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Starting on Monday 20 March, South Africa will celebrate National Library Week. With this there is also good news for Grahamstown as the Hill Street public library officially reopens on Wednesday after a year of closure due to renovations. 

SA Library Week was initiated in 2001 by the Library and information Association of SA (LIASA) as a commemorative period recognised by the government.

All types of libraries across the country use it as an opportunity to market their services in an effort to contribute to the understanding of the important role that libraries play in a democratic society: advancing literacy, making the basic human right of freedom of access to information a reality, and promoting tolerance and respect among all South Africans.

On Wednesday, to celebrate the reopening, the Public Library of Grahamstown has invited inmates from correctional services for a debate and they going to have reading poetry and a spelling bee. 

Patricia Njilo, assistant director of library services since 2007, says they are encouraging people in all libraries to send back books that they may still have - "and they will not be charged a fine". 

When the Public Library closed in January 2016 the renovation was originally supposed to last six months.

"We were told that the library would close to the public for three months. The library advertised to users that they were closing from January to April 2016.

Fast-forward to a year and two months later and the library is still not open. 

Njilo says, “I think when they came up with this closure period they had not really taken into account just how bad the libraries' situation actually is.” 

The building is very old and the floor was predominately made of wood, so as time went by the floor boards started to rot and as a result there were holes in the floor, Njilo explained. 

"Also the roof and ceilings were rotting and when it was raining drops would come through the roof. These were things that we noticed that made us realise the library needs to be renovated."

But as they were working, they saw that the floor needed not just repairs, but replacement.

"It needed to be started from scratch so they had to take out everything, make the concrete from scratch," Njilo said.
"It was the same with the roof. They realised that the entire roof was rotten and that meant that we had to take it all out and start again with the roof."

 “Maybe our failure was proper maintenance of the building - but over the years, the municipality would do patchwork fixes here and there. We only saw the severity of the problem when we removed everything."

The delay has put the opening of the library back a year from the original date. 

"We closed in January 2016 and we are opening on 22 March 2017.” Njilo said, “Originally we were looking to use R2.8 million for the renovations. I am not sure about what the figure stands at now, because Makana is just a receiving party here. The Department of Sports, Recreation Arts and Culture (DSRAC) provided money to the Department of Public Works, so they were the ones who hired contractors and oversaw the whole process. So as they discovered more problems, they went and got more money from DSRAC.” 

They also need new library material. 
"The books we have there are very old," says Njilo. says they have been struggling to get new material from the Department and the Province. 

“The reason we are given for that is the Province always focuses its resources on new libraries that are opening in the Province and that is where all the new material goes.

“We do still have problems though like our telephones are still not working and the internet for the public is still not working and a few other minor things, but we decided we need to open the library to the public so that people can at least access the things that we do have.

 

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Assistant Director of Library Services in Makana Municipality Patricia Njilo says the Hill Street public library, closed for more than a year for renovations, will open on Wednesday. Photo: Kuhle Ngqezana
Assistant Director of Library Services in Makana Municipality Patricia Njilo says the Hill Street public library, closed for more than a year for renovations, will open on Wednesday. Photo: Kuhle Ngqezana