McMillan Library

Cite as:

Matathia, Trevas and Angela Okune. 2019. "McMillan Library." In Scholarly Memory in Nairobi, Kenya: Care for Sites and Sources, created by Angela Okune, Trevas Matathia and Syokau Mutonga. In Innovating STS Digital Exhibit, curated by Aalok Khandekar and Kim Fortun. Society for Social Studies of Science. August.

Essay Meta-Narrative

The McMillan Memorial Library was established in 1931 by the wife of US-born philanthropist, Sir William Northrup McMillan, in his memory. McMillan library was the second library to be built in the country and is the only building in Kenya protected by an Act of Parliament. The library was handed over to the Nairobi City Council to manage from 1962 and in 2017, Nairobi City Council entered into partnership with Book Bunk which allows Book Bunk to fundraise, manage and restore the main library building and two more in the eastern part of Nairobi (Madaraka and Kaloleni).

Since Book Bunk began its program of restoring the library, the managing team has heavily grappled with questions of how to decolonize the library's holdings (most of the content was authored by white European men before the 1960s) while continuing to acknowledge and grapple with the library's colonial origin and past.

This essay is part of a broader essay on Scholarly Memory in Nairobi, Kenya which includes McMillan Library, Kenya National Museum Library, British Institute in Eastern Africa Archives, Kenya National Archives, and PALIAct Ukombozi Library.

Essay Bibliography

AFP. 2018. “The Faces behind the Revival of the McMillan Library.” Daily Nation , August 11, 2018. more

Shared Questions: Innovating STS

All Innovating STS exhibits are oriented by nine shared questions in order to generate comparative insight. These are:

ARTICULATION: What STS innovations (of theory, methodology, pedagogy...Read more

About Innovating STS

Furthering its theme, Innovations, Interruptions, Regenerations , the 2019 annual 4S meeting in New Orleans will include a special exhibit, Innovating STS , that showcases innovations ...Read more


This section highlights important perspectives raised by those engaging with the creation and maintainance of spaces and materials of archives and libraries.

“In my background as a publisher, one of the things that you are concerned about is where does the work that you produce go to live and go to be experienced. Where is it archived? Where is it accessed by the public?”

-Angela Wachuka, Book Bunk co-founder

Source: “Kenya Library Revival: Ambitious Plan to Save Kenyan Libraries.” 2018. TRT World.

Decolonizing the library

“I was actually trying to find books by African authors. The content in this library are from the views of specifically white men, which is super problematic.” -Kenyan artist during a tour of the library.

“When it was opened in 1931, this library was never intended for African users. So...Read more


This section foregrounds artifacts created about this site either by the founders, key actors involved in the site, or others. It also includes materials that are interlinked or related such as descriptions about the digital repository third-party organizations or relevant materials found in the spaces themselves.

Relevant Videos

“KENYA’S HISTORICAL TREASURES : The History of The McMillan Library.” 2019. K24 TV.
“Kenya Library Revival: Ambitious Plan to Save Kenyan Libraries.” 2018. TRT World.
Wa Gacheru, Margaretta. 2019. “Maya Angelou Tribute Inspires Young Readers.” Business Daily, May 30, 2019.

AO: This article describes a recent event that was hosted at one of the libraries affiliated with McMillan. It also gives a sense of the motivations and actors behind the revitalization of McMillan libraries.Read more

Mangat, Rupi. “Slow Death of Library That McMillan Built.” The East African, May 3, 2010.

TM:Description on the place of McMillan Library in Nairobi in time and space. Furthermore, there is a description of the library's evolution over time in regard to its state as a physical building and most importantly on the archived material's state.Read more

Kamau, J. “McMillan Library and the Jinxed Juja Farm.” Business Daily, March 8, 2012.

TM: This article describes a story on how the founding of the Library is bound by beliefs that surrounded the founder William Northup McMillan and from shere wit the library is able to stand today. Read more

Government of Kenya. 1938. McMillan Memorial Library. Cap. 217.

AO: This is the McMillan Memorial Library Act which enacted and has protected the McMillan library since 1938. I have merged the original legal documents available for download at the same source into one PDF document which includes amendments made in 1964 and 2012 to the original 1938...Read more

Koinange, Wanjiru. 2015. “Lady McMillan, the Library.” Commonwealth Writers (blog). September 11, 2015.

AO: This article by one of the founders of Book Bunk, Wanjiru Koinange giving a descriptive history of the McMillan library.Read more

About Book Bunk

Book Bunk runs tours of the libraries they are currently restoring (including the main McMillan library) via Airbnb Experiences.

The Airbnb sites explains who Book Bunk is:

Book Bunk engages with public library spaces as sites of cultural heritage and public memory. We are focused on the complete restoration and programming for old public libraries as well as the installation of new libraries into public spaces. We imagine that public libraries can be steered to become more than just repositories, acting as sites of knowledge production & shared experiences.