The newly renovated library offers a range of treasures – Africana, reference works for high school students, books on fine art, 19th century newspapers, maps, music and more.
THE first consignment of books received by the library in 1890 was noteworthy more for its binding than its literary or educational content. The selection of the first 1 033 volumes had been left to the “best judgment” of Mudies, a firm of London book merchants. The books arrived, via Cape Town and Kimberley, by ox-wagon in all their finery – and finely bound in brown half-pigskin with the title, author and name of the library embossed in gold. Today, only 30 volumes have survived and are preserved as a reminder of the library’s humble beginnings.
Kelmscott Chauser, donated to the Library in 1952 by Nicholas Monsarrat, Author of 'The Cruel Sea'Kelmscott Chauser, donated to the Library in 1952 by Nicholas Monsarrat, Author of 'The Cruel Sea'The mistake that the first Library Committee had made by leaving the selection of the consignment of books to the discretion of the booksellers was not one to be repeated. Down the years books have, and still are, selected with extreme care. Their expense demands it – and it remains the Library’s responsibility to maintain a good balance of reference material as well as popular fiction.
Very often the books given to the library are unobtainable and sometimes extremely valuable. The earliest recorded gifts to the library were the two volumes of Stanley’s classic “In Darkest Africa” donated in 1891. One other instance which must be mentioned was the gift of a Kelmscott Chaucer, donated to the library in 1952 by Nicholas Montserrat, author of The Cruel Sea. The book is actually one of only 48 copies ever printed, and its extreme rarity is further enhanced by an inscription it contains to Miss May Morris, daughter of the famous printer, William Morris.
The special collection comprises of the Harold Strange Library of African Studies and the Children’s Book Collection.
The Harold Strange Library of African Studies is one of South Africa’s major collections of Africana, concentrating on material south of the Zambezi River. Attracting researchers, authors, historians and genealogists from around the world, it is named after the Africana collector Harold Strange, whose collection was purchased as the nucleus of the library in 1913. The collection includes material on every conceivable aspect of Southern African social and political history and comprises manuscripts, private papers, books, periodicals, pamphlets, maps, newspapers and newspaper cuttings, photographs and theatre programmes. Strong points of the collections include African languages, literature and ethnology, Afrikaans language and literature, South African English literature, Anglo-Boer War (including original diaries), history of the Witwatersrand and especially Johannesburg and original maps of Africa from the 15th to 20th centuries.
There is a large collection of rare and beautiful exploration, travel, botanical and zoological books from the 15th century onwards, including a Ptolemy Geography, Van Linschoten’s Travels, Captain Cook’s voyages, Le Vaillant’s travels in the Cape and his Birds of Africa, and the unique volume of original paintings, Iconesplantarum et animalium (Pictures of plants and animals) of the 18th century Cape traveler Hendrik Claudius.
Kelmscott Chauser by Nicholas MonsarratKelmscott Chauser by Nicholas MonsarratThe extensive map collection comprises illustrated and hand-coloured maps of Africa and Southern Africa from the 15th century onwards, including such items as Jan Nieuhof: Caart van de Cabo de Bona Esperanca (1660), John Thornton: Draught of Cape Bona Esperanca (1702) and Johannes de Keulen: In de Baay Falso, and Robben Eyland (1734). Also of great interest to researchers are maps of early Johannesburg, Anglo-Boer War campaigns and the pioneering gold mines of the Witwatersrand.
The library keeps the collection up-to-date with biographies of prominent Africans, works on the decolonisation of Africa since 1960, the development of Africa since independence, political parties and other aspects of contemporary Southern Africa.
The research-oriented specialist Children’s Book Collection is a reference collection of children’s books and books and periodicals about children and their books, intended for researchers and those working with children and their books. It includes the Mavis Anderson Collection of historic children’s books dating from the 18th century, and a comprehensive collection of well-loved classics of children’s literature. It has a number of rare volumes printed on private presses and some examples of fine binding.
One of the outcomes of the library upgrade project was the opportunity to bring the two collections together. They are now housed in beautiful wooden book shelves behind locked glass doors on the third and top floor of the library that also holds most of the antique furniture of the early days. Temperature-controlled glass enclosures are also being constructed on the third floor for the safekeeping of the most precious of the Africana Collection.
