McMillan Memorial Library, Banda Street

Opened in 1931, this library was built by Lady Lucy McMillan as a memorial to her husband, Sir Northrup McMillan, who died in 1925. The oldest library in Nairobi and the second oldest in Kenya, it is the only building in Kenya protected by an Act of Parliament; The McMillan Memorial Library Act Cap 217 of 1938 (revised in 2012). Limited to use by Europeans only in its first three decades, the library was bequeathed to the Nairobi City Council and opened to the general public in the lead-up to Independence in 1962. 

McMillan, like most settlers, had a penchant for lions. He kept a pet lion in his Juja farm and hunted many during his lifetime. The two lions that ‘guard’ at the entrance of the library were gifted by his cousin, Sir John Harrington when the library was being built. There is, however, another story about two lions and a famous president. Read it here. Branches of this library would in later decades be opened in Waithaka, Kayole, Makadara and Kaloleni. Of these four, only the Makadara and Kaloleni ones are in use to date; 

Eastlands Library (Makadara)

The McMillan Memorial Library initially had five branches (Kayole, Waithaka, Kaloleni, Makadara and Banda Street). Two of these are closed and the three others are the main focus of our restoration work. The Makadara library is a stone throw away from the law courts and county offices (Makadara is an electoral constituency within Nairobi County) and shares a compound with the Huduma Centre, a public service hub. This branch gets the most foot traffic of all three, at an average of 182 users a day, almost all of whom live within the area. 

Most of the visitors here are young adults who are either using the space to study or are working on their devices.

Book Bunk’s restoration plans for this library are specific to the needs of Makadara. We plan to acquire a new collection of books, continue to curate specific programming inspired by the community, and introduce innovative arts and learning programmes primarily for young adults.

Kaloleni Library

Kaloleni consists of approximately 500 housing structures which were built by Italian prisoners of war in the 1940s. The design of Kaloleni was influenced by the Garden City concept of Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement, which attempted to provide citizens with an alternative to crowded and unhealthy cities. As such, Kaloleni is built in a concentric pattern with open spaces between the homes and six radial boulevards extending from the centre. These homes were occupied by soldiers from the Kings African Rifles upon their return to Kenya after WW1. They were built for single occupation with the rooms measuring ten by ten feet. As the soldiers acquired families, they added extensions to the original houses in order to cater for their growing families. 

The Kaloleni Library is the smallest branch of the three and caters to a much younger audiences, mostly children. Restoration plans for this library are focused on children, and was completed in June 2020. Plans extend to the adjacent Kaloleni Social Hall, which holds a significant place in Kenya’s independence history. It was here that leaders like Tom Mboya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Jomo Kenyatta and Milton Obote addressed large meetings attended by up to 6,000 people. The building also served as Kenya’s unofficial parliament in the early 1950s and was where Kenya’s first parliamentary election results were announced in 1963.