Plumstead library is facing an uncertain future. It is not the only one.
Last month, the mayoral committee member for community services and health Patricia van der Ross, proposed terminating the leases for Tygervalley and Plumstead libraries and reviewing the ones for Crossroads and Pelican Park.
Tygervalley library’s lease ends in March and the lease on the Plumstead library property, in Yudelman’s Lane, ends next year. There is no plan to relocate the library to other premises.
Ms Van der Ross said the library’s permanent staff would be redeployed but she couldn’t promise that it would be to one of the neighbouring libraries.
Resources will be reallocated to other libraries. The other nearest libraries are at Southfield and Wynberg, which are both slightly more than 2km from the nearest public transport.
Library patron Nicky Bedford said Plumstead library manager Jean Papas and her staff made the library the heart of Plumstead.
“I and many others have found comfort during this nerve-racking time, and the personal attention the staff give, when choosing our reading matter for us to collect has been awesome,” said Ms Bedford.
Another patron, Sandy Hood, said she had got to know the staff well and they knew what she liked to read.
“Many of us walk to the library, and there are many schoolchildren who make use of the facilities. Although there are libraries in Meadowridge, Southfield, Wynberg and Tokai, many people who live in Plumstead are not able to travel to them,” said Ms Hood.
Ward councillor Eddie Andrews said Plumstead library would continue to receive funds from the ward budget until it is closed.
Oakley House Preparatory School principal Sandra Wiesner said they had two classes of special-needs pupils who greatly enjoyed their visit to the library each week. They were read to by one of the librarians and had a chance to browse the bookshelves and take out books.
“This time in the library not only keeps their love for books alive, it also contributes to their literacy programme, and it is a calming space for them to thoroughly enjoy being in the library,” said Ms Wiesner.
Friends of Plumstead Library chairman Ken Price said he had used the library regularly for 15 years. He does not have a computer at home and, like many other patrons, walks there to do research.
The Friends have run fund-raisers to supplement the library’s stock of books by popular authors.
Dr Gavin R Davis, who retired last year from UWC’s department of library and information science, has written about the future of libraries, warning that they face extinction unless they demonstrate their worth in society where newer technologies are rampant.
“However, I argued that this would be a sad state of affairs with South Africa having a large section of its populace still not connected, that is, not having access to books and other printed material not to mention digital access,” said Dr Davis.
Nazeem Hardy, president of the Library and Information Association of South Africa, believes public libraries are at the heart of the communities they serve and, apart from offering reading materials and computer access, are a meeting place or simply somewhere to relax.
“Any closure of a library is a blow to the users of that facility and in a country where books are expensive and literacy levels require our collective efforts to combat this scourge, we cannot condone the closing of such an important resource,” she said.
“Everyone, including municipalities have been negatively affected due to the ongoing pandemic but libraries are a small part of the City’s overall budget and as such, we need to look at alternative ways to address this matter. According to the report submitted to Council, this is merely the first of many libraries slated for closure in the City of Cape Town and if we allow this to go through, we are on a slippery slope to lose valuable community resources,” said Ms Hardy.
The closure of public libraries also raised the alarm over the poor funding of such services – something that needed to be addressed at all tiers of government.
Ms Hardy called upon the mayor and council to relook the decision to close the libraries.