4 August 2008
Two state-of-the-art, multi-million rand public libraries opened in South Africa last week: the new National Library, built in Pretoria at a cost of R374-million; and Cape Town’s central libary, refurbished and upgraded to the tune of around R50-million.
South Africa’s new National Library, situated at the corner of Proes and Andries Streets, can accommodate up to 1 300 visitors at a time and stocks around two million books, with capacity for another 3.5-million.
Cape Town’s new central library, now housed in the Old Drill Hall, offers a wider selection of books, free internet access on 40 computers, a professional children’s collection intended for research purposes, an extended Art Library, and a Music and Performance Arts Library.
Warm, engaging public spaces
Speaking at the official opening of the National Library in Pretoria on Friday, Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan said: “We are trying to make our libraries warm and engaging public spaces thronged by young learners seeking knowledge.”
Jordan said an additional R200-million had been made available for building and renovating public libraries all over the country in 2008/09.
The aim, he said, was for the country’s libraries to have better staffing, more sensible opening hours, upgraded educational support material and other information resources, facilities promoting children’s literature, and more books in South Africa’s indigenous languages.
Jordan said that access to information promoted critical thinking, particularly among young people, helping them to open up to differing, even conflicting, dimensions of the same issue.
“The power of written word resides in the fact that recording words transforms them into powerful means of communication, not merely between two people, but potentially amongst millions.”
Focus on local content
The upgrading of Cape Town’s central library was funded by a US$2-million (around R15-million) grant from the US-based Carnegie Corporation and R36.6-million from the City of Cape Town.
The facility, which will contribute to the regeneration of Cape Town’s central business district, will also have a coffee shop, bookshop, meeting rooms, seminar rooms and an auditorium.
Its music library will have listening posts for CDs and a DVD/video collection which will include South African and African content.
The book stock will have a similarly strong focus on local content, and will be the only library in the city offering reading material in all 11 official South African languages.
At last week’s official opening, Carnegie Corporation announced that it would donate a further $2.495-million over the next three years to upgrade the library further.
Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian said that libraries were invaluable to those who were engaged in lifelong learning, and who could not imagine an existence without something new to learn about every day.