Public Relations

World Book Day takes township libraries to the 21 Century

Throughout history, libraries have served as safe spaces for children to learn, study, connect, and
develop their minds, social skills, and academic abilities. In South Africa, many of these facilities are
unfortunately threatened by vandalism, the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen a decrease in visitor
numbers, and a lack of resources to join the digital age. Civil society organisations are on a mission to
nip this trend in the bud.

Not a week goes by without news reports of libraries being vandalised, looted, and robbed. Early
March, for instance, criminals vandalised at least seven libraries in and around Cape Town. “Besides
hundreds of thousands of Rands in damages, vandalising libraries is robbing children, especially
those living in vulnerable areas, of much-needed safe spaces to develop socially, mentally,
emotionally, and academically,” says Alef Meulenberg, CEO of youth development NPO Afrika
Tikkun.

In the meantime, some libraries are struggling to stay open due to decreased membership as a
result of the pandemic and not having the resources to join the digital age. The government has
taken note of this: In March this year, the minister of sports, arts, and culture Nathi Mthethwa
announced that the government had reserved R1.4 billion to equip existing libraries with better
resources and build 26 new ones.

Meulenberg applauds this. “Ensuring our country has more and better libraries with resources
relevant to children and adults is essential. This includes improving the availability of digital
materials and books which are written in all official languages,” he explains.

“All children in this country, and their parents, need and deserve access to stories written in their mother tongues, by
and about people they can identify themselves with. Representation matters, especially in a country
that is diverse as ours.”

He stresses that libraries are much more than boring collections of dusty books. “Besides improving
reading skills, these facilities offer a safe space where children can connect, do their homework,
deepen their knowledge about the world around them, and have access to credible information,” he
says.

Besides, libraries provide access to a stable and often free internet connection. “This is particularly important for children from under-resourced households.”

With that idea in mind, Afrika Tikkun has embarked on a mission to digitise the libraries in its five
centres, which collectively welcome approximately 10,000 children, youths, and adults. “We want to
ensure our library visitors have access to conventional reading materials as well as relevant and
essential digital resources, including digital books. We aim to turn libraries into full-blown
information hubs, not just places where one can read and page through books,” Meulenberg says.

Part of this mission is to stock more materials, both analogue and digital, written in languages other
than English and Afrikaans, written by African, coloured, and Indian authors as well as African
American writers.

For more info visit: www.afrikatikkun.org.

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