Google-funded Kenya program aims to restore old colonial libraries

“We’re determined to make it work,” exclaimed Library Foundation of Kenya founder Jennie Tullis.

In 2014, Tullis launched an ambitious project to return Kenya’s colonial-era libraries to full and functional use. Tullis told Fox News Africa that most of the city’s libraries were built during the era of British colonial rule and are dilapidated. A total of seven libraries, located throughout Nairobi and Mombasa, were built between 1898 and 1943 and are now in desperate need of upgrading.

Tullis’s initiatives offer free Wi-Fi, internet access, library books, audio books, iMacs, and book bags to read on. The program, funded by a generous $15,000 seed grant from Google, also provides book loans of up to 90 days to English-speaking Nairobi residents. Nearly 50 Nairobi residents were recently lent a library book within 48 hours. The first lending libraries were opened at Catholic churches in the city’s Eastlands.

Corcoran Associates Library restorer Christabel Karimi works on the Kenya National Library Service building.

New York City-based Corcoran Associates is a unique space of art and architectural preservation in the country. In 2017, the firm unveiled its “We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” lobby renovation project, which changed the architectural makeover by the Kenya National Library Service in preparation for the anniversary of Kenya’s independence. The eight-room extension features a color palette by the famous South African designer Mikhael Soulé and “new rules” for library project management, according to Corcoran.

“It’s about history. It’s about people not being forgotten. It’s about the appreciation of history,” said Linda Malake, Kenya National Library Service chairman.

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