A Quick Tour of Some Libraries in South Africa

South Africa
Submitted by Barnaby Hughes, CPLI Metadata Analyst

After dropping my bags off at the hotel, I ventured out to see the sights of Cape Town. First stop: the National Library of South Africa (NLSA). Google Maps pointed me toward a beautiful, domed Edwardian building (formerly belonging to the University of Good Hope). When I arrived, a model was being photographed on one side of the double staircase leading to the entrance. I soon discovered, however, that this was not the main building of the NLSA, but the Centre for the Book.

No matter, I wandered inside and took in the ceremonial hall, which hosts concerts, weddings, and other events. Unfortunately, I never did seek out the main library in Cape Town, which I later learned was a gorgeous neoclassical building dating from the early nineteenth century.

My second library visit in South Africa occurred entirely by chance during a township tour in Knysna, located a few hundred miles east of Cape Town. The most remarkable thing about the Masifunde Public Library was how unremarkable it was (and I mean this in an entirely complimentary way). Apart from the books in Afrikaans and other South African languages, I could have been in an American public library. It was clean, well-organized and well-stocked; and uniformed high school students were surfing the Internet and writing essays.

While visiting an old friend on the last day of my trip, I passed by the main building of the Port Elizabeth Public Library, which was closed for renovation. Opened in 1902, it is a splendid example of late Victorian Gothic architecture. It is also said to be the oldest continuously operating public library building in South Africa.

For more information about the NLSA, visit http://www.nlsa.ac.za/index.php


Barnaby Hughes is a CPLI Metadata Analyst for ATLA and an editor of Theological Librarianship.

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