Digitisation of the archive at Nairobi’s McMillan Memorial Library continues apace. It began in November 2020 and to date more than 21,000 gazettes and ordnances has been digitised and can be accessed online at www.nrblibraries-archives.org
The library celebrated its 90th birthday in June this year, and the digitisation programme is part of the rescue and revival of the famous library and its satellite outlets in the Kenyan capital. The programme has been led by Book Bunk, the ‘social impact firm’ founded in October 2017 by Kenyan author Wanjiru Koinange and Kenyan publisher Angela Wachuka.
Koingange said: “Access to digital archives has been one of the most popular requests from our library users. So it’s a huge milestone to be able to deliver this digitisation. This is only the beginning of a long project and it’s been a wake up call for all of us. We’re glad to have been able to save some of the library’s collection but can’t help but wonder what has been lost over the years – here and in other libraries.’
Book Bunk plans to transform these spaces into accessible and safe community spaces, granting access to crucial services including public co-working spaces. Wachuka said: “We are elated to complete the first phase of this digitisation project, with further digitisation of other items including photographs dating back to the 1800s as well as newspapers dating back to 1906 already underway since May 2021. Achieving equitable access to these archives is a main tenet of our overall restoration work, and we look forward to these archives informing research and learning about Kenya’s history.”
The project has been generously supported by the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, in partnership with the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and was delivered in partnership with African Digital Heritage Foundation and the Built Environment Surveyors & Infrastructure Consultancy (BESIC) Group.
The McMillan Library was opened in 1931 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 was built with help from Carnegie Corporation of New York whose founder, the US businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, was a friend.
Its restoration has received support from Sharjah’s Sheikha Bodour in the United Arab Emirates, founder and CEO of Kalimat publishers and founder and president of the Emirates Publishers Association.