South African Writing – Day 20: An interview with two South African librarians

South African public libraries are a vital resource for South Africa’s readers. They are incredible spaces of creation and learning and connection. I interviewed two local librarians to find out more about their work.

Elzana Dlomo is the senior librarian at Central Library in Cape Town. Central Library is located in the CBD of Cape Town at the Corner of Darling and Parade Streets and is one of only two public art libraries in South Africa.

Johannes Kgoadi is a Manager at the Johannesburg City Library. The Johannesburg City Library is located at the corner of Albert Sisulu and Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Street, Johannesburg. It has over 1.5-million books and items in its collection and more than 250 000 members.

Tell me more about the facilities in your library and any special collections you have.

Elzana: We have so many!

  • An award-winning Art library,
  • A separate Performing Arts and Music section,
  • A second-hand bookshop run by volunteers from the Friends of Central Library (FOCAL),
  • A free internet section in co-operation with the SmartCape organisation with 85 computers for public use,
  • A teen fiction section
  • Various specialised areas in our reference room, such as the Local History section. 
  • We also house the American Corner, Cape Town.

Johannes: Our metropolitan Library is comprised of generic and special sections/libraries referred to as collections which are headed by specialist subject librarians, namely:

  • The Africana (Harold Strange),
  • Performing Arts (Music),
  • Michaelis Art,
  • Reference,
  • e-Learning,
  • Central Lending (Adult & Children),
  • Young Adult Reference and
  • Newsroom (newspapers) Collections.

Obviously 2020 (and 2021) are a little different than normal. But on an average year, how many people use your library?

Elzana: At the end of December 2020, the library had a total membership of 9 590 patrons. For the period 01 July 2019 until 30 June 2020 approximately 391 581 people visited the library. Due to lockdown the numbers have decreased, as the library was closed for four months. The library re-opened to the public for a drop off and collect service on the 13 July 2020. On the 2 November 2020 services at the library extended to include patrons to return their items, browse for new material and have it checked out. According to our records, ±1 124 patrons used the facility to browse per day.

Johannes: 389 021 people utilized our Library in July 2019 to June 2020.

Do you have sections of the library for languages other than English? If so, what are they?

Elzana: Yes, we have the indigenous languages section which covers all of the official languages of South Africa. We also have a small foreign fiction section, mostly comprised of donations since we can’t buy books in foreign languages. There is a member of the public who donates a lot of German books for example, so that section is quite large. We also have books in French, Dutch, a shelf or two each of Portuguese, Spanish, Russian and Scandinavian languages – and even a few books in Korean which were donated by a visitor to South Africa.

Johannes: We do not have collection of foreign language books. This service has since been phased out due to lower usage figures and budget implications.

Do you have a section that focuses on South African writing?

Elzana: We have an African Fiction section, which includes South African authors as well as authors from the rest of Africa.

Johannes: Yes. We do have a large section/collection that focuses on African writing named the Harold Strange African Studies collection. The section has an excellent South African book collection. As such, it mainly collects books and pamphlets relating to South Africa and Southern Africa including but not limited to English fiction, poetry and drama genres.

Do you ever profile local authors?

Elzana: We’ve had some local authors and musicians do book launches, talks and book readings in the library and encourage musicians and artists to make use of our Performance and Art Sections to exhibit or showcase their talents, but this was before the lockdown of course.

Johannes: We do profile authors through Book Club and staff book discussions. The Africana library do host yearly Africa themed events such as book launches and book publishing workshops.

Does your library have a children’s section? Can you tell me a bit more about how it is used?

Elzana: We have a beautiful Children’s section with murals from local children’s book illustrations from Marjorie van Heerden. Before lockdown the children’s library was abuzz with lots of programs (storytelling sessions, reading programs, visits from local educate centres) and events (World Book Day, World Read Aloud Day, etc.  The section also boast computers for children’s use only, interactive gaming walls and puppetry sections.

Johannes: There is a Children section in the Central Lending collection that caters for preschool and primary level learners. The section loans out fiction and non-fiction information resources including books targeted at these category of users. There are also story times and reading development programmes targeted at Children.

Which is the most popular book (by people who have taken it out) written by a local female author?

Elzana: One of the most popular book by a local female author is The girl from Simon’s Bay (ISBN: 9780749021207, GoodReads) by Barbara Mutch. A love story set in Simons Town during WW11 and Apartheid. It follows the journey of love over the racial divide between a Naval officer and a coloured girl whose greatest ambition is to become a nurse.

Johannes: Rayda Jacobs, Confessions of a Gambler (ISBN: 9780795701603 GoodReads)

What is your favourite book by a local female author (fiction or non-fiction or poetry – whatever you like!)

Elzana: My favourite local female author has to be Sindiwe Magona. I fell in love with her writing when I read Chasing the tails of my father’s cattle (ISBN: 9780994677006 GoodReads)

Johannes: My favourite book by a local female author is Red ink by Angela Makholwa (ISBN: 9781770100688 GoodReads)

This month’s blog is curated by Jen Thorpe.

Jen Thorpe is a feminist writer. Her first novel, The Peculiars (2016), was long listed for the Etisalat Prize for Literature (2016) and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (2017). Her second novel, The Fall, was published in July 2020. Thorpe has edited three collections of feminist essays – My First Time: Stories of Sex and Sexuality from Women Like You (2012); Feminism Is: South Africans Speak Their Truth (2018) and Living While Feminist (2020). Her writing has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba Magazine, Jalada, and Litro. Find out more via Jen is also the host of the Living While Feminist Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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