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​After a dusty three years or so of building work, the Johannesburg City Library has re-opened as a modern centre of excellence, offering books and so much more.
FOR the love of words and learning, the City has re-opened the doors to Johannesburg City Library, which has been described by Executive Mayor Parks Tau as one of Joburg’s outstanding landmarks.

Executive mayor Parks Tau inspects the library (Photo: Enoch lehung, City of Johannesburg)Executive mayor Parks Tau inspects the library (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)On Valentine’s Day this preserved building – now with an old and a new structure – was re-opened following a R68-million facelift, which included repairs and extensions to the original structure.

Over the past few years, the library has been transformed into an oasis for book lovers and those seeking to broaden their knowledge. This protected heritage building, located between President, Market and Sauer streets, has blossomed into a world-class city library.

Although the library is open to the public, some work is still being completed, to be finished by May.

“This facility will provide amongst others, dynamic, rare and varied materials, electronic resources in a variety of formats in sufficient quantities that are relevant, current and useful to thousands of residents in our city. It is an aesthetically pleasing and impressive building. It is envisaged that it will deliver services and programmes that are responsive to the needs of users in Johannesburg and beyond,” said Tau.

“I would like to acknowledge the generous donation of $2 million for the upgrading of the library collections and a further $2 million for the installation of Information Communication and Technology infrastructure by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. A foundation that is one of the oldest, largest and most influential in America, established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 'to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding'," he added.

“In South Africa, libraries are playing an increasingly critical role in improving literacy levels, encouraging young and old to partake in the joy of reading, and providing access to the information that is so crucial for extracting the most from modern-day living,” said Chris Vondo, the city’s portfolio head of community development.

Built in 1935, over the decades the stately library building has become a landmark in the city, while also providing residents with access to thousands of books and other sources of information.

In April 2009, it was closed for extensive renovations and refurbishment, a project that was funded by the City in response to a $4-million (about R30,8-million) grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York as part of its Revitalising of African Libraries programme. The Carnegie funding was used for upgrading databases, buying books, IT solutions, furniture and signage.

With the upgrades, the central library has moved into a new era as a modern, world-class information hub. It has special, rare and accessible collections totalling some 600 000 items.

MMC Chris Vondo and executive mayor Parks Tau (Photo: Enoch lehung, City of Johannesburg)MMC Chris Vondo and executive mayor Parks Tau poses for a photo with students (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)The developer, Fikile Construction, embarked on a complex undertaking that involved renovating an iconic building and constructing a new three-storey addition in the central courtyard. The first two floors house computers with free internet access, while the third floor is a glassed enclosure specifically designed to house exhibitions.

Vondo said: “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 – returning the facility to its rightful place as the heart of the city.”

The capacity of the original library, of 11 198m² in size, has been increased by an additional 1 967m². It could previously seat 255 people; following the renovations, 566 people can now be accommodated.

There is provision for a coffee shop on the premises, which will offer light snacks and refreshments. A private company will be contracted to operate the shop by May. Additional toilets have been built, the lifts have been modernised and the electrical systems upgraded. Air-conditioning has also been installed in the new sections.

The library houses about 1,5 million items, including some 700 000 books, as well as DVDs, CDs, sheet music and periodicals. The lending station caters to readers from toddlers to adults and there are regular children’s activity programmes.

Read the executive mayor Parks Tau's speech here.

Library facts
Interesting facts about the Johannesburg City Library. Read more.
The theatre has been reinstated as a conference or activity space. The music section is still closed but will be open by May. Here, people will be able to listen to recorded music and watch films at individual listening and viewing stations.

A literacy and numeracy centre, stocked with computers for public use, has been included. The first phase of the internet solution is complete and the total solution will be done by May. It will eventually provide 212 work stations with free internet access.

Reference collections
Extensive reference collections include an adult reference section and a specialised section for high school learners providing material for projects as well as study guides and past exam papers. It also houses the internationally recognised Harold Strange Library of African Studies.

The donation from (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)The Johannesburg Central Library is spanking new, thanks to a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)It contains extensive material on historical aspects and the culture of Southern Africa through unique collections of African languages, literature and ethnology, and research on the history of gold mining and Johannesburg.

In the newspaper section, there are bound and micro-filmed newspapers dating from the early 19th century as well as a comprehensive cuttings collection. Another gem is the Michaelis Art Library, which is filled with in-depth resources on the visual arts. It also contains a performing arts section.

A total of 34 913 man-hours were worked by Fikile Construction and its subcontractors. The upgrade required 1 024m² of concrete, 3 036m² of formwork, 116,88 tons of reinforcing, 3 293,6m² of plastering and 12 635m² of painting.

“We are excited that this project is finally reaching fruition and invite Joburg’s young people, adults, learners, students and budding entrepreneurs to visit our beautifully revamped library and make it their home away from home,” Vondo concluded.

Johannesburg City Library opened in 1935 and is the successor of two earlier buildings – the corrugated iron Old Church Building used from 1893 to 1898, and the Kerk Street Library built in 1898.

The latter was a subscription only facility. Following a rowdy meeting in 1923, subscribers agreed to transfer the library to the town council so that it could become a free lending facility. It was the first major library in the country to do so.

Given the need for a larger building, construction of the Johannesburg Public Library, taking from 1931 to 1935, was the result of an architectural competition won by a Cape Town architect, John Perry.

The library, which opened on 6 August 1935, was one of the landmark buildings erected in the 1930s. It was the first public library in the country to open its doors to all races, which it did in 1974.

The Johannesburg City Library is open on Mondays to Fridays, from 9am to 5pm, and on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. For more information, contact the library on 011 226 0953.

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