Book Bunk and The McMillan Memorial Library


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;

What we’ve done so far!

In 2017, this was the state of the library. But, we had big dreams. Since establishing our partnership with Nairobi City County in 2018, we’ve been slowly making progress bringing life to this iconic building. In 2019, we hosted 20+ events at the library including film screenings such as this one, book launches, performances and community engagement activities

We also created the library’s first-ever digital catalogue. In 2020, government-mandated closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic allowed us to focus on the physical restoration of the library’s branches over in Eastlands. Take a look here (Eastlands, Kaloleni).

Still in 2020, we began digitising archives at the library, our team of interns led by our then Research and Inventory Manager, digitised 31, 549 items that were at risk of damage due to climate change. You can see their process here! This work has carried on to date, with over 70,000 more items digitised for public access.

In 2021 and 2022, we turned our focus to the newly revamped libraries bringing in music, dance and arts programming, a virtual literary festival and even play at the library! It’s been thrilling watching the libraries full with users taking full advantage of the space. The library’s main branch needs this same kind of love. Currently, the library lacks basic amenities that truly reflect all that is happening and we need your help correcting this! So, help us come full circle to where it all began and let’s bring some magic to Nairobi’s oldest library!


Take a look at the library