With the role of librarians having been celebrated on South African Librarians’ Day on Monday July 10, MIKA WILLIAMS speaks to former head librarian at Parow library, Kathleen Laishley of Sanddrift, who has been working for the City’s Library Services for the past 28 years.
Ms Laishley will embark on a new venture this year after she was promoted to the head of the City’s Library Services.
“I originally started working for the library as I needed a job and I felt it would suit me as I was an avid reader and had been a member of the library from a young age,” Ms Laishley told Northern News.
She completed her post-graduate diploma in Library Science at the University Of Cape Town (UCT) and finished her Master’s degree at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
Ms Laishley embarked on her career in September 1989. She spent her early years at Cape Town library for 22 years and the remainder at Parow library.
Talking about the important role libraries play in today’s technological age, Ms Laishley said: “Libraries offer free access to those who do not have access to the internet and wi-fi and computers at home. Students can access their university databases from the library if they can’t get to campus. People can also access the library remotely as the library catalogue is available online and items can be renewed online.
“Libraries provide remote access to digital resources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica,” she said.
She also spoke about how libraries have evolved over the past 20 years. “When I started working in 1989 libraries were not computerised and we still used a card system.
“There was no such thing as Google and librarians really needed to know their book stock to be able to help patrons.
“We are still doing the same work today; helping people find information and encouraging a love of reading, although the tools we use might have changed. Instead of long playing LP records libraries now offer patrons CDs and even books on MP3 and some libraries even have gaming.”
Ms Laishley said the profession was no longer dominated by women.
“We have more men working in libraries today. Libraries have also morphed into social and community spaces where people meet, relax, play chess as well as find books and information.”
She said the information age had not stopped children from borrowing books from the library.
“Children in Parow are reading whether it is in the library or taking books out to read at home. Schools in Parow encourage pupils to join the library and read,” she said.
Speaking at Kuyasa library in Khayelitsha last week, JP Smith, the City’s Mayco member for for safety and security; and social services said South African Librarians’ Day was established in 2014 to create awareness about the importance of the profession.
Ms Laishley said her new post would see her manage eight libraries from Macassar to Gordon’s Bay.
In her spare time, she enjoys snuggling up with a good book or walking. She told the Northern News she was currently reading The Lightless Sky: my journey to safety as child refugee, by Gulwali Passarlay.
She lists Mary Renault, James Kirkwood and South African authors Deon Meyer and Martin Steyn among her favourite writers.
To the many parents who struggle to get their children to read Ms Laishley offers this advice: “Parents must make time for reading in their child’s day. It can be a family event as children who see their parents reading, will also read.
“They must take them to the library and engage with the staff to help find the right book for the child. Studies have shown that children who read for pleasure do better at school,” she added.
Interesting facts about the City’s librarians and libraries:
The first public library in Cape Town was established in 1880 from the proceeds of a wine tax – the building now houses the National Library of South Africa in the Company’s Garden.
Tygervalley library is in a mall and Pelican Park Library is based in a school.
Children’s librarian at the Milnerton Library, Elmarie Waltman, has been on television on the fun musical competition Noot vir Noot where she did very well.
Central library has an annual march through the streets of Cape Town to promote library services and is typically joined by Library Services staff and external departments.
Two libraries have art galleries, Central library and Bellville library; there is also a special Performing Arts and Music Library at Central library.
The City has an online library database with 4.5 million items; in 2016,
7.3 million items were borrowed at City libraries.
Harare library has a gaming room.
The City’s mobile libraries have 30 service points.