Two young women are changing the face of public libraries in Kenya as they seek to inculcate a reading culture among Kenyans.
Angela Wachuka and Wanjiru Koinange founded Book Bunk Trust, a social impact firm that rehabilitates public libraries in Kenya, in October 2017.
Wachuka is one of Kenya’s leading publishers of African literature and was the Executive Director of Kwani Trust, a leading literary organization in East Africa.
On her part, Wanjiru is a writer and entrepreneur. She is the author of The Havoc of Choice novel. The novel is based on the events that surrounded the 2007 Kenyan general election.
The two started the Book Bunk firm with the aim to revamp public libraries.
“We were looking for a place to host a book launch when we first came across the McMillian Memorial Library. We found it in a wanting state and from there we asked ourselves about public libraries and their maintenance. McMillian Memorial Library inspired us to start Book Bunk Firm,’’ noted Wachuka.
The duo describes libraries as sites of heritage, public art, memory and critical spaces in Kenya’s creative economy ecology.
“We imagine that public libraries can be steered to become more than just repositories, acting as sites of knowledge production, shared experiences, cultural leadership and information exchange,’’ they said.
Book Bunk’s responsibilities include sourcing and management of fiscal and other support; steering and management of architectural restoration, management of the public library spaces including design and delivery of programming.
The firm formalized a partnership with Nairobi County government to give the firm the mandate to revamp the public library spaces in March 2018.
Book Bunk firm is currently working on the restoration of the McMillan Memorial Library on Banda Street, Eastlands Library in Makadara and Kaloleni Library.
In November 2020, they were recognized by the President Uhuru for refurbishing the three public libraries.
''I want to thank the founders of Book Bunk who have adopted and transformed three public libraries: Makadara, Kaloleni and McMillan. Also their restoration model focuses on transforming libraries to communities empowering and networking spaces for the residents in Nairobi'' said President Kenyatta.
Kenyans.co.ke sought answers from Wachuka and Wanjiru to know more about Book Bunk firm.
What inspired you to start the Book Bunk Firm?
Book Bunk project was born out of the desire to repair public libraries after visiting McMillian Memorial Library for the first time. We then discussed maintenance of public libraries and decided to come up with a firm to revamp public libraries so that they can thrive and serve the purpose they are meant for.
How did you come up with the name Book Bunk?
We imagined that our work would be centered around creating publicly-accessible bunks of knowledge, although initially, we’d thought we could call the entity Book Bank! Only financial banks can claim this name however, so bunk worked just as well!
How do you mobilize your resources (do you have any donors, fund drives, your own money)?
Our fundraising targets individuals, corporations and cultural and other foundations that are keen to support the vision of thriving public spaces for Nairobi’s residents. We also design campaigns that garner public support - the cataloguing of archives over the course of 2019 for instance, was supported by crowdsourcing. We also have a wish list generated specifically for the libraries’ children’s collection that consists of a significant portion of titles by African authors.
Are you planning to refurbish public libraries outside Nairobi?
We currently have our hands full with the three locations in Nairobi and would like to focus on these for now as it is a great opportunity to learn and apply this elsewhere. Once we’ve earned our stripes and tested our model, we would be ready to upscale.
How much did it cost to repair one library?
It’s a super detailed process with lots of variables based on a number of things; size of the space, desired designs and fixtures, acquisition of books, architectural and other research, public programming and other bits.
What is your next project?
Our goals for 2021 are to continue to grow and develop our teams; Our research and inventory teams have been digitizing the collections in the libraries, and so far catalogued 135,705 items and digitized over 21,000 items. We are hoping to continue with this work. In addition, we are on course to complete the restoration of the second branch; Eastlands Library in Makadara. We also plan to carry out both urgent repairs (electrical, sanitation, Wi-Fi) at the McMillan Memorial Library on Banda Street, in the lead-up to its full architectural restoration. Some key events we are looking forward to this year include a literary festival synonymous with the city of Nairobi, tied to the 90th anniversary of McMillan Memorial Library. Bookbunk.org will also feature a range of digital programming for public access including storytelling for children so tune in soon or reach us via @thebookbunk on twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and TikTok.
Below are links to videos of the progress of the restoration process of the before and after of the Libraries.
Virtual tour of the three libraries-
Digitization of archives at McMillian Library-