Soweto library closed due to ‘structural damage’

Protea North Library in Soweto has been closed for months, allegedly due to structural damage. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso

Protea North Library in Soweto has been closed for months, allegedly due to structural damage. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso

Published May 11, 2023


They say education is the key to success, and in order to hone a particular skill, upliftment and development can do any community good. But what happens when a library in a community shuts down due to structural damage?

This is the case with Protea North Library in Soweto.

The two-storey library on Madikane Street, which caters for Protea North and surrounding areas such as Naledi and Protea Glen, has had its doors shut for months.

The upper level was used for study purposes mainly for tertiary students. Mostly used by adults and learners, books were available to be borrowed by the public and returned. However, it has now gone quiet, with little to no activity around it.

Posted on the door to the library is a notice to library users saying the facility is under construction due to structural damage to the building. However, there didn’t seem to be any renovation under way in or around it.

Speaking to the locals who frequently made use of the library services, many believe that the closure began around the time of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

“Ever since the pandemic hit, there has been no activity around here. Learners used to come here from school to catch up on some homework and interact with one another. Many people from here who are studying also benefited a lot from it. It hasn’t been made clear why it closed down,” said Lesedi Tlhobe from Protea North.

Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University, Professor Jonathan Jansen, said libraries in communities were vital to its upliftment and its skills development.

“The importance of libraries cannot be overemphasised, especially when one considers that six out of every 10 South Africans older than 16 live in households without a single book, according to a recent survey by the South African Book Development Council,” he said.

Considering the positive effects that reading has on creativity and language skills development, this is a crippling shortcoming.

A shortage of reading materials and textbooks has been identified as among the main reasons that 78% of children in Grade 4 cannot read for meaning. Research shows that in 2008, only 60% of the cohort of learners who had started school 12 years earlier had progressed to write their matric exams and, of these, only 37% passed.

It is hardly surprising that poor literacy levels in South Africa is such a hot topic.

So, what problems do our librarians face in a barely literate society?

Attractive distractions, said Jansen. According to him, there is a perception that there are more fun things to do than read. “One of the biggest challenges we face is how to motivate children and adults to read for self-study and pleasure when competing against smartphones, social and other online media, instant messaging, television and computer games.”

He said libraries were committed to providing services that were free, equitable and accessible to providing for the information, reading and learning needs of people and to promoting a culture of reading, library usage and lifelong learning.

The City of Joburg, under which the Protea North Library is run, did not respond to questions sent by “The Sunday Independent”.