Soweto’s free lending library encourages children and adults to free their their minds through literature. By Marchelle Abrahams.
From afar it looks like a colourful jungle gym, but take a closer look and it houses little reading treasures - 450, to be exact.
Mini lending libraries are a phenomenon taking over Europe and the US, and now SA has its own take on them.
According to 2015 stats, 58 percent of Grade 4 pupils in South Africa could not read for meaning, while 29 percent were completely illiterate.
A number of factors could be responsible, but inaccessibility to reading material features high.
Placed at Phefeni Recreation Centre in Orlando, Soweto, the Urban Bookshelf is the first of its kind in the country and can store 450 to 500 books.
Thanks to the generosity of Massmart, Gass Architecture Studio was commissioned to design the book-sharing station while renowned graffiti artist Rasik Green, aka Mr Ekse, added his creative flair to the overall look.
“This is the first of many artist-designed free miniature libraries,” says Massmart sustainability executive Alexander Haw.
“We hope that through this project we will promote reading and improve literacy.”
Orlando is the first of a number of earmarked locations around Joburg, Haw says: “We looked at areas that were previously under-served and lacking book resources.
“There was lots of interest from the outset.”
Haw explains that their goal for the miniature library was that it be a modular structure, an interactive art piece, and have enough book storage space.
The “book-sharing station” is 2.8m high and consists of durable powder-coated steel boxes that ensure the books are protected from the elements, important in an outdoor-setting.
“The books are housed in waterproof compartments with self-closing doors. The compartments are also fitted with special gutters that lead the water away from the books,” Haw says.
The structure is tailored to both kids and adults, with children’s literature at the bottom for easy access.
There are even built-in benches so people can have a seat when they find a book that tickles their fancy.