Save our libraries!

Daryn Wood

NELSON Mandela Bay’s municipal libraries are in a sorry state and are severely affecting pupils who need to use them for homework and research.
A mini survey by Algoa Sun found none of the computers in the 14 libraries visited were in working order, while limited operating hours – due to a labour dispute that has been going on for more than two years – means restricted access to the facilities.
The majority of the city’s 23 libraries close at 1pm on Fridays and none of them are open on Saturdays or Sundays – times when pupils need to use the facilities most, according to NGOs and education experts.
And while the condition of books is generally good – apart from some with torn pages – the majority of the books at the libraries visited by Algoa Sun were old and sometimes outdated.
Zingisa Sofayiya of Masifunde, a youth development organisation operating in Walmer Township, said the opening hours of city libraries was “counterproductive” as many pupils only got the chance to visit a library over the weekend and work on their research projects.
Sofayiya said pupils usually finished school at 2pm during the week after which they often had afternoon activities and sports as well as other commitments.
“It is therefore only logical to have such facilities open to learners on weekends.”
She said many pupils still used libraries for research.
“In our experience, the learners in Walmer Township do not have access to the internet to do projects, and when they want to do their projects, the only tool they have is the library.”
School principals have also expressed their concern over the opening times.
Coselelani Secondary School principal in Motherwell NU9, Mzandile Njenje, said it had had a “very negative affect” on the pupils.
“These libraries are the students’ main resource in terms of research and it is being taken away on the weekends when they need it most,” he said.
Gelvandale’s Rufane Donkin principal Nico Lottering said: “It is a major problem as the children are unable to do their work after school.
“For instance, if the children get homework on a Friday, they can’t complete it for the Monday as they are required to do research,” he said.
“Pupils are unable to do this because many of them do not have access to the internet and rely on the libraries.
“Projects contribute a large percentage of the pupils’ overall marks. And now it is even harder for them to achieve good results.”
Morningside High School principal Mbulelo Mdangayi said the school had a library but the books were outdated and the school could not afford to buy new ones.
“It is a necessity for the library operating hours to be extended,” said Mdangayi. “The weekend is the