Publisher Angela Wachuka and Author Wanjiru Koinange are on a mission to return the Nairobi McMillan library to its former glory by modernizing the amenities and renovating the space after being abandoned for ages. The project, Book Bunk is a social impact firm established in July 2017 and focused on the complete renovation and restoration of old library spaces as well as the installation of new libraries into public spaces.
Two imposing elephant tusks greet visitors to the McMillan, opened in 1931 to commemorate US explorer William Northrup McMillan. The building mostly contains books from the beginning of the 20th century, well before Kenya’s independence in 1963. Readers can find works on the British aristocracy alongside volumes about the London black cab trade — but few works by Kenyan authors. There is currently no index of the books or the impressive archive of Kenyan newspapers, and a comprehensive cataloguing exercise is badly needed.
Despite the dilapidated state of Nairobi’s McMillan library, a handful of Kenyans still seek out its 1930s neoclassical grandeur, complete with granite columns on its imposing facade.
In 2017, the young women launched the “Book Bunk” scheme to modernise the McMillan Memorial Library, situated in Nairobi’s buzzing business quarter, as well as the libraries at Makadara and Kaloleni in residential areas of the city. McMillan, the largest library, will specialise on general interest while Kaloleni will specialise in children’s literature and Makadara will focus on offerings for teenagers.
Despite the rundown state of the Makadara library, located in a 1970s building, it still pulls in 180 young readers a day, which, Koinange said, highlights the demand for literary services.
The two Nairobians also want to integrate new forms of media like multimedia collections and podcasts.
The ambitious pair have received the backing of Nairobi’s city council for their Book Bunk project.
They hope to launch an independent fundraising campaign in September to raise 100 million shillings ($1 million, 850,000 euros) for the project, to which they have dedicated five years of their lives.
Wachuka and Koinange’s goal is to allow Nairobi’s residents to tell and share their own stories.