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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 023-121-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Library Buildings and Equipment
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 121
Simultaneous Interpretation:  Yes

Bodibeng: To quench the people's thirst from the lake of knowledge.
Creating Bodibeng Community Library in Soshanguve, South Africa.

Louise Mayer
Library and Information Services
Northern Pretoria Metropolitan Council
South Africa
E-mail : louisem@npmss.org.co.za


The building of a new South Africa will only remain a dream if urgent attention is not given to the intellectual upliftment of the people of our country. Poverty, crime, molestation, illiteracy and ignorance will remain a part of life to the people of South Africa if the basic human right of access to information is not providedBodibeng Community Library is situated in the very poor and disadvantaged Town of Soshanguve, north of the Capital City, Pretoria. The illiteracy and semi-literacy rate is 48% and 35% of residents are unemployed. This paper gives an outline of the process of creating a multi purpose Community Library and Information Center with very limited funds. Bodibeng Community Library has become a symbol of hope to many people, previously deprived of hope and dreams.


This paper aims to represent the perception of a developing second world Country, filled with first world as well as third world elements. In a country where more than 50% of the people are illiterate or semi-literate, the quest for information and education is very great. The country does not have the resources to fulfill the massive information and educational needs of its people. There are simply not sufficient financial resources to build the Libraries and Information Centers so sorely needed in order to uplift the severely disadvantaged communities and to provide the information needed in order to ensure economic empowerment of the country and its people.

The building visions and programmes followed in fully developed first world countries are just not implementable in South Africa, due to a variety of reasons that will be discussed during this paper. It is therefore necessary to combine technical and academic knowledge with practical implementation in order to create a new model for Library and Information Service rendering in South Africa. Library buildings must be practical, multifunctional and above all suit the needs of its communities. Library and Information workers should work with their communities, not for them, in order to optimize available resources and facilities.

An increasing crisis is experienced in Public or Community Library and Information Service rendering in South Africa. Library Service delivery in South Africa is based on the organization and delivery of services as inherited from the Anglo-Saxon culture and do not reflect a true African model. The needs of the South African Library and Information client of the 21st Century underwent a drastic change during the previous five to ten years. The emphasis of service rendering has changed. The provision of relaxation material, mainly in the form of books and periodicals, is no longer the main function of the Public Library in South Africa. Clients, who were not allowed access to many of these facilities up to a short time ago, express new needs not previously catered for:

  • Provision of study facilities as the majority of the users does not have room, electricity or privacy at home.
  • Due to financial difficulties, the majority of students are following a long distance education programme and depends on the Community Library for their educational and study facility needs.
  • Provision of reference and other information resources.
  • Provision of Information Technology e.g. Internet, Word Processing facilities etc.
  • Provision of Computer Training .
  • Provision of Adult Basic Education and Literacy programmes.
  • Provision of community based activities, focusing on educational support and arts & cultural development.

The reasons for these changing needs can be identified as follows:

  • Drastic political changes during the past five years.
  • The rapid development of technology is of such a nature that the emphasis of information delivery has shifted in total from the written word in book forms, to that of information technology. The Internet is ruling the world but only 25% of the population of South Africa has direct access to the Internet.
  • Roughly 65% of South African citizens are illiterate or semi-literate.
  • As the economic situation of the country is deteriorating, members of the community are increasingly depending on Public Libraries for the provision of informal and formal information.
  • The problems experienced in the educational system, as well as financial limitations, leads to the utilization of Public Libraries as educational support institutions.
  • Public Libraries are perceived as community institutions, where a wide variety of services can be accessed, mostly free of charge.
  • In a multicultural, multilingual and multinational world, plagued by unemployment, illiteracy, violence and poverty, the Community Library is rapidly becoming the Center where the uninformed as well as the informed can gather in their quest for self-improvement and information.
There are numerous other problems facing library and Information Centers. New and existing clients have to be educated and trained in the use of Library & Information Services. The majority of people have to be made aware of the benefits of information and literacy. In a culture dominated by the oral tradition, many people are still negative towards formal education, information and information technology. This is a stumbling block towards economic empowerment and job creation. Finances for the delivery of Community Library and Information Services in South Africa are increasingly being limited in direct contrast to the increasing needs for the extension of Library Services. Existing facilities are not nearly adequate to fulfill client's needs. Serious imbalances exist between the library facilities available in previously advantaged (predominantly white) and disadvantaged (predominantly black & colored) areas. Existing and newly build facilities are not tailor-made to fulfill community needs. Academic and technical models are utilized without taking community needs, political pressure and other practicalities like lack of funding and lack of resources into consideration.

