June 13, 2023 — Ted Harris

Libraries have been with us since man first began writing. But has the digital revolution made them a thing of the past? After all, so much is available online. Have libraries become too ‘old school’ requiring far more effort than just plugging into a search engine?

The Relevance of Libraries is a Question of Resources

The get out of jail free card for most library nay-sayers is the internet. But, while the internet offers so much, it is just another resource. A fantastic resource, but not an altogether holistic one. It is also a resource that not everyone has access to, as it is not a public entity, which many libraries are. Libraries offer features that the internet will never be able to attain, at least not in the same manner. On top of that, most libraries already provide access to the internet, which is especially helpful for those that don't have this access at home. The library is thus a resource rich hub, with a large range of benefits for the public at large... let's dive into just a few of those benefits.

  1. Libraries are free

    Yes, the public does pay for it through rates and taxes, but there is no entrance or usage fee (unless, of course, you return a book late - eish!). In this day and age where one expects, at any moment, to have the air that we breathe only available on a prepaid basis, a free service such as libraries is fantastic. In addition, there is free assistance available from librarians whose only commercial interest in helping you access what you want is their salary.

  2. Libraries are a community builder

    Libraries are a vital part of the community they reside within. Recent research indicates that people need a ‘third place’, a place outside of home or work, where they can spend time. Libraries have become that ‘third space’ for many. As one commentator put it, ‘libraries are the living room of society’. Libraries also provide access to resources that might otherwise be unavailable to parts of the community. Many job seekers for example use libraries as a place in which to search for employment, and librarians are there to assist. According to the American Library Association, "73% of public libraries assist their patrons with job applications and interviewing skills, and 48% provide access and assistance to entrepreneurs looking to start a business of their own". 

  3. Libraries are a safe place

    Libraries offer a safe place for children to meet and are one of the few places where children don’t need to be accompanied by an adult. They provide a great space for children to meet in safety, and the environment encourages both study and a love of literacy. 

  4. Libraries improve literacy

    It's an obvious one but, sadly, illiteracy is quite a prevalent problem. At a basic level, not being able to read a product label is not only unfortunate, it is unsafe. Many libraries offer or encourage reading programs to help those that are illiterate become literate. After all, it’s in their own best interest. Raising the level of literacy raises employment prospects with knock-on effects for the economy. If literacy is improved at a young age, prospects improve dramatically.

  5. Libraries can challenge

    Because of the wide range of topics available in a library it is a wonderful place to explore. Browsing the shelves, it is quite amazing to see the subjects that have been written about. A search engine gives what it is asked for, but walking through a library one is exposed to so much. You can not ignore the book title sitting beside the one you were searching for, which holds an opposing view to your own. You are invited to look into other opinions, stories, perspectives... all of which are at arm's reach. That is where the challenge lies. Pick up a book on a subject that has no appeal and try and read it. You might find a whole new world opening up to you.

If you haven’t visited a library in a while, why not stop in and see what's on offer. If you are a regular, encourage others to visit their ‘local’. Libraries have the potential to change lives. If you're unsure where to start, take a goose-y gander at some of the most golden libraries that we love below.

The Otto Foundation's Libraries

The Otto Foundation is a NGO that works to create beautiful libraries for underrepresented schools in South Africa (as well as doing some other incredibly creative projects with partners). 

Liyabonda Library Sunflower Library 
Protea Library Sunbird Library 

Children are more likely to read for enjoyment when they have access to diverse books, have safe comfortable spaces to read, have choice in what they are reading, have role models that demonstrate a passion for reading, and are motivated to read in an environment where reading is encouraged, valued and appreciated. Our school libraries and library programmes are designed to touch on all of these elements of raising a new generation of readers.

A beautiful space is a non verbal way to tell children that they matter. The design of our libraries is intended to communicate the value that our school communities place on books, stories and reading, and to support the cognitive and social development of learners in our schools

Cape Town's Public Libraries We Love

  1. Central Library, Cape Town
  2. Claremont Library, Cape Town
  3. National Library of South Africa (Cape Town and Pretoria)
  4. And so many more!


Leone Tiemensma said:

Libraries can be powerful in SA to provide books where most children do not have access to books and reading for pleasure

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