Cape Town - South Africa’s libraries are set for a multibillion-rand overhaul, thanks to a massive cash injection announced at the start of SA Library Week on Saturday by the Department of Arts and Culture.
Arts and Culture deputy director-general Vusi Ndima said R3 billion would be pumped into provincial libraries to upgrade existing facilities and recruit more staff, and into building new libraries.
At an event at the National Library of South Africa in the city centre, he said the aim was to transform libraries into more innovative social and information hubs.
The theme for this year’s Library Week is Check In @YourLibrary, with the event, which runs until next Saturday, set to celebrate its role and development over the past 20 years of democracy.
Nominated by librarians, the top 20 books written by local authors and published since 1994 were revealed. Among these were Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (Macdonald Purnell, 1994), Country of my Skull by Antje Krog (Random House, 1998), I Have Life: Alison’s Story by Marianne Thamm (Penguin, 1998), Disgrace by JM Coetzee (Vintage 1999), Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda (OUP, 2002), Confessions of a Gambler by Rayda Jacobs (Kwela Books, 2003), and Dis ek, Anna by Elbie Lotter (Tafelberg, 2004).
Ndima, lauding how far libraries had come sinc
e the advent of democracy, said: “We need to continue to enlighten the minds and souls of our people through the written word.”
He expressed concern at the recent torching of a library last month, during a service delivery protest in Bronkhorstspruit, Tshwane.
“These are disturbing trends, that communities would channel their anger at libraries which are supposed to be agents of change and transformation,” said Ndima, stressing that the onus was on citizens to protect libraries.
There are two national libraries, in Cape Town and Pretoria, 1 900 public libraries, and 3 000 school libraries.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had given the National Library of SA a R32 million grant to pilot the Gates Foundation Global Libraries Project, it was learnt. Marking a milestone for South African libraries, foundation representative Darren Hoerner said libraries allowed for cultural memories to be passed on from generation to generation.
“South African libraries are making freedom of access to information into a reality, and they are the institutions upon which the democratic stage was set.”
He said the two-year project would include training library staff in information and communication technology, expanding technology in public libraries, introducing new library services for community development, and redesigning library spaces.
“Many South Africans continue to be deprived of information they need, and it’s unacceptable.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in the digital age and improve their lives,” Hoerner said.
Ujala Satgoor, L
ibrary and Information Association of SA president, said the top 20 titles were selected from 254 nominations, and each focused on issues dealt with within the framework of democracy.
Four of the books had previously appeared on the top 10 list when the country marked 10 years of democracy, including Long Walk to Freedom.
“These were a selection from the heart that reflects South Africa’s pride,” said Satgoor.
The author of the only children’s book to make the list, Niki Daly, who was nominated for his book Jamela’s Dress, said it was a “great honour” to be selected alongside other distinguished South African writers.
“I’ve received many other local and international awards, but there is something very special about being chosen by librarians, the people at the coalface. They are exceptional people.”
Still vividly recalling his excitement when he received his first library card, Daly said his family didn’t have a book culture, and that he owed it to libraries for igniting his passion for literature.