Book Bunk Trust led by two women is restoring Kenya’s historical libraries

By modernising everything from the physical infrastructure to the book collections, Book Bunk Trust , a non-profit organisation created in 2017 by publisher Angela Wachuka and novelist Wanjiru Koinange, is rebuilding libraries throughout the city.

The organisation is creating a new future for both the books inside the libraries and the community around them. They analyse library records to assist in teaching the next generation about Kenyan history.

For easy access and to stop additional damage, the charitable trust also established a digital archive where it has stored some 24,000 historic documents that date back to the 1800s. They founded Bunk Books, an African-centric publishing company, in the year 2020.

The group also assisted in repurposing the libraries as venues for talks and festivals honouring writing, including the Nairobi Literature Festival.

Book Bunk has been making recent endeavours at the restoring the books in the McMillan Memorial Library, which is also the city’s oldest library.

The McMillan Memorial Library was constructed in 1931, eleven years after Kenya became a colony in 1920. The country was first governed by the British in 1895, and only White European colonists were permitted access to the library’s rich knowledge for almost three decades after that.

The library’s name references its past, standing as a tribute to Sir William Northrup McMillan, a British American pioneer; Lady Lucie McMillan commissioned it and had it dedicated.

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At the McMillan Memorial Library, Wachuka and Koinange worked for nine months with assistance from 30 interns, to catalogue 137,705 books, many of which were acquired from British colonisers.

By partnering up with Nairobi’s local government in 2018, Book Bunk is now able to take the lead on library renovation projects. A devoted team of paid and volunteer employees work at Book Bunk, which depends on donations and partnerships to finance its initiatives.

The library is their third major renovation endeavour, before that, Eastlands Library in Nairobi’s east and the more prominent Kaloleni Library have previously been rebuilt by the team. Books and other archive materials, such as magazines, are currently being digitally preserved so that history can be easily accessed.

The transformation of Eastlands Library in Nairobi’s east by Book Bunk

According to Koinange, the nearby communities use the libraries as workspaces, with hundreds of individuals using them daily throughout the locations.

Before Book Bunk fixed them, Kaloleni, Eastlands, and McMillan all lacked running water and functional restrooms, and McMillan’s electrical system was so decrepit that the library close at dusk during restoration.

Kaloleni Library – restoration by Book Bunk

Since its founding, Book Bunk has collaborated with and partnered with a number of organisations, including Glasgow Women’s Library, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, and Sharjah World Book Capital.

It also in collaboration with Africa Digital Heritage, the Built Environment Surveyors & Infrastructure Consultancy Group, and the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, produced the first-ever digital catalogue of manuscripts, photographs, letters, journals, and other materials in Kenya, in 2019.

Additionally, it offers instructional tours of the primary McMillan library as well as its two reopened branches via Airbnb, with all proceeds going toward library restoration work.

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