It is a fact that Kenya's reading culture is on the decline. Why? The worrying trend is partly because of the sorry state of the library and archiving industry, due to the lack of critical spaces in Kenya’s creative economy ecology.
Two Kenyan women, however, have taken it up themselves to save the dying culture by restoring old colonial-era libraries, to salvage the repositories in a bid to inculcate the culture once more.
Kenyan publisher Angela Wachuka and her counterpart author Wanjiku Koinange, started a non-profit organization dubbed Book Bunk, which works to restore libraries across Nairobi city by revamping physical infrastructure and updating book collections.A side by side comparison of the Kaloleni Library before and after renovationFileCNN
The duo identified a gap in the industry noting that Kenya's history is tainted by the colonial trauma, as the libraries represented the country's dark past, where only white people were allowed into the libraries.
The bibliophiles have dedicated countless hours to the restoration of the libraries, working together with volunteers and interns to catalogue thousands of books that were acquired from the colonizers.
The team has successfully managed to restore the Eastlands Library in Makadara and the Kaloleni Library in Central Nairobi, with the third restoration set for the McMillan Library in the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD).
The organization has also facilitated the successful translation of Lupita Nyong'o children's book, Sulwe, in Swahili and Luo languages.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed as they have caught the attention of international media house, Cable News Network(CNN), who conducted a feature on the exemplary efforts of the two women.
Book Bunk attributes its success to research. Before the restoration, they took time to survey locals to establish what services they would benefit the most from, to which they conducted urgent repairs in the libraries to fix electrical, sanitation, and Wi-Fi challenges.
They successfully hosted the Nairobi Literature Festival at the Kaloleni Library earlier this year, which saw the attendance of Nairobi residents, holding events such as storytelling and stage performances by renowned celebrities.
In November 2020, the duo was recognized by 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 into communities empowering and networking spaces for the residents in Nairobi'' said President Kenyatta.MacMillan Memorial Library in Nairobi pictured in 2019.Simon Kiragu
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