ONE of my favourite quotes comes from a poem called The Reading Mother by Strickland Gillilan: “You may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you cannot be, I had a mother who read to me.”
This is because I come from the old days when there were no televisions, computers, electronic games or websites. We had the radio – or wireless as my grandparents called it – of course. Heck, I’m not that old. But most of my childhood entertainment and pleasure came from books, and the library was a big part of our lives.
The love affair with books has endured but I haven’t had a library card for decades. This week I got one at Central Library, Cape Town.
It’s a wonderful place, full of treasures. The staff are friendly and helpful and the experience was a happy one.
To join the library you need your ID and proof of residence (or similar documents if you are not South African). You also have to supply the names and addresses of two friends or families not living with you, which caught me off guard; you’d be surprised how often you can visit a best friend but still not know her address.
In due course, I had in hand my laminated card and the power and freedom to borrow up to seven books for two weeks, three CDs or audiobooks for two weeks, or two DVDs or videos (what?) for two days. With great excitement and happiness I grabbed seven editions of the Archie Americana Series from the graphic novel section in the art library, my all-time favourite comic books.
Nothing is frowned upon or looked down upon at the library these days; even bodice-ripper romance paperbacks have their own section. It’s a policy with which I can get along. As long as you read and enjoy, who cares what it is?
While a barcoded library card is a sign of the times, the stamping of the page inside the front cover of the books remains exactly the same as when I was a child. There are also still fines for overdue books, but you can renew them up to three times if there is no waiting list.
Central Library is one of the city’s 100 libraries, three satellite libraries and a mobile library service which not only lend books but also provide access to electronic resources, magazines and journals, and programmes in information-retrieval skills, lifelong learning and storytelling. There are always loads of events at Central Library, including activities in the downstairs children’s library, where a new generation of book lovers is being nurtured. Facilities include public access computers and regular workshops, classes, art exhibitions, discussion groups and even movies and music.
Did I mention this is all free? Truly the greatest gift from our city.