Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan on launch of the 2009 South African Library Week at the Bessie Head Public Library, Msunduzi Minicipality, Pietermaritzburg

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14 Mar 2009

MEC for Arts, Culture and Tourism, Ms. Wesiwe Thusi,
Ms Rachel More, President of LIASA
Executive Mayor of Msunduzi
Members of the LIASA Representative Council;
Members of the KwaZulu Natal Library and Information Services;
Local Councillors;
Officials of various government Departments;
Honoured guests

It is my pleasure to participate in the launch of the 2009 South African Library Week with the theme “Access for All @ your library.” The Department of Arts and Culture is committed to the growth, development and promotion of every aspect of our national culture and heritage that contributes towards the improvement of socio-economic conditions of all people. For this to succeed we need to strategically position libraries as partners in education and social development. We need to encourage a reading culture that sparks off critical thinking and debate.

The theme “Access for all @ your library” is of extreme importance to South Africans. Our not too distant history showed how the deliberate withholding of information, knowledge and education resulted in a disparate socio-political order, apartheid. Yet this did not detract from the parallel proliferation and development of workers libraries and community resource centres throughout the country which ensured that the sharing of information was a key

component of the liberation struggle. But now we have the responsibility of creating an informed nation as a reality that we can be proud to behold.

Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states: “All human beings have the fundamental right to have access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity, and to express their thoughts in public.”

The Bill of Rights in our Constitution affirms this through its declaration that everyone has the right of access to information. By having access to all the information necessary to make informed decisions, democracy can only be enriched, enhanced and entrenched in the minds of our citizens. To this end, libraries can serve as the means to mould the minds of our nation, as well as foster the possibilities and potential of a nation. We can therefore describe a library as the key to mental and intellectual freedom!

“Access for all” implies a huge burden of responsibility as it encompasses every individual from all strata of society. The impact hereof may be felt in:

the design of library buildings which should facilitate ease of use for visually and physically challenged people;

collection-building and development that will cater for all levels of literacy, ages, education and language preferences;

bridging the digital divide that will ensure that the relevant and appropriate information and communication technology (ICT) resources and training are available;

the provision of free library services nationally;

the emergence of a dynamic local publishing industry that focuses on works in all literary genres and non-fiction in African languages in order for South Africa to become a nation of readers;

research, learning and teaching;

contributions to local economic development.

In its efforts to address and eliminate past injustices and inequities, South African society, including the library and information services (LIS) sector, need to be guided by developmental goals and relevant global trends. The LIS sector, especially public and community libraries, is facing a huge increase in the demand for their services, with regard to study space, study collections, neo-literacy collections and

ICT access.

Through the Department of Arts and Culture, the government’s Community Libraries Services Grant has gone a long way towards contributing to the increased book collections, staffing and upgrading of library buildings. Over two hundred librarians were employed at a community level in the first year of the grant and 450 000 reading material items were purchased. Here in KwaZulu-Natal I want to applaud the initiative in using young people as `cyber-cadets’ to assist with the utilisation of new computers by learners. New libraries are being built and in the North West and the Northern Cape exciting and creative outreach programmes are being implemented. In partnership with SITA the Department will roll-out a new integrated library management system in six provinces. Earlier this year we launched 27 titles of reprinted African Classics at the National Library as part of our broader goals of promoting and preserving our heritage. The challenge, however, will be sustainability. Whilst the traditional role of libraries has to be reconceptualised to realise these demands, we must also acknowledge the importance of the recreational role of libraries. Reading is an activity that should be encouraged in all age groups. A young reader will be a willing learner and will read throughout his or her life. Lifelong readers mean that there is a market for books and a market for writers and the promotion of writing and publishing is also one of the missions of my department.

Libraries can and do play a vital role in eradicating illiteracy and inculcating a mindset of lifelong learning. Although the sharing of information is indispensable to the national development agenda as well as to the efforts to stimulate socio-economic development and to sustain human rights, we are faced with the challenge of locating libraries as community hubs. The lack of basic and advanced reading skills and an appreciation of the importance of reading prevent libraries from assuming their rightful role in our communities.

