Kenya’s Libraries Get The Attention They Deserve

The archives of the McMillan Memorial Library are being digitized. Kenyans are also being invited to bring items such as photographs or letters to create an archive anchored in collective memory. Patrick Meinhardt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Palace is a fine way to think about libraries, and Kenya has a movement to make this metaphor work:

Turning Nairobi’s Public Libraries Into ‘Palaces for the People’

A Kenyan nonprofit is restoring iconic public libraries, leaving behind a segregated past and turning them into inclusive spaces.

A project to preserve libraries such as this one is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay, said Lola Shoneyin, a Nigerian novelist. Patrick Meinhardt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In 1931, the first library in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, opened its doors — to white patrons only.

Nearly a century later, Kenyans dressed in the slinky gowns, flapper headpieces and tweed suits of that era streamed into the now-dilapidated space in a celebration that was part fund-raiser for the remodel of the iconic building, part reclamation of the city’s public libraries as “palaces for the people.”

“Our public libraries can be glamorous spaces of storytelling,” said Angela Wachuka, a Kenyan publisher. But, she added, “we are here to also reclaim history, to occupy its architecture and to subvert its intended use.”

The restoration of the McMillan Memorial Library and others in the city was the brainchild of Wachuka and the novelist Wanjiru Koinange, who founded Book Bunk, a Kenyan nonprofit, in 2017 to restore and reclaim the city’s public libraries. The aim was to leave behind their excluding past and remake them into inclusive spaces where Kenyans can archive and share collective memories, engage in creative and civic pursuits, and have at their disposal the technology to gather and disseminate information.

Among their goals is to bring more books in African languages to the libraries, and incorporate services catering to those with visual, physical or reading disabilities…

Read the whole story here.

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