digitised and publishers also are afraid of piracy while payment methods are also a hindrance." Under the e-Government policy, the use of new technology provides access to the Public Service including search for jobs, filing tax forms, business licensing, and applying for identification documents. Ms Ng'weno says e-books allow organisations running libraries including government departments, schools and colleges to offer services like e-lending and effectively control use of library materials. Because of copyright curbs, many libraries have only been scratching the surface by restricting themselves to free content. Foreign titles The slow uptake of e-books has also been attributed to lack of specialised companies offering seamless electronic books management systems. "As publishers are nervous about copyright, they continue to fear that people would still pirate their books in electronic form if the system is not foolproof," says Ms Ng'weno. A number of publishers have shown interest to join the e-book business, going by the growing number of users. Internet use has grown in Kenya over the past four years, where more than 12 million people have access. Kenyans are increasingly using ebooks and often buy foreign titles through Amazon. "The Kenyan market should tip in the next four years," she said. "e-books don't use a lot of bandwidth and can be easily downloaded on cellphones and modems." Digitisation saves library users time when searching for specific topics, which is a faster way of browsing compared to moving from one bookshelf to another. While traditional library system is limited by physical access, the digitised form can be used from any location provided there is Internet connection.
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