The Bodibeng Community Library, built in Soshanguve north of Pretoria, is one of the largest Libraries ever built in a previously disadvantaged area (Township) in South Africa. The Library is also one of the first completed in the "New South Africa". The Library was planned and is implemented on a typical "African" model, based on community needs as expressed by the surrounding community. This resulted in a highly successful building programme as the process was fully supported by the community, leading to little disruption of the process as often experienced in Townships.

During December 1994 the two towns of Akasia (previously mainly white residents) and Soshanguve were amalgamated. At that time Akasia had 25 000 residents. The Akasia Library Services were still relatively new and underdeveloped. Soshanguve had 437 000 residents. Soshanguve Library consisted of a very small Library Depot, rendering only the most basic library services. This situation towards Library and Information service delivery proved to be most unsatisfactory.

In 1995 a Library Committee was established, consisting of Library management, Community representatives and Political leaders. This committee had to face the following realities:

  • Due mostly to political history, but also the high rate of poverty, the residents in so-called townships are used to a culture of not paying municipal rates and taxes. This leads to an ever-increasing lack of finances in Municipal Government in South Africa, up to the point of bankruptcy.
  • Soshanguve was a very underdeveloped city, where the majority of the people did not have access to running water and electricity. These services were looked upon as basic services and had to be addressed first. Libraries are looked upon as "nice to have's" by authorities and were not first on the priority list. Authorities were therefore not keen to provide funding for the project.

An awareness campaign was embarked upon to make the community aware of the importance of a Community Library and of the impact such a service can have on the level of education, economic empowerment and quality of living of such a seriously impoverished and disadvantaged area as Soshanguve. This awareness campaign formed the basis for the success of Bodibeng Community Library:

  • The community themselves became a driving force and pressure group, forcing authorities to give preference to the project.
  • Community members were positive towards the project and involved throughout the process, minimizing conflict situations and ensuring that the Building is suited to their needs.
  • The good relations that developed between the community and Library personnel before the Library was even build, ensures a wonderful working relationship and excellent service rendering.
During 1996 an amount of R5 million (less than $1million) was allocated to build the Library. This money was allocated by the Greater Pretoria Metropolitan Council and included everything, even furniture and equipment. Innovative planning had to be done and alternative ways had to be found in order to stay within the very limited budget.

Architect Margo Zietsman, as per requirement of the Library Committee and other stakeholders, finalized the design, focusing on the following principles:

  • Multi functional (use of same facilities for various activities).
  • Access to public facilities after hours without disturbing the library area.
  • Low maintenance.
  • Utilizing natural light and ventilation.
  • Curtailing of noise levels.

The Bodibeng Library design is currently recognized nationally as a prototype of a functional Community Library & Information Center, catering for all community needs.

Bodibeng Community Library was completed during January 1999 and the implementation phase could start. At the end of March 1999, one week before the proposed opening date, a storm swept Soshanguve, leaving 25 000 people homeless. The newly built library experienced extreme damage as parts of the main roof was swept away. The Library fulfilled its first role as a true Community Center when it was utilized as an emergency Center from where blankets and other emergency provisions were distributed to the Community. Due to the damage, the opening date had to be postponed by two months. This setback was utilized as an advantage and much media coverage was obtained out of this situation. By the time of the opening the 80% of the community was aware of the Library Services and it's aims. Before the project started in 1995, only 5% of the community was aware of Libraries and what it entails.

Libraries are often perceived in South Africa as only being for "learned" or "rich" people. Many ordinary people, especially illiterate or semi-literate, wishing to visit Libraries are intimidated to such an extent that they never enter the Libraries. In order to address this problem, the official opening took the form of a community festival. An open invitation was extended to the community and over 8 000 people attended the festivities. "Pap" (a traditional maize porridge) and "vleis" (meat) was served to everybody. Special attention was focused on children, many of whom have never seen a book. This much publicized and talked about opening ensured the smooth transition from the building phase into the implementation phase.

Many people attending out of curiosity became most loyal clients. The perception was created that Bodibeng Community Library is there for everyone, whoever they are. The Library is currently visited by an average of 10 000 people per week. The majority of the people utilizing the services have never before visited a library. By merging academic theories, practical implementation and involving the target public to the utmost, this library is currently utilized by various educational institutions as a training library and as an example of a true South African model of service delivery.

Bodibeng Community Library was created from dust into a symbol of hope, living up to its name, fountain or lake to drink from. A much used and modern Community Center rises proudly above the surrounding humble homes, to prove that by integrating dreams, building programmes, enthusiasm, creativity and perseverance, a dream can come true.


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