KAINET, the online library

Until recently, Kenya Agricultural Information Resource Centre (AIRC) used a time-tested method that had changed little over the decades for collecting and disseminating research institutions , universities and other organizations to pick up booklets, leaflets, annual reports and other documents.  Each one was indexed and entered in a subject bibliography.  Each one was summarized in a short abstract.  Then the document was stored in a box file or stacked on library shelf.  The bibliographies were mailed periodically to provincial and district agricultural offices.  Officers in the field could then write back with a request for a copy of whatever interested them.  If the document was thin, it was photocopied and put in the mail.  If it was thick, AIRC wrote back with the name of the source institution, suggesting the officers pay a visit when next in Nairobi.  Alternatively, they could visit AIRC's reading room.


Of course, it was difficult for them, notes Nancy Kunga, the head of documentation and information services.  But AIRC had little option.  It had one computer, a printer and a photocopier.  It was no connected to the internet and there was no email service.


Knowledge collection and dissemination had its challenges for the institutions conducting agricultural research too.  Their dissemination through libraries and sale of publications was old fashioned and reached a tiny audience.  But the dismal state of their infrastructure left them little option.  Most information units had poor or no access to the internet.  The venerable Kenya Agricultural Research Institute-National Agricultural Research Laboratories(KARI-NARL), founded in 1903, owned two scanners but no computers.  Communication between its libraries was by walking across the grounds from one to the other.  Neither could it access its parent organizations, the KARI, on the internet.


The Ministry of Agriculture and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) both had websites, but no information had been uploaded.  Yet a baseline survey conducted by RAIN in 2005 showed that three out of four scientists preferred to read information in electronic rather than print format.  And four out of five wanted to read the full text rather than an abstract.