We have enjoyed the support of major foreign donors such as the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Andrew Mellon Foundation in the development of libraries, in promoting a culture of reading, library leadership development and the preservation of our heritage. We also need to explore the partnership opportunities between local government, public libraries and private enterprises in promoting the all important role and services of libraries. We need to realise that without a culture of reading and high literacy rates, we cannot succeed with our development agenda as these skills form the basis of critical thinking and decision making.

Msunduzi Municipal Library (formerly The Natal Society Library) has provided public library services for the people of Pietermaritzburg since 1850. On 1 April 2004, libraries and staff of The Natal Society were integrated into the Msunduzi Municipality as Msunduzi Municipal Library Services. The main library, named the Bessie Head Library, and eight branch libraries, aim to provide a comprehensive library service to all residents of Pietermaritzburg and the Msunduzi Municipal area.
The Adults Reference Library has been in existence for 157 years. It was founded by a group of prominent residents who hoped to promote the old Colony of Natal by collecting and disseminating accurate information. These were the core activity of the Natal Society, out of which both the library and the Natal Museum grew. This library has an extensive collection of reference materials and information resources with which it is able to support research, business, government and vocational endeavors and the needs of tertiary level students.
The Legal Deposit Collection was established in 1916, when this library was one of the 5 libraries in South Africa accorded Legal Deposit status. This privilege has helped make it into one of South Africa’s major research and information libraries. Legal Deposit libraries play a unique and very important role as custodians, in perpetuity, of this country’s cultural wealth and information. Through the Adult Reference Library all the citizens of South Africa have access to this huge collection of South African books, pamphlets, government publications, periodicals and newspapers.
The extension to this building which is known as the Bessie Head Library is an excellent example of a successful partnership. The new developments which I had the honour to open in 2007 were funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and supported by the provincial and local governments. This established a model children’s library at a cost of R30-million from Carnegie and from the KZNPPLIS. This

is a tangible symbol of the transformation of libraries in our country.

The process of transformation has been sped up by the development of the Library Transformation Charter which is almost complete. The Library Transformation Charter will be a framework for the transformation of the library sector in the country and will signify the commitment of stakeholders, including all spheres of government, LIASA and other stakeholders to the development of libraries in South Africa. Public hearings were held in each of the nine provinces and a national summit was held in December 2008 in Pretoria were all key stakeholders and community members were consulted. The Charter will be presented to MINMEC (the Council of Culture Ministers) for endorsement and to Cabinet for approval.

The unification of the divided library associations and organisations was achieved when a unified body representing all librarians was established in 1998. My department has been a strategic partner for LIASA during the course of its existence. We acknowledge LIASA as the representative of the LIS profession in South Africa and have readily supported the activities of LIASA. Financial support is earmarked annually for the LIASA conference and the launch of the SA Library Week.

A major milestone for South Africa, LIASA, the LIS profession, and the African continent, was the hosting of the 73rd World Libraries and Information Congress (WLIC) of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), in Durban in August 2007. This was a first for South Africa, and my Department was a full partner in this event. We played host to an exceptional event and gave over 3500 international librarians an experience of a lifetime. The generous grant given by DAC also supported the attendance of many South African LIS workers to this Congress. This was truly an opportunity for the entire African continent to celebrate and for us to showcase South African libraries and librarianship.

Together with LIASA, we must look at innovative ways of advocating for libraries; strengthening and enhancing the skills of the current cadre of LIS workers and attracting more people to this extraordinary profession. We must aim to make this a profession of choice and not a last resort choice.

Let us commit ourselves to using libraries to unlock the minds of our nation; become repositories of our cultural heritage; showcase our literary talent; and become an active role player in bridging the digital divide.
In the words of Ray Bradbury, the famous science fiction writer: “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.”

I thank you!