The public library as a critical institution in South Africa's democracy : a reflection
Article published in the online open access journal LIBRIS, Curtin University, Perth, West Australia
South Africa came out of apartheid rule in 1994. This transition has brought with it its own set of challenges including that of access to information, an essential pillar in upholding a democracy. In this transitional period, South Africa is reliant on every possible institution to contribute to the growth of its fledgling democracy. It is clearly evident from the literature that democratic societies are dependent on such institutions as public libraries to uphold fundamental principles of democracy. This paper reflects on the public library, within the South African context, as an essential institution in the growth and sustainability of democracy through equitable access to information and knowledge. The paper discusses issues such as the public library and its role in equitable access to information, the contradictory environments within South Africa, recreational reading and the public library scenario, lifelong learning, and the public library and the educational system. Other issues such as support for indigenous materials and adult literacy are also addressed in the paper. The authors conclude that the real concern in South Africa today is the gulf between the “haves”, of any colour, and the “have-nots” and the capacity of the public library to bridge that gap via its contribution to the reduction of illiteracy, poverty and unemployment, the scourge of Africa and South Africa. It is a given that public libraries play a critical role in the propagation of democracy, especially in a continent that has been plagued by dictatorships and military rule.