By Gabriel Mashabela (Noordgesig Library)
With library week done and dusted during March 2023; some questions might be lingering in the minds of library users and others. Questions like what is library week, why it is still relevant and significant to celebrate it, and why it is celebrated?
This year 2023, Library week nationally took place from 20-26 March 2023, under the theme “Libraries telling powerful stories”.
Library week serves to celebrate and commemorate a milestone achievement of the LIS sector in South Africa. Library week is a celebration and commemoration of the establishment of “The world’s first free public library service established by Lord Charles Somerset, on 20 March 1818. According to Archie Dick, (n.d.: 14) Lord Charles Somerset’s tax on wine financed the founding of the South African Public Library in Cape Town in the year 1818. The key focus of this public library was on education and the youth. This free public library service was funded through the leaving of tax on the sale of wine. Lord Charles Somerset was the Governor of the Cape Colony in 1818, therefore he was in an opportune position to issue proclamations paving the way to the launch of the first South African Public Library, currently known as the National Library of South Africa (NLSA). Muchaonyerwa et al (2021:12) concur that the South African Public Library; which is currently the National Library of South Africa based at Cape Town was established in 1818. Currently, the NLSA has another branch in Pretoria
Library week celebrations serve to acknowledge the role played by libraries of all types in satisfying the information needs of users. In addition, library week celebrations serve to celebrate the milestone achievement of the LIS sector in SA (public libraries, community libraries, and other types of libraries) to open their doors to all citizens of the country; South Africa (SA), including ordinary citizens from previously disadvantaged areas.
South African Library Week (SALW) was “officially celebrated for the first time nationwide in the year 2002 and since then it has become a yearly event celebrated nationally” under different themes confirmed by LIASA.
During library week, librarians and other LIS professionals and LIS workers as well as associates celebrate the monumental achievement of ensuring that all SA citizens have equitable access to LIS irrespective of race and other socio-economic conditions. Library week is an opportunity for all kinds of libraries in SA (public and community libraries, special libraries, school libraries, academic libraries) to market and promotes their services as well as to raise awareness about the importance and role libraries play in the lives of library users and potential users.
Libraries are relevant and significant now and in the future, including in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) we live in, whereby much of the work we do requires digital skills and it is technology based. In this era, digital skills are prerequisite requirements for survival and active participation in the Era. Therefore, libraries play a vital part by providing digital resources to ordinary citizens to participate actively in the 4IR Era. In addition, libraries can serve as intermediaries’ centers training ordinary citizens in digital skills to be digital citizens.
The importance of libraries to users and potential users can be clearly articulated by Brown (2004) who points out that,
“librarians have a vital role to play, a social responsibility to work toward an invention of the future which is free and just for all”.
In addition, Du Preez (1998) in emphasizing the importance of libraries, pointed out that
“Public libraries have a crucial role to play in the development of a healthy democratic society in which the quality of life of all individuals is enhanced to the highest possible level”.
It is therefore not surprising that Library week is celebrated in conjecture with Human Rights Day; 21 March. This is based on the grounds that public libraries in SA see themselves as pioneers of “freedom of access to information as a basic human right as stipulated in the Bill of Human Rights”. Public libraries fulfill this basic human right by providing free LIS services for all.
In highlighting the importance and relevance of libraries in the lives of library users and potential users, for now, and in the future according to Nobuntu Mpendulo (The Director for LIS) in her keynote address during the launch of the LIASA Gauteng South Library Week at Noordgesig library, she emphasized that “libraries are more and more relevant now than ever before; to the extent that even countries that have slashed library budgets are reconsidering their decisions”. The director also highlighted the relevance and significance of libraries by being agents in the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An assertion held by IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), which maintained that “libraries around the world offer a wide range of products and services that promote the achievement of each an every one of the Sustainable Development Goals; SDGs” (IFLA, 2018: 4).
Therefore, libraries are indeed the gateways to knowledge in different communities. The City of Johannesburg embarked on library pop-ups in all CoJ regions to market library services and taking library services to users and potential users. For more on activities done by CoJ libraries to celebrate SALW 2023 visit their Facebook page (@JoburgLibraries) and website (www.cojelearning.org.za).
Until then it’s cheers from me!! Till we meet in the next blog about social publishing materials in promoting reading culture.