Thank God for libraries and librarians…they are a source of hope
By Karin Schimke
The boy is mad about the girl. She’s not like the other children. She’s very quiet and she likes to read. She reads him poetry and he wouldn’t mind so much, if only she’d allow him to rest his head in her lap while she does.
Later she asks him to walk to the library with him. They walk through Valhalla Park, which he says is like walking through Bosnia: depressing and dangerous. At the library he makes fun of the covers of the Afrikaans Mills & Boons-type book she likes and she laughs at him. Then finds an Andre Brink’s book. She loves Andre Brink. She reads him the rude bits and they laugh. Later they walk back through the “war zone”.
This story is sketched in one of the poems by Nathan Trantraal in his debut collection of poems called “Chokers en Survivors”. If his name seems familiar to you – and not from his Afrikaans poetry – then you may have seen it on the Cape Times’ weekly comic strip called The Richenbaums.
But this is not about Trantraal or poetry or comic strips. This is about synchronicity. No, this is about libraries.
Not long after reading the affecting story of teenage love in a library, Valhalla Park library bleeped on my radar again.
Apparently many readers there have an insatiable taste for the books of Sophia Kapp. Kapp, a lecturer, is a writer of Afrikaans novels – novels that are extremely popular. So popular that the librarians at Valhalla Park called her publisher and asked whether there was any chance at all that she could be a guest at the library during women’s month to talk about the empowerment of women through reading. (Her speech, in Afrikaans, can be read here).
Although she lives up country, Kapp came to Cape Town and braved last week’s spectacular Cape Town storms to speak to her fans at the library, where she made an impassioned plea for women to claim their rights, not just be aware of them.
Then, on Saturday, I read a long piece in an Afrikaans newspaper weekend supplement in which the writer visits his local library for the first time in many years, having slid into the comfortable middle class happiness of being able to afford his own glossy books. I had mixed feelings about the article. I thought it was an evocative homage to libraries as central and vital to many, many people, but was deeply irritated by his insistence on naming the race of the people he saw at the library (except when they were caucasian, which he clearly deems to be the default human race).
That aside, the piece warmed me again to the role of community libraries, and made me want to seek out the smell and feel of my local library, where the chief librarian always looks flustered and smells as though he baths once a month, but can be relied on to find what I want and always politely enquires about how my own writing is going. It made me want to find Susan again, the children’s librarian, who knew my children’s names and had a reliable hand in guiding them towards books they would like when they were little.
The Open Book festival begins in Cape Town this weekend. Its organisers aim to make a library for a school that doesn’t have one. This means collecting around 5 000 books with which to stock it.
They’ve managed this impossible-seeming task before. I have no doubt they’ll do it again.
I imagine every ounce of sweat, every cent, every over-time hour, every thought and every tiny effort put in by the people who love books – the authors, like Kapp, the publishers, like Lapa who sponsored her trip, the librarians, like those at Valhalla Park who care so deeply about the people they serve – and for the first time in weeks I feel almost mawkishly optimistic about life.
Sanitation too. And better health care.
But please, God, please, many, full libraries.
- This column first appeared in the Cape Times in September 2013