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“Palaces for the People” in Nairobi

When writer and entrepreneur Wanjiru Koinange and publisher Angela Wachuka, first entered the McMillan Memorial Library, in Nairobi, Kenya, they felt they were stepping back to a time when the library was accessible only to Europeans (whites).

Sadly, since 1963, when it was handed over to the City Council, the library and its collections have fallen into disrepair and failed to evolve to reflect the needs of the community.

Koinange and Wachuka were compelled to act. They envisioned a future in which the space could be transformed into a vibrant resource for the community. In 2018, they co-founded Book Bunk, whose goal was to decolonize and open up the McMillan and other iconic public libraries in the city as public spaces for all of the city’s people.

By 2020, they had renovated two libraries, acquired over 4,600 books, hosted 20 events and served over 1,700 people through their programs. Their renovation efforts have supported 25 local businesses and employed dozens of residents. In addition, they have delivered books, jigsaws and educational toys to home-schooling families and local neighborhoods.

Koinange and Wachuka understood that public libraries can be much more than repositories of records and knowledge. By bringing together local artists and communities to restore and re-imagine the city’s dilapidated colonial libraries, they have created modern, open and safe spaces for exchanging ideas and learning about the past, present and future of their country.

Listen to the story behind their work on the podcast, A Palace for the People.

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