One Soweto High School principal is convinced that the good old-fashioned library remains an important part of the educational mix.
Many people conclude that the ongoing digitalisation of the world signals the end for libraries – especially in schools, given the fact they are the stomping ground of today’s digital natives. But experience shows that, in fact, the respected school library continues to play a significant role in modern education.
One consistent benefit of a well-equipped school library is that it provides a comfortable, quiet, and safe space where pupils can explore beyond the bounds of the strict curriculum. This is particularly true when it comes to under-resourced township and rural schools – for them, the library can be an oasis where pupils can expand their horizons.
It’s also true that physical books retain a certain dignity and heft, and the act of flipping through a book is often experienced as more intimate than scanning a screen.
Andrew Setshedi, Principal of Moletsane Secondary School in Soweto, is in no doubt about the value of books and the role they play in enhancing the learning experience: “After MiWay refurbished the library at our school, we noted a dramatic increase in our school’s pass rate, which now sits at an impressive 92%. I’m also very proud to say that the library is one of the best I’ve has seen in the area and it is often visited by other schools.”
According to Mr. Setshedi, the library is well used by the school’s learners, and “thanks to the both the donation of books and interior design investment, it’s become a popular space where it’s comfortable to sit and read or work”.
Sizwe Shiba, a Mathematics teacher at Moletsane and one of the two teachers who runs the library, agrees that the school’s library plays a big part in enabling stellar academic results. “Part of our contribution as teachers is taking care of the language side of things, guiding learners to writings that will boost subject performance. We play our part by ensuring that the library has extended opening hours to allow pupils more time to study, browse for book and access the WiFi that it offers”.
Shiba agrees that the library’s comfort and aesthetic appeal makes the Moletsane library a pleasant place to study and read in. “It’s always full,” Mr. Shiba says.
Maria Sebati, one of the librarians at Maphutha Secondary School in Tembisa, says that the school has developed a good reading culture, with pupils mostly using the library to check out novels – fewer use the library as a source of schoolwork-related information. The school has several book clubs which the pupils run themselves, with assistant teachers available to help if any is needed.
Another interesting fact is that while library users have in the past tended to be female, Ms Sebati says that this year there has been an influx of male book borrowers. She hopes to build on this great reading culture by integrating the library more closely into the teaching activities. But, achieving this will be dependent on accessing more books related to the curriculum.
“We have made a good start but there’s a lot more we can do,” she says. “We are so grateful to MiWay for the help they give us each year, it makes a big difference.”
One of the key ingredients in continuing the role of libraries is the way in which enlightened principals and librarians are prepared to allow the library’s role to evolve. For example, many libraries offer computing facilities, which can be used to help prepare pupils for the digital world. In fact, some libraries actively provide pupils with information on how to stay safe online, and how to develop research skills.
Librarians and libraries have a vast amount of institutional wisdom related to research and, particularly, verifying sources – old-time skills that are more necessary today than ever.
Modern-day librarians are also increasingly partnering with class teachers to provide information and skills that complement the syllabus.
If one takes a step back, it’s clear that the interventions by corporates such as MiWay work together to provide not only an area dedicated to learning and personal development – the library – but also a set of pathways through which motivated individuals can channel their energies to achieve personal and career goals via mentorship, internships, and further study.
Finding a library in Gauteng
Joburg has a network of public libraries that residents, including schoolchildren, may use to access books or just a quiet place to read and study. At the centre of the network is the Johannesburg Public Library on Market Street in the centre of the Joburg CBD. Alongside the lending library, it contains a reference library, children’s library and newspaper reading room. Other specialist libraries in this complex include the Michaelis Art Library, a multimedia library and the Harold Strange Library of African Studies.
Any Joburg resident can join these libraries, or one of the many satellite libraries spread across the Greater Johannesburg area. Find your nearest library.
The National Library of South Africa is located in the Pretoria CBD at 75 Thabo Sehume Street. It seats 1 800 users and has more than 500 computers. Similarly, the Greater Tshwane area has its own network of community libraries.
Mogale City has a network of libraries on Gauteng’s West Rand, with another network available on the East Rand in the region of Benoni.