Tablets, kindle, the ipad – e-readers have revolutionized our lives, emptied our bookcases and shrunk our luggage. Paper and leather have been replaced by glass and aluminum, the sound of flipping pages by the swipe or click. Yet, nothing replace the smell of a fresh novel, or the feeling of paperbound pages flipping between ones fingers. Long live the book!
Home to 700 000 books, the Johannesburg City Library has become a landmark in the wave of Jozi’s urban renewal. It lies in the hub of the city, located on the corner of Market and Fraser streets, between Sauer and President. The library has throbbed life since 1935 and recently underwent a major facelift. The 77-year-old has been modernised into a contemporary, model city library.
About six years ago, the Carnegie Corporation of New York inked the Library and Information Services’ business proposal, allotting a grant of $2 million towards upgrading the library’s collections and another $2 million to set up Information and Communication Technology infrastructure. The city of Johannesburg then spent a further R55 million on the refurbishment. The library closed her doors in 2009 and reopened to the public on 14 February 2012 – Valentine’s Day.
Architectural improvements have created a tasteful blend of modern and archaic, leaving Cape Town architect, John Parry’s original Italianate charm intact. Three new floors now rise within the inner courtyard of the original building. Escalators and bridges join the old and new sections of the library.
“The new facilities bring a modern element to the classical design of the old library, creating a seamless flow from the old to the new structure,” says Atilla Lourens, the deputy director of the Library and Information Services. “A splendid glassed-in double-volume third floor is designed specifically for exhibitions.”
The capacity of the original library, 11 198m², has been enlarged by an extra 1 967m². Additional space has made room for cyberspace, with the provision of public-access PC’s and wi-fi areas. 311 workstations have also been added, jumping the library’s seating capacity to 566 people. Lourens believes the library has the potential to become a socially inclusive living room or home-from-home.
In his day, Socrates considered libraries as delivery rooms for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life. Home to 1,5 million items, our stately library promises to birth such inspiration.