Hout Bay senior librarian Desiree Howard believes a library should be a dynamic place, and has set about introducing programmes to suit young and old.
Returning to Hout Bay library in the role of senior librarian is a dream come true for Ms Howard, who took up the post at the beginning of the year.
Some 20 years ago, after 10 years of working at an academic library in Johannesburg, she acted in a relief capacity at Hout Bay library and immediately fell in love with the architecture of the building. Two decades on, none of that feeling has waned.
“I love the combination of wood and glass, which is complimented by the surrounding natural beauty that the library is situated in,” she said.
“When I was offered the opportunity to be the senior librarian at Hout Bay after four years in the same role at Ravensmead Library, I grabbed it with both hands. It’s an absolute pleasure to do what I love doing in the kind of environment that I love being in.”
Born on a farm called Kleinvlei in the Western Cape, Ms Howard moved with her parents to the southern suburbs at the age of seven, spending her formative years in Fairways and matriculating from Wynberg Senior Secondary School.
She recalled that at the tender age of four she was given her own membership card at Lansdowne library, where she remains a member.
“This is where my love for reading started. I can still remember some of the books I read as a child. I completed my BA in Information Science through Unisa where I majored in information science, applied information science and psychology.
“My pet subjects are psychology and philosophy and one of my favourite authors is Edward De Bono. I’m very passionate about information and am very curious about the world I live in, our journey as human beings and what makes us behave or function the way we do.”
She believes information was an applied science, and that people used it to learn about our environment and then improve the condition of their lives.
“For me the gift of my job is that I’m surrounded by information and brilliant minds every day. Most people have to make a special trip to go to the library to get the resources they need. My special trip means coming in to work.”
Her key motivation in becoming a librarian was to help herself find “whatever I’m looking for or want to know more about”.
“I’m also a people person and so find complete job satisfaction when I connect the person with the information they’re looking for and when they get that same amount of joy that I get; that joy is what makes me passionate about what I do.”
She described the library as “special”, not only on account of its aesthetics, but because the community, staff and Friends of the Hout Bay Library “bring it to life”.
“The Hout Bay community are avid readers and reading a variety of topics and genres brings an interesting dimension to the development of our collection. However, building a vibrant collection is only useful if people are coming in to use it.”
Since taking the helm, Ms Howard has set about implementing programmes that seek to make the library a vibrant gathering point for young and old.
“For example, during SA Library Week we had an author talk with a practical component where attendees had an opportunity to try their hand at creative writing. We hope this can become a regular feature at the library,” she said.
“We have storytelling every week at 10am on a Thursday where toddlers come and listen to stories read by the staff and sing along to nursery rhymes.
“During the school holidays we arrange a variety of holiday programmes for children between the ages of one to around 10.
“The library also arranges educational talks where staff arrange with various organisations to come and speak on a topic of interest to the community.
“In April, we had SANCCOB (The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) give a talk about penguins. “A literacy reading programme is run every afternoon at the library by volunteers for children from Grade 2 who need assistance with their reading.”
While the library continues to enjoy the support of the community, Ms Howard was under no illusions that the internet had made an impact on traditional reading trends.
“Libraries have always experienced challenges since the beginning of time, it’s just been about different things. Currently, technology and lifestyle has become the challenge. People need information immediately and so can’t trek off to the library every time they needed to know something.
“We also live in a disposable society and it is too costly to throw books away when you don’t need it any longer. Budgets are another challenge. Hardcopies have become too expensive and budgets are shrinking. Most challenges in life are overcome by being adaptable; some things must change and some things must not. A library, for example, has to be quiet but not necessarily silent so that one can concentrate on what you’re reading.”
That being said, it was her view that libraries would still play a significant role in people’s lives.
“In my opinion, there’s a place for both libraries and the internet. There will always be people who prefer the internet as much as there will be people who prefer a book.
“The internet, being technology-based, and the book is the medium through which we receive the information we’re looking for. I use both but it depends on what information I’m looking for.
“The internet has helped us to cut down on having to buy a book even if we only need some of the information.
“For example, a recipe book can cost R300 and I only need some of the recipes.
“However, if I wanted to know how to host a dinner party with all kinds of tips and ideas I’d want to use a book where it’s all laid out concisely where I can get an immediate overall glimpse and flip between pages without scrolling and advertising.”
“I’d also rather read the hardcopy of Edward De Bono than on the internet because if I wanted the make a ‘note to self’ I can do so and also I can flip between pages. I can also compare one author’s writing to another with both books open in front of me, which can’t be done with the internet.”