How To Build A Library

Two tenacious women are on a mission to revitalize a dilapidated colonial library in downtown Nairobi. But before realising their dream, they must successfully navigate precarious local politics, raise the funds for the rebuild, and confront the problematic colonial history from which the library was built.

In 2018, Shiro (writer) and Wachuka (publisher) quit their jobs to restore a derelict colonial library in bustling downtown Nairobi. Horrified at the condition of the historical, state-owned building, they successfully lobbied city officials to take-over management of the junk-filled library. With zero experience in building, the pair find themselves with a mammoth task ahead. But with an undying passion for books, and a unique flair for glamour, instagram, and finding funds where least expected, they activate an army of homegrown artists, intellectuals, tech developers, architects and writers, all energised to transform the space into a technological hub of creativity and learning for future generations. They call it Book Bunk. While the cleanup & architectural overhaul of the neo-classical building requires a huge team and financial investment, it is the psychological rebuilding of these spaces that requires the most energy. The building serves as a vehicle to raise important questions about the history and future direction of Kenyan society. Built in 1932 by British settler Lady McMillan, to commemorate the death of her American-English railroad millionaire husband, the McMillian Memorial Library was intended for white use only. It wasn’t until independence in the 1960’s that Africans were permitted access to the library and its collection, which has been left in neglect since, dismissed as someone else’s history. As the Book Bunk team excavate through 60 years of dust and clutter, unearthing tens of thousands of books, paintings, statues & photographs, all frozen in an era of big-game hunting, frontier settlers, savior-missionaries, and the bloody subjugation of the ‘native’ population. The film explores a post-colonial identity crisis as it exists for millennials in Kenya today, and shared all over the world: what do we do with this painful history? Erase, or remember?

Production team