Estimated 60 libraries closed down in past 5 years in SA

Like churches and schools, public libraries form the heart of any community and their dereliction is often a sign of a neighbourhood in distress.


With the spate of civil unrest experienced around the country in recent months, public property remains vulnerable to random attacks and libraries are often among the casualties. Like churches and schools, public libraries form the heart of any community and their dereliction is often a sign of a neighbourhood in distress. Johannesburg boasts 80 of South Africa’s 1 834 operational public libraries. As the country assimilates to the global order with technology and connectivity, the role of libraries in this regard has been immense. From the revered Sandton library to the Jabavu library in Soweto, libraries are in transition to…

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With the spate of civil unrest experienced around the country in recent months, public property remains vulnerable to random attacks and libraries are often among the casualties.

Like churches and schools, public libraries form the heart of any community and their dereliction is often a sign of a neighbourhood in distress.

Johannesburg boasts 80 of South Africa’s 1 834 operational public libraries. As the country assimilates to the global order with technology and connectivity, the role of libraries in this regard has been immense.

From the revered Sandton library to the Jabavu library in Soweto, libraries are in transition to meet the changing needs of their communities.

Demand for information, access to the internet and hunger for age-old joy or reading a good book has kept the majority of libraries alive, though various factors threaten to see more of them shut down every year.

President of the Library and Information Association of SA, Nikki Crowster, says although libraries face a litany of issues which keep them under-resourced, she remains optimistic about their future potential.

She warns, however, that the future of libraries is dependent on delicate factors that require more effort from society and government.

“The future of libraries because of funding is tied to that of the country. Libraries are inextricably part of a nation’s development agenda and should be supported accordingly.”

The department of sports, arts and culture spokesperson Zimasa Velaphi says libraries are lost mostly during unrest where they are torched.

Some are replaced through insurance claims. It is estimated 60 libraries have been closed down in the last five
years due to vandalism, burning of libraries during community unrests and theft. Some are closed due to relocation.

“The majority are unsecured and vulnerable to all sorts of criminal activities, including thefts and mutilation of library materials due to lack of security.”

Velaphi adds that through the conditional grant funding, most libraries are provided with security personnel and alarm systems.

Books are sometimes lost through the circulation process but there is a system in place to replace them.

Most reported a loss rate of under 2% of missing books annually, adds Velaphi. Johannesburg has recorded an average loss of library stock of 1.17% over the last six years.

Nine of the city’s libraries are not operational, with four closed for major repairs and maintenance, including revamping.

The status of the other five has not been explained. Libraries are in desperate need of resources, but demand for
their services is significantly high and available funding is forced into security and the protection of libraries, says Crowster.

National government and the city argue the culture around libraries is not dying, but changing. Aside from the key role they play in promoting literacy and informed communities, they are “street corner universities” of knowledge, says the city’s spokesperson Dudu Lushaba.

– simnikiweh@citizen.co.za

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