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​Work has begun at the main library in the CBD, where a modern new glass and steel structure will add to its world-class facilities.

Extensive refurbishments have begun at Joburg's main library, which has occupied pride of place on Beyers Naude Square in the inner city since1934.

The City Library closed on 29 April for renovations; once complete, it promises to be a world-class facility. Ann Antrobus, the Carnegie project leader, explains: "In keeping with worldwide library trends in the provision of information and new technological developments, the library is endeavouring to attain the standards of a world-class city library."

Phase one of the upgrade involved the Carnegie Corporation of New York, created by Andrew Carnegie in 1991 to promote the advancement, diffusion and understanding of knowledge. It provided the funding for new books, subscriptions to online databases, digitisation equipment and staffing for the inputting of resources on to the library database.

The corporation's contribution has allowed for phase two, involving physical upgrades and refurbishment.

Everything that was housed at the library - books, furniture and shelves - has been carefully packed and stored against damage, dilapidation and dust. Most staff members have been relocated to other municipal libraries, says Antrobus; just a small group remains behind to tend to stacking, relocating, cataloguing, and sorting out the resources.

The entrance steps have been removed to accommodate the crane, which will be used to transport steel beams and other material for third floor renovations.

The library will have new lifts and escalators, and the old lift shafts have already been demolished and cleared. Old air-conditioners have been removed and firefighting installations have been upgraded and repaired on each floor.

Still to be done
According to Antrobus, the upgrade will involve structural changes and relocation, giving greater access to resources that was previously inaccessible. The library theatre will be reinstated as a conference and public performance space, and there will be facilities for snacks and refreshments.

Three new floors of glass and steel will be built in the courtyard above the theatre, which will increase the library's capacity to offer access to wireless computer facilities.

A discussion room will also be made available, as well as a state of the art exhibition space for the collections housed in the library. Steel mezzanine balconies will be used to showcase the double volume ceiling and increase the study space for library users. New areas will be wired so people can use their laptops in the building.

The roof, guttering and electrical work will be upgraded, and the new structure will add 1 967 square metres to the existing 11 198 square metres.

All the structural changes will be done through specialist contactors under a conservation architect. Before construction began, the library was regarded as a heritage building; the Provincial Heritage Resource Authority of Gauteng has approved the building of the additional structure.

"The new facilities will bring a modern element to the classical design of the current library, creating a seamless flow from the old to the new structure," says Antrobus.

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