There’s a particular kind of comfort that I find in places that house books. When I was a child growing up in Port Elizabeth, I looked forward with eager anticipation to trips with my mum to the library. The architecture, the reverence of books and hushed voices made me feel like I had entered a place of worship. And since we were an agnostic family, the library was, in a way, my substitute church.
Later, as a student at the University of Natal, whenever I felt lonely or confused, I would escape to the English Lit section of the library, which in those days was somewhere near the top of Memorial Tower Building (a lot more romantic than the present modern library). It was a small room with spectacular views over Durban and, surrounded by dusty old books, I always felt safe and reassured.
And later still, there was Adam’s Bookstore in Musgrave Centre. It became a ritual of mine to stop in there for a cappuccino and a browse through the bookshelves after the weekly grocery shop. This provided a much-needed respite from tedious housewifely chores.
So, it’s no surprise really that now I find myself as a volunteer librarian, hopefully exposing other children to the wonderful possibilities of a library. Every Thursday, Robyn (another volunteer) and I open the library at the Curry’s Post Primary School and provide a happy and stimulating environment for children to experience the pleasure of reading. Grade 4 – 7 learners (ages 9 to 12) come during break to exchange their books as well as to sit and read or play with puzzles. At first it was bedlam, with the children just grabbing whatever book they could lay their hands on. Now it’s so heart-warming to see them taking their time and poring over the books before finally choosing the one to take home. I just wish we had more for them to choose from, but we’ll get there. This year the Stretch Foundation very generously donated R5,000’s worth of books supplied by Biblionef as well as a lovely selection of Book Dash books. Local people have also made kind donations of second-hand books.
After break we have a half hour story time with the younger children (6 to 8 years old). Often, we sing songs, play games and do creative activities as well. Then it’s the turn of the grade 4 & 5 learners to have story-time with me while Robyn takes the older children for a more structured reading lesson.
School finishes at 2 o’clock but there’s a group of about 20 children who wait for their taxi to come at 4 pm. So Robyn and I now keep the library open for them and have landed up starting an informal aftercare programme. By the end of the day we are both knackered, seriously in need of a drink (or two) but hugely fulfilled.