My memories of libraries

1960s – Born a ‘laatlammetjie’ (late lamb) to ordinary, hardworking, folk, my earliest memory of the library was my dad holding my hand, and climbing the steps to the Saturday morning story hour at the Edenvale library. It was a small building then. Excitement and pure pleasure – an outing with dad! I was four or five. I remember a quiet place. And the smell…afterward it was always the smell I remembered – I was hooked! The stories enthralled! The story teller enthralled me; I was in awe of the place and everything about it. My dad’s passion for the library rubbed off on me. We went every weekend. Especially Saturday mornings, when mom was at work. Dad was a shift worker in the nearby explosives factory. Mom was a photographer for Stella Nova studios in Johannesburg. (She had the honour of taking the first ID photo at the Voortrekker Monument, on the day South Africa became a Republic.)

My claim to fame - my mom in a newspaper cutting from 1954, taking photos in the studio.  I remember always being told to look at the  ‘dicky bird’ when photos were being taken, and couldn’t understand why  I never saw a bird appear!

My claim to fame – my mom in a newspaper cutting from 1954, taking photos in the studio. I remember always being told to look for the ‘dicky bird’; I couldn’t understand why as I never ever saw a bird appear!

And so I discovered ‘Noddy’, Dick and Jane, and later ‘The Famous Five’. The beautiful girls’ annuals that had so many articles and stories helped foster my fascination with the British Royal Family. (Probably also because I was always told of my remarkable English grandmother (Parfitt) whom I never had the honour to meet – she died when I was 1.)
I had a good collection of my own books, and when friends came to play my favourite game was ‘library, library’. I used to write date taken / date due in my books and loan them out! I still have some of my books from those days, with my childish handwriting on the inside front cover, recording the details. 🙂

1970s – We had moved to Amanzimtoti, Natal in 1966 and settled in the small suburb of Athlone Park.

The view from the top of the sand dunes in Athlone Park.

The view from the top of the sand dunes in Athlone Park.

The small library was a weekend favourite, and on weekday afternoons for school projects.  As the teenage years progressed, it became a meeting place for friends and a get-away from parents. I remember one instance of “I’m going to the library with so-and-so” but we met up with guys and took a trip to the beach. Once we were caught out, that excuse never held up again. I had ruined my chances to visit my ‘quiet place of refuge’. It was the hippie era…rebelling was what you did. It was expected from all teenagers, and we complied with glee. At school (Kingsway Senior High) the library was a safe place from pressure, until it was ‘uncool’ to be seen there. It was believed that only the ‘misfits’ went to the library, and like a chameleon, I obliged by changing my colours, for fear of being ostracized.  Instead, solitary walks, for miles, along the beach became my refuge, the sea soothing my troubled teenage soul. In the final years of school I have only my English teacher, Mr. Jarvis, to thank for passing on his passion for Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and others, to me.

At the end of high school (apart from wishing I could marry Mr. Jarvis!) I joined my parents who had moved back to the Transvaal (Gauteng today).  Dad once again worked at the explosives factory. There was a small library on the factory estate, that we could visit. For lack of knowing what I wanted to do with my life, after being denied my dream of becoming an Air Hostess so that I could travel the world, I opted for the next best ‘easy’ option – a Home Economics Diploma. I can’t say it was a waste – three years of intense learning taught me much. But it wasn’t my passion. I do not know how I remained blind to the one thing that would have satisfied – librarianship. It never crossed my mind to study to be a librarian!

1980s – married to my best (penniless!) friend, working hard to make ends meet. We were living in Bloemfontein, a city in the Free State that was foreign to me. The city where JRR Tolkein was born. Strangely, I cannot recall paying one visit to the library in 3 years of living there. Perhaps there was little time for library visits. Perhaps pressure of a new marriage, perhaps because we were so happy just being together, but there seemed no need for books for leisure. (We were married a month before Diana and Charles in England. I remember charging down to the local shopping mall, where they screened the wedding live, served strawberries and cream and cucumber sandwiches, which we had to pay much for.)  We were married a month and my husband was sent to the bush war for a 30-day period, in Angola.  A sad, lonely time, best forgotten.

The old Raadsaal building

The old Raadsaal building

Bloemfontein was a beautiful city at the time, today it’s a mess! Horribly neglected and seemingly run-down. The Free State had the worst apartheid stigma at the time, I think, since Indians were not allowed to spend the night there. They had to drive through the province without stopping over. Ridiculous to say the least! Today it is infamous for corruption and mismanagement.

1990s – as a mother of two toddlers, fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom, the library visit was a regular event. Bliss for all three of us. At this point in time we were living in the Transvaal, in Kempton Park. The Kempton Park library was first an older, musty place, but was soon replaced with the more modern building they have today. How the kids enjoyed the library visits –  the books, the toys, small furniture and the happiness of the place. They still talk of their library visits as the highlight of their childhood.

Kempton Park library today(

And so to the 21st century – in 2001 we arrived in Doha, Qatar, as a family, supposedly for only a 2 year stint abroad, but here we are, 15 years later. I remember early in 2001 looking for the library in Doha, and shocked to find it was a place mostly frequented by men, poorly equipped with English books that seemed to come from the 30s and 40s. My son was 16, my daughter 13. We were gaped at on our visit, felt very uncomfortable, and never went back.

Doha, Qatar

Doha, Qatar


I promptly set about building up a library in the church that we attended in Doha.  By the time I handed over to the next person 7 yrs later, one shelf of donated books had become a room full of material of all types – fiction, non-fiction, self-help, children’s books, travel, devotionals, textbooks for homeschoolers, music, videos, DVDs, presentations, and more. The library was a pride and joy for everyone – a quiet place in the humdrum of church life.

Packing the shelves at Grace Fellowship.
Packing the shelves at Grace Fellowship.

Today we are looking forward to the brand new Qatar National Library to open in 2015(?), but already their resources have been invaluable to me for assignment writing. Fantastic resources available online. Thank you QNL!

In Jan 2007, we accompanied my daughter to begin her college education in Brisbane, Australia. We were given a tour through the campus, and the first stop was the library! There sat this calm, handsome, polite, young fella – as parents we both thought “if only she could meet someone like that”. We were not to know it then, but that chance encounter in the library, led to a marriage proposal 2 years later! (I need to find a pic of that day…I will soon!)

A personal note…
The age-old struggle between black and white in South Africa is well known. I have purposely not dwelled on the political history of South Africa. I was born into times of turmoil and change, but our family was far removed from the struggle and the activism, and with media regulations of the time, very little was known. Suffice to say that I do not agree with the concept of apartheid, and thankfully always remember my dad (who was a veteran from the 2nd World War) passing on his advice of justice, truth and equality for all. He demanded that we treat others with respect, regardless of race, creed or culture, and he led by example. The struggle continues today in South Africa, with reverse apartheid applied in many instances.
Nelson Mandela is recorded as saying: “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite…”.
We can only hope that the future of South Africa is built in love, forgiveness and acceptance.


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