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Nairobi’s library restoration grapples with its chaotic past [subscription but this link may be open]: The myth that Kenyans ‘don’t read’ is a dusty relic of the country’s painful history – Gisa Tunbridge  “We are not a reading nation,” lamented a Kenyan librarian in 2015. He did not mean, of course, that Kenyans can’t read — the vast majority can. He meant simply that most derive little pleasure from doing so, regarding literacy as a more or less regrettable necessity. Growing up in Nairobi, I often encountered such gloomy self-assessments of the nation’s reading habits. People talk as though, by virtue of some inscrutable law of nature, Kenya must remain an “oral culture”, eternally estranged from the written word. That lugubrious librarian was speaking, however, to Wanjiru Koinange, a Kenyan writer who has long been sceptical of her compatriots’ alleged bibliophobia. For Koinange and her friend Angela Wachuka, a publisher, the problem is not that Kenyans lack interest in books, but rather that they lack access to them. “We just don’t have enough spaces in this country,” Koinange told me via email, “that are rooted in information sharing, and community, and . . . the arts”. Seeking to redress this deficiency, Koinange and Wachuka founded Book Bunk, a non-profit that refurbishes public libraries, in 2017. They renovate the buildings, update the collections and host events to encourage young Kenyans to engage with literature and the arts. Their next project will be the McMillan Memorial Library in Nairobi, Kenya’s second-oldest book collection…”

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