Observatory library celebrates 110 years

TAURIQ HASSEN

Book worms have been passing through the doors of the Observatory library for the past 110 years.

Apart from this extraordinarily long service to the community, the library also has a war memorial and heritage status.

Observatory resident, Saleena Jaffer, has been using the library for 12 years but did not know the amount of historal significance attached to it.

“I introduced my two children to the library and I have been coming here for years, but never did I ask questions about its history and it’s quite simply amazing,” she said.

Ms Jaffer, who is a fan of sci-fi and fiction, especially loved how the library has evolved over the years, becoming a hub for information and giving the community a spot to network and learn more.

“The vibe has certainly picked up over the years, especially with technology becoming so advanced, but it added to the environment at the library. It’s an amazing achievement for the library and although I will not be around, I certainly hope that it can be around for another 110 years,” Ms Jaffer laughed.

Quinton Davies is another member of the library who was amazed to hear about its 110-year history.

“For a building that could easily be missed, it certainly packs a punch and has loads of history.”

The Observatory resident joined the library about seven years ago, while studying at the University of Cape Town.

“There is something about running around the corner to the library that got me hooked. I actually never knew it was a library, I thought it was some town hall or something. I have always been regarded as a bookworm in my family and I have never felt ashamed of it, because I simply love reading,” Mr Davies said.

Observatory library opened on November 1 1898 in temporary premises in Station Road and James Davidson was appointed librarian. The library moved to its current premises in 1906, thanks to the gift of land by Stephen Trills, as well as government and municipal subsidies and donations. In 1952, a free municipal library service was started and Observatory library joined the service in March 1954.

The current building enjoys heritage status and contains a memorial plaque dedicated to the men of Observatory who served in World War II. The library is used by a social worker for support group meetings and another patron runs a jewellery workshop every Tuesday. Basic computer lessons are offered on Tuesday mornings during alternate months, for members who want to enhance their skills.

In addition, library orientation is offered to interested groups, while a permanent book sale in aid of the Friends of the Library organisation is situated in the foyer.

Other programmes taking place at the library include a “Beanies for babies” project, where residents get together to knit beanies for needy babies. These go to Mowbray Maternity Hospital and all the way to Victoria West.

The City’s mayoral committee member for community services and special projects, Belinda Walker, said she was proud to note that the Observatory library was still a beacon for residents seeking relaxation, knowledge, information, social interaction and a safe space.

“Our libraries culturally enrich the communities in which they are located and the Observatory library celebrates 110 years of being a focal point in the area. It has become a safe and free space for young and old,” she said.

Ms Walker said that just before it opened in its current premises 110 years ago, the library had 3 359 books, a circulation of 8 541, and 197 subscribers.

Now five members of staff, excluding the security guard and a contract cleaner, keep more than 1 800 patrons happy and there are 25 328 items in circulation. This includes an extensive crime fiction stock of books as well as a near 500-strong DVD collection.

“Observatory library levels the playing field, offering vital resources as well as specialised programmes to empower the surrounding community. Public libraries are an essential cornerstone of building strong communities. Not only do they provide an essential service in supporting education and literacy, today’s libraries also offer innovative technology and online services that can unlock a host of opportunities,” Ms Walker added.

She said the public should never underestimate the “social, cultural and educational importance of our libraries”. “We celebrate the 110 years during which Observatory library has provided these important services. This library is more popular than ever before and 163 new members joined between July 2015 and February 2016,” Ms Walker proudly said.