What you need to know:
- This visit has changed my idea of what a library can be. The Eastlands Library is not just a repository of books; it is a cultural centre and a community meeting place
‘I wish there were places like this all over Kenya,’ Peter said. He had driven me across the city to the Eastlands Library within the Makadara Huduma Centre. And he joined the tour as Lydia Mumbi showed us round the library’s different spaces.
Lydia is the library operations coordinator. She is employed by the Book Bunk Trust that has done such a remarkable job in renovating the library. It was a pleasure to be in such a quiet and airy place after the traffic frenzy of the Lusaka, Jogoo and Nyasa Roads.
But there is much more to the library than that. This visit has changed my idea of what a library can be. The Eastlands Library is not just a repository of books; it is a cultural centre and a community meeting place.
Most of the tables were occupied in the well-lit main room – mainly occupied by young students. And school students who need more support can attend on weekday evenings for extra tuition. For pre-school children, there is a colourful children’s corner. They also have a play-learning area with plenty of Lego pieces to stir their creativity.
There are a number of rooms in the library. One is equipped for screening films and there are shows every Thursday evening and occasionally on Saturdays.
There are rooms for study, music and rest. Outside, there is a small kitchen garden and on its edge a buried time capsule holds written statements by children about what they would like Kenya to be in 10 years’ time. The capsule will be opened on July 21, 2032 at 12.34pm precisely.
Behind the scenes a softer kind of restoration is going on. James Rachier, a member of the inventory team, told us about the ongoing and comprehensive digitisation work that is using the Koha open-source cataloguing application. When this work is complete, the library will have an efficient management system that will enable it to resume its book lending system.
I had gone to the Eastlands Library after an early morning meeting with Angela Wachuka, who is a founding partner of the Book Bunk Trust. The trigger for the meeting was the visit I had made to Nairobi’s McMillan Memorial Library a couple of weeks ago.
As I wrote in last week’s Going Places, the McMillan Library is a historic institution badly in need of attention. It is the only building in Kenya protected by its own Act of Parliament – the McMillan Memorial Library Act Cap 17 of 1938. But that hasn’t stopped the library’s decline into a sorry state of disrepair. But I discovered that something is now being done by Book Bunk.
Angela explained that they have already renovated the Eastlands and Kaloleni Libraries. She talked about Book Bunk’s mission in their library restoration work in Kenya – a mission she and her founding partner, Wanjiru Koinangi, took on in 2018. They see public libraries as ‘sites of heritage, public art, memory and as critical spaces’.
To start the renovation work in Nairobi involved achieving a partnership with the Nairobi City County; it depended on raising huge sums of money from foundations, corporates and individual donors; it has meant recruiting staff with the required expertise and encouraging volunteers with the right motivation; it has been influenced by the response they have had in community surveys.
Book Bunk has carried out a number of restoration tasks in the McMillan Library: research on the McMillan family and the library’s history; a recording of statements from elderly individuals who have stories to tell about Kenya’s colonial past; digitisation of precious documentary and photographic collections.
Angela said the best way to appraise Book Bunk’s work would be to visit the Eastlands Library. So that is what I did. The physical renovation work on the McMillan Library will start in the New Year. It will be a massive and complicated task. But, from what I saw in Eastlands, Book Bunk is certainly up to it.
John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: [email protected]