Around four years ago, Wanjiru Koinange and Angela Wachuka walked into the Macmillan Library, located at the heart of the city of Nairobi. Expecting to do some research there, they were shocked at the state at which the library was maintained. The library was old, dark and dingy. The records were not logged, neither were they organised. That day, Macmillan’s state spoke to these women and asked for help. Wanjiru and Angela aimed to do just that. They decided to save public libraries and transform them. They call this organisation ‘Book Bunk’.

The session was conducted by Vani Mahesh, who owns a library herself. The session began with a video display that described what Book Bunk does. It displayed to the audience the journey that Book Bunk has been through, and it concluded by displaying to the audience the iconic partnership that Book Bunk and the government of Nairobi have undertaken. Reviving public libraries is the need of the hour, but how do we restore them? Wanjiru answered this question by telling the audience how they approached the entire concept of the library.

Wanjiru approached the people of Nairobi and attempted to understand what the library meant to them. Through research, and by asking people what they associated with the library, it was understood that the library was not just the physical infrastructure. It was more than that. People wanted to sit and read. Many of them wanted art spaces. Wanjiru spoke about how it was very important to understand what their work was, only then could they begin to restore the libraries. Their approach to restoration was through research and programming. Building the library was the final task.

Libraries and art go hand in hand, is what Wanjiru and Angela realised. Being a writer herself, Wanjiru spoke about how she understood the objectives of writers after their books get published. Most authors want to get their books to the proper audience. Wanjiru wanted to do the same when she came across the state of Macmillan. Libraries help reach out to the right audience, the right kind of people an author requires for a book. “We should be bold and bodacious with our spaces” explained Wanjiru.

People who read are also patrons of art and culture. “So, what is the need of the traditional library?” asked Vani. Libraries need to be made into community centres, and that is the aim of Book Bunk. Libraries are a public service. Book Bunk’s objective is to teach skills that can be monetized, through the function of the library. Wanjiru laughed as she said that she wanted to “revive the soul of the library”. She coined this statement on the spot and later commented on how it’d probably be a great idea to add it to their website.

To revive libraries, it is essential to get the help of the government. The government helped Wanjiru and Angela in their venture, by signing an agreement. Through this agreement, BookBunk partnered with the government to go into a public-private deal, in order to save the libraries of Nairobi. This agreement was iconic, as it was the first time ever that a government deal was signed towards an art initiative. This was one of Wanjiru’s most proud moments, as she recalled the day the agreement was signed during the session. In the day of the internet, it is very interesting how people still want to sit in libraries and read. The session ended on a very heartening note, as everyone was in agreement with the fact that libraries are not ancient places that had once existed. Wanjiru and other such like-minded people will help save our libraries, the entire concept of it.

About the Author: Passionate about saving the environment, and driven by politics and philosophy, Anusha Basu writes about the musings she perceives every day. She is currently pursuing her English Hons degree at Christ University, Bangalore. She currently writes for TheSeer.