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Sharjah World Book Capital To Support Restoration Of Nairobi’s McMillan Memorial Library

Under the directives of H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, the emirate, which is the current UNESCO World Book Capital, has pledged financial support to further the activities being undertaken to restore one of Africa’s most iconic libraries, the McMillan Memorial Library, in the centre of Nairobi.

Kenya’s Book Bunk Trust, the body established by Kenyan publisher, Angela Wachuka, and Kenyan writer, Wanjiru Koinange, will oversee the restoration of three libraries in the city.

The announcement was made by Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Vice President of the International Publishers Association and Head of Sharjah World Book Capital Advisory Committee, at a fundraising gala at the library.

Sheikha Bodour said, "We made a clear call to everyone in our World Book Capital Manifesto about the necessity to build cultural understanding and respect through books, and we are here today beyond our borders to support your journey and the journey of a historic cultural icon of this great city".

She added that Sharjah’s support is in accordance with the emirate’s belief in honouring heritage, unifying communities and empowering children and the youth.

Book Bunk’s founders, Koinange and Wachuka, said, "This is the most incredible news to end a year that has been filled with so many milestones. We feel seen, uplifted, validated and encouraged by all the people in our city and beyond our borders who recognise the value of our archives and our public spaces, and their power to shape our citizenry."

The McMillan Memorial Library was built by the McMillan family when Kenya was under British rule to honour William Northrup McMillan, a US explorer and philanthropist who settled in Kenya. It is the only building in Kenya protected by a specific Act of Parliament, the McMillan Memorial Library Act 217 of 1938, which provided that the library was for the "exclusive use of Europeans".

Over the years it suffered from neglect, with book stock and fixtures and fittings in need of protection. Book Bunk began their campaign to restore the McMillan and its two sister libraries in late 2017, entering into a partnership agreement with the Nairobi City County government in March 2018. As part of this agreement, the Trust developed public programming, created the library’s first-ever digital catalogue containing more than 90,000 books, carried out audience research and public consultations that fed revitalisation plans, and in January 2020, will begin repairs of the Kaloleni branch.

One fascinating part of the library’s history is its connections with the writer, Karen Blixen, author of "Out of Africa", who sold her house to return to her native Denmark and donated some of her furniture to the library. The pieces are still with the library today.

Upon completion, the historic McMillan Memorial Library will become a key location for reading and information exchange, and a modern hub for cultural events.

Highlighting the immense significance of the project, Sheikha Bodour noted, "Once the McMillan Memorial Library is completely renovated and open to the public, can you imagine how many young people it will inspire? I have to say that I am very proud of the work Book Bunk is doing and I am grateful for all those who help them achieve their objectives.

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