I know what you’re probably thinking. Library tour? Sounds kinda meh and boring, right? Hear me out though. Libraries are a treasure trove of history and knowledge. And the McMillan library in Nairobi is one of the oldest and largest libraries in Nairobi. Besides being one of the architectural landmark buildings in Nairobi, it houses a lot of our country’s history, dating as far back as the 1900s.I have walked past the McMillan library in town countless times and somehow never bothered to venture in to explore. Funny how the hustle and bustle of our daily life can blind us to opportunities for adventure as we rush from one errand to the next. So when I noticed a poster on Twitter announcing an organised tour of the McMillan library, I decided that this was my chance to discover whatever wonders this place had to offer. A chance to play tourist in my own city.
I’m not going to lie, trading in my usual lazy weekend morning routine was not easy, but it was totally worth it. The tour included visiting the three McMillan library branches in Nairobi, located in CBD, Makadara and Kaloleni. The Makadara branch was the first stop on the tour. I loved how bright and airy the Makadara library was. The eggshell pink walls were a nice touch and the library felt spacious and accommodating.
The next stop on the tour was the Kaloleni branch, which is situated next to a community social hall and packed with history, both political and personal. The social hall was the site of many important parliamentary meetings in the early days of Kenya’s conception. And on the personal front, I actually have a piece of family history nested in these structures. My dad grew up in Kaloleni and has a lot of memories from his childhood, doing homework in the library and watching free movies in the social hall.
The final stop was the main library located in CBD. We got to venture into the basement which was full of unsorted photos and other archived history from pre-independence Kenya. Another room upstairs was packed with bound newspaper archives from the last five decades. I got a kick out of flipping through headlines from newspapers printed on the day of my birth to see what was the news back then.
When the McMillan library was opened in 1931, it was racially exclusive (only accessible by white people) which is a fact that is glaringly reflected in the library’s book collection, majority of which are outdated and frankly problematic. It is important that the libraries be updated and modernised so as to better serve the vibrant and multicultural Kenyan population. Which is where Book Bunk comes in.
Founded by two inspiring ladies (Angela Wachuka and Wanjiru Koinange), Book Bunk’s mission is to rehabilitate the three McMillan library branches in Nairobi, working in partnership with the Nairobi county government. And part of that involves encouraging the community to participate and engage with these spaces, through a variety of events such as library tours and film screenings. All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend my Saturday morning plus support the work that Book Bunk are doing.
*Follow @TheBookBunk on Twitter to stay informed on upcoming events