The Seymour Memorial Library of Science and Technology which was incorporated into the Reference Collection in 1927 is considered to be one of the finest scientific collections in South Africa. Founded in memory of an extraordinary man, Major Louis Irving Seymour, one time chief mechanical engineer at Rand Mines, this library was originally independent and controlled by trustees. Between 1908 and 1927 it was housed in the now University of the Witwatersrand until the trust was passed on to the City Council. The strength of the Seymour Library lies in its sets of serials, reports of conferences and government reports from every corner of the world, stock which is constantly supplemented by many scientific and technical societies.
The Reference Collection has materials ranging from practical handbooks to advanced scientific treatises, in areas not covered by the Art, Performing Arts and Africana Collections. A total of over one million items are housed in the reference collection and its underground stacks of 40 kilometer shelving, including back issues of over 6 000 journal titles and approximately 1 500 current journal titles. Items are retrieved from the underground stack by a computerised book transportation system. Some of the special collections include Government Publications, Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies’ annual reports, British, ISO and South African Standards, Statistics South Africa Reports, and a map collection. The philatelic collection, of which a portion was housed for the past three years at the Sandton Library, will be returned to the library to re-instate and complete the collection. The Municipal Reference Library established in 1938 and situated in the Civic Centre was closed in 2011 to be incorporated in the Reference Collection from 2012.
The reference services at the library also include the extremely busy Young Adult Reference Collection and Services that was established as far back as 1973 and aims to provide reference material to high school pupils to supplement their textbooks and provide sources for school project work. In addition, study guides and past exam papers are provided.
The Reference Services also include the Newspaper Cuttings Collection (currently being digitised) that covers historical, biographical and sociological topics pertaining to Southern Africa with emphasis on Johannesburg and environs. The new era of digitisation, begun in 2008, brings the prospect of greater access to the cuttings collection by the public. The Newspaper Collection is also part of the Reference Services and consists of 13 000 bound volumes. Historic holdings include the South African Commercial Advertiser from 1824, Grahamstown Journal from 1831, Natal Mercury from 1852 as well as a wide range of current South African daily papers. Other Reference Services include electronic access to information and electronic databases, the Internet and digitised library material, as well as providing the inter-library loan service. In addition there is electronic access to numerous international and local databases.
The most important outcomes of the library upgrading project are the extension of the Young Adult Reference services from one to two rooms (Project Room and Study Room). Three centre extensions to provide an Internet access area, an exhibition/youth area as well as additional study and wi-fi access areas have been added as mezzanine floors to the reference and lending sections.
The Art Collection includes the Michaelis Art Collection and the Performing Art Collection. The Michaelis Art Collection is named after Sir Max Michaelis, who donated £1 000 for art books in 1912, forming the nucleus of the collection. The collection and services focus on the visual arts in the broadest sense, including painting, drawing, sculpture, graphic and industrial design, photography, ceramics, crafts, architecture, interior design, furniture, fashion and jewellery. There is a comprehensive collection of South African art and architecture, including rare out-of-print books, journals and press cuttings. The breadth and depth of the collection makes it a popular research library for students of art, architecture, fashion and interior design as well as artists, academics and members of the public who love the visual arts. Art classes are arranged by the library staff.
The Performing Arts Collection (Music) had humble beginnings. It grew from a few tiers of bound scores in the Lending Collection, later supplemented by several reference works. Only from 1950 onwards was a sum allocated to the purchase of scores and then, in 1953, the Music Collection acquired all the orchestral scores of the disbanded City orchestra. The collection caters for the public at all levels, from the absolute beginner and amateur musician and performer to the fully-qualified professional, orchestras and choirs. The collection comprises books on music, theatre, dance and film, an extensive sheet music collection, including chamber music, sacred, opera, orchestral, libretti, and miniature scores. There is a comprehensive compact disc collection ranging from early to modern music, African traditional, jazz, pop and even sound effects. Listening stations are available for the public. The film collection has a wide range of local and international DVDs; viewing stations and a television are provided.
The Music Collection is still closed and will only re-open to the public in June 2012. This is due to the specially designed furniture that is currently being manufactured.
All ages and interests are catered for, from picture books and story books for toddlers to books for primary and high school pupils and adults. There are books in African languages, books for new literates, for young adults, and books in large print. Reference works in the Children’s Section are geared to assist primary school pupils with their school projects. The non-fiction collection covers virtually every subject under the sun and the fiction stock ranges from classics to the latest literary works and best-sellers. The lending services are free of charge.
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