LIBRARY CELEBRATES 200 YEARS
Library celebrates 200 years of existence, helping many accomplish their dreams
WE OFTEN hear how “knowledge is power”, but even more powerful is preserving institutions of knowledge to secure that power.
And this was evident when the National Library of South Africa celebrated 200 years of existence on Tuesday. The building on the corner of Thabo Sehume and Johannes Ramokhoase Streets is still standing firmly after 200 years.
Executive director Dr Eddy Maepa said the institution had helped many accomplished people in and around the city accomplish their dreams. “If only the walls of this place could speak and tell us how many careers it has helped and lives it has changed …,” he said.
To celebrate the milestone, 9-yearold author Reabetswe Kungwane, and former Mamelodi Sundowns defender, Matthew Booth read a couple of stories to schoolkids.
Doing the honours of cutting the cake was Reabetswe, who has already had her first book published, titled Stories You’ve Never Heard Before – a collection of 10 short stories based on her experiences.
Reabetswe hopes the moral lessons will inspire children her age.
“Reading is cool. It transports you to many places without having to physically move,” she said.
The day was filled with literary activities and entertainment by local groups. The gathering was also treated to an exhibition on the library’s history.
South Africa initially had two national libraries – the South African National Library in Cape Town, founded in 1818, and the State Library in Pretoria, founded in 1887.
In November 1999 the two libraries were amalgamated to form the National Library of South Africa (NLSA).
Not only is NLSA the oldest library in South Africa, it is also the oldest cultural institution of any kind in the country.
Its origins date back to 1818 when Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony, issued a proclamation launching the South African Public Library.
Somerset ordered that a wine tax be levied “to place the means of knowledge within the reach of the youth of this remote corner of the globe, and bring within their reach what the most eloquent of ancient writers has considered to be one of the first blessings of life, ‘home education’.”
The library’s first significant acquisition was the collection of Joachim Nicolaus von Dessin, who bequeathed his books to the Dutch Reformed Church in 1761 to serve as the foundation of a public library.
In 1820 the board of trustees decided to donate the Dessinian collection to the new library. Other notable donations included that by Sir George Grey who, when he left South Africa in 1861, presented the library with his collection of mediaeval and renaissance manuscripts and rare books.
In 1873 the SAPL became a legal deposit library for the Cape Colony, and from 1916 it started receiving all printed items published throughout the country. It continued as a lending library until 1954, when this function was taken over by the City of Cape Town.
From then on it began to develop its unique character as a national reference library devoted to research based on its extensive stock, with a concurrent name change in 1967 to South African Library.
As Pretoria began to grow, there arose a need for a public library. The first Pretoria Public Library had opened its doors in 1878, but because of financial problems it was closed down in 1890.
In 1893 strong public support and a collection of 700 books saw another public library arise, this time under the wing of the Staats-bibliotheek and with the bookstock of the former Public Library.
From that time until 1964, the State Library performed a dual role as public and national library.
The dual library contains a wealth of information. To ensure that knowledge is not lost to posterity, the NLSA collects and preserves published documents and makes them accessible to the public, libraries, publishers and authors for research purposes.
The library’s collections include rare manuscripts, books published in South Africa, periodicals, government publications, official foreign publications, maps, technical reports and newspapers. Some of these are available on CD or microfilm, in digital format or online.
There’s also a large archive,a number of databases and 500 computers at the library, where users can access the internet free of charge.
Staff of the National Library of South Africa during the celebration of the library’s 200 years of existence.