SA National Libraries briefing

Arts and Culture

11 March 2005
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Meeting report

11 March 2005


Mr L Tsenoli (ANC)

Documents handed out:

South Africa National Libraries briefing
National Libraries PowerPoint presentation
Council for Library and Information Services Act No. 6 of 2001

The National Librarian briefed the Committee on the objectives and functions of the National Library; its regional and international connections; relationship with other state organs, and its transformation. Members then raised concerns about accessibility to information in rural areas; the Library’s efforts to promote a culture of reading among small children; and about translating important books into all national languages. Members suggested recording oral histories and folklore as a valuable ‘living heritage’ to be promoted throughout the country. The Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA), Western Cape branch, then briefed the Committee about that organisation.


National Libraries briefing
The National Librarian, Mr John Tsebe, gave the Committee a brief history of the National Library of South Africa (NLSA). The Library had started in 1818 in Cape Town along with the State Library in Pretoria, and both had operated separately until democracy when the National Library Act united the two. Their objectives included the collection, recording and preservation of national heritage and contributing to the socio-economic, cultural and educational development of the nation.

The National Library sought to build up a collection of published documents emanating from and about South and Southern Africa, and the maintenance and extension of other collections from around the world. The Library also acted as the national bibliographic service and promoted appreciation of books and information. It provided leadership and guidance to other South African libraries and information service providers, and consulted with educational institutions and professional bodies in the course of training.

Mr Tsebe outlined organisations with which the National Library worked, including the National Heritage Council, the National Arts Council and Freedom Park. The National Library had also established links with national and international bodies such as the National Council for Library and Information Services (NCLIS) and the International Federation of Library Association. The National Library was taking a leading role in advocating for library information service development within the region through its involvement in the Standing Conference of Eastern, Central and Southern African Libraries (SCECSAL) and through forging working relationships with West and North African Countries.

On national transformation, the Library was fostering relationships with all the Library Information Service sectors in the country, and moving away from the institutional interest towards a national interest.

Library and Information Association SA briefing
Ms N Moerat, Vice-Chairperson of the Western Cape branch, briefed the Committee on the structure and functions of LIASA. As a non-profit organisation representing a wide spectrum, one of its objectives was to ensure community access to libraries and information centres. Its members included centres, research institutions, children’s libraries, and anyone who subscribed to its vision.

LIASA had been at the forefront of the SA Library Week, first launched in 2000 to celebrate library heritage since March 1818. Ms Moerat told the Committee about the 2004 theme, ‘Celebrate Libraries in the Decade of Democracy’, and looked at books that covered South Africa’s’ transition. This year coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter so they had focused on "Opening the Doors of Learning and Culture".

Ms Moerat told the Committee about the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions World Summit bid that South Africa had won. The summit that Durban would host in 2007, was a great achievement for South Africa and the SADC region. Hosting a conference of such importance would favourably place the South African Library and Information sector internationally.

Mr H Maluleka (ANC) asked the National Library how much of its efforts focused on schools, especially the early childhood sector.

Mr M Sonto (ANC) asked what types of documents and methods the Library was using to provide awareness and appreciation of reading. On its national and international role, he asked for more on the ‘Afrika view’ it promoted.

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) said there was a need to address inequalities of the past, especially in remote rural areas. For instance, KwaMashu also needed libraries and information centres. He asked the National Library if it had considered the use of mobile libraries for such areas. He further asked the Department whether any work had begun to translate books (like ‘Road to Ghana’). He highlighted the need to translate more African books into SA languages.

Ms D Robinson (NCOP)(DA) said that stakeholders needed to understand that libraries were not just for storing books, but had the potential to empower individuals. They needed an integrated approach, rather than the current tendency that looked at libraries in isolation from the other activities.

Mr L Tsenoli said that the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) had highlighted the importance of the knowledge carried by the older sections of society. There was a need for the Library to seriously consider recording oral histories.

The Chairperson noted that often libraries were often deprioritised, and was saddened that sometimes libraries were closed down by municipalities under the guise of building other facilities - which then never happened.

Mr Tsebe stated that because libraries received such limited attention, such briefings kept the issue in the minds of those with the political will and stamina to bring libraries to the fore.

The Chairperson proceeded to get some consensus from the Committee on how Members of Parliament could involve themselves in the development and promotion of information centres and libraries in their constituencies.

Ms Moerat said that children’s libraries had always suffered when libraries were faced with difficult decisions. For instance, some public libraries had had to double up as school libraries and vice versa, making it a difficult to co-ordinate and meet the needs of all readers.

On the issue of mobile libraries, the National Libraries had effectively used this system in the Western Cape - which possibly explained the province’s achievement in information services in the early days. However, mobile libraries were expensive to run and this had resulted in the centralisation to the system and remote areas had been left out. More work on this was needed.

The Carnegie Foundation had also put some money into establishing and developing libraries, and this would hopefully assist in a solution. Mr Tsebe added that donors like the Carnegie, Ford and Mellon Foundations added a certain degree of weight and value to the work of National Libraries. Members of Parliament could also support them through advocating and encouraging businesses to partner in libraries. On African Identity, the National Library had not done as much as it could, and it was an area that it would look into.

Mr K Moonsamy stated that it was a disgrace that companies in South Africa were doing little to partner with libraries through funding for developing local libraries. Setting up a library was not a mammoth task and all it needed was commitment.

The Chairperson said that through the ‘MP adopt a library’ campaign, Members could become involved in related cultural activities. He challenged Ms Moerat to produce a one-page document about the support MPs could give to the constituency libraries, before Members went on recess. He also stated that the issue of language promotion still needed to be addressed. Learners’ performance in schools depended to a large extent on the success of libraries.

The meeting was adjourned.



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