WHY LIBRARIES MAKE LIFE BETTER


What’s so special about libraries? Well, for one thing they aren’t just places you can go to borrow books – they offer a whole range of educational, cultural and entertainment resources too.


‘Libraries are the heart of communities,’ says Nohra Moerat, Executive Committee Member of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA). ‘The whole community benefits – the members most directly, but anyone can use the library for their information, social and cultural needs. Libraries promote lifelong learning, from the cradle to the grave – the information they provide enables and empowers people to live their lives with meaning.’

Without librarians, of course, libraries would just be brick and mortar. Nazeem Hardy, President-elect of LIASA, believes that librarians are parents, teachers, social workers and counselors all rolled into one.

Righardt Le Roux, Special Projects Coordinator at the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, agrees wholeheartedly. ‘Fully functioning libraries assist all kinds of people with their information needs,’ he says. ‘They afford opportunities to families and communities at large to connect with resources for research purposes, whether it be primary school children working on a project or varsity or collage students doing research for assignments.’

FREE ACCESS TO KNOWLEDGE AND INFORMATION
All you need to join a library in South Africa is proof of address and your ID document (that said, even toddlers can get their own library cards, on condition that their parents or guardians take responsibility for them!). Membership is free, although you will be charged for services like photocopying.

Even if you aren’t a registered member, you are free to use library services, except of course you can’t borrow books, CDs, DVDs or other material – but you can use them in the library.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Libraries pack a potent punch – they are at the epicentre of community knowledge. Sure, universities and colleges are places of learning, but not everyone gets to use them. Anyone can walk into a library to learn something.

And libraries offer a quiet, peaceful sanctuary where learners can study without interruption. Especially if you have noisy younger siblings and you’re trying to get your best matric marks, this is pretty much a godsend.

‘Libraries offer information in all media formats, in all our official languages and cater also for the sight and hearing impaired.’ – Nohra Moerat



KIDS LEARN WHILE THEY PLAY
‘Libraries give children access to safe places for learning and studying, information to support the school curriculum and programmes that inculcate a love of reading,’ says Moerat.

Aside from borrowing books, which can be one of the most magical experiences for a child, kids can take part in reading, science and math competitions, or even Spelling Bees in some areas if they have a really competitive spirit. During school holidays many libraries have special edutainment programmes for kids too.

Related article: How to raise little readers

LIBRARIES, COVID-19 AND VIRTUAL READING SESSIONS
Like everything else, libraries have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. A statement from LIASA sums it up:

‘The past year has seen the whole world disrupted in ways that were unimaginable in March 2020. Despite this upheaval, many libraries have managed to operate in novel ways in order to remain present and relevant in the lives of their user communities. From online storytelling to remote access to databases, from kerbside pickups to online programming, libraries have managed to continue providing a service to their communities. South Africa has the largest and most well-developed Library and Information Services sector in Africa and we need to remind our entire society that libraries matter!’

Le Roux says some libraries are holding virtual reading-for-enjoyment sessions for children in these times of change and challenge. ‘North West Library Services are really setting a standard here,’ he says, ‘on a par with the national library programme in Greece, that was rolled out as an answer to the Covid-19 pandemic.’ He says the Papi Ntjana Community Library in the Moretele municipality and the Bojanala District Library in Rustenburg North, in particular, are leading the way.



EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES, EMPLOYMENT SEARCH SUPPORT AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH
It’s not only schoolkids who benefit from the spectrum of services offered by libraries. Many branches offer a range of programmes, classes and activities for adults, whether students or not. These include:
  • Literacy programmes;
  • Computer classes (these are a big drawcard at City of Cape Town libraries in particular);
  • Employment search support (your helpful librarian will guide you in searching for posts online as well as writing your CV);
  • Research (whether you’re writing a thesis, searching for bargain buys or need to find a daycare centre, your library is your go-to resource);
  • Some libraries also run health programmes.

YOUR LIBRARY IS YOUR ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE
Want to learn to play chess or Scrabble – or looking for some stiff competition to test your prowess? Feel like joining a heated debate? Into crafts, or the gentle art of flower arranging? During holidays your library probably offers some if not all of these options, as well as entertainment for kids.

Some even act as movie houses. Cape Town libraries recently collaborated with AFDA (the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance) in screening non-stop movies as part of a cultural programme in a poor community with no movie houses.

Related article: 9 Ways to get your children into good reading habits

ART EXHIBITIONS & CULTURAL PROGRAMMES
Some libraries offer cultural events with movie screenings in collaboration with participating embassies from other countries, and some hold art exhibitions and run photography classes that can even generate informal income for participants.

Le Roux says New York Public Library has really set the benchmark in these times of Covid-19, with weekly ‘reader advisory’ interactive sessions that involve people from all over the globe, sitting in conversation about books and what to read.

He says organisations like Nal’ibali often partner with community libraries. ‘I have done many projects with international role-players and hosted out-of-the-box programmes for adults and children,’ he says. ‘In this way the library becomes an interesting community platform.’

RECYCLING & ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRAMMES
Le Roux says some libraries also teach people new skills. ‘A few years ago we ran a recycling project with a local library and ladies managed to start a co-op, earning better income for their families. We also saw a drastic fall in littering, as school children were collecting all types of plastic for a crochet project!’

LIVE IN A REMOTE AREA? YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE LEFT OUT
The South African Primary Education Support Initiative (SAPESI) services schools in partnership with the provincial departments of basic education. They have mobile libraries that service areas where there are no school, public or community libraries. Check out the SAPESI SA Mobile Library Project on Facebook.

‘North West Library Services recently launched LIBBY (an online library app),’ says Le Roux, ‘so clients of the library can now browse and borrow books, making the whole ebook and audiobook collection online available to all provincial library users.’

Contact your municipality to find out whether mobile library services are offered in your area. Some have been suspended until further notice due to the pandemic.

Due to the pandemic, not all libraries are operating as usual and services might be suspended. Check with your local municipality about library services in your area.

Related article: Books strengthen minds

Directory
LIASA – liasa.org.za
SAPESI – sapesi.org.za


BY LYNNE CLEMENT STAFFORD


WHY LIBRARIES MAKE LIFE BETTER WHY LIBRARIES MAKE LIFE BETTER Reviewed by Michelle Pienaar on July 21, 2021 Rating: 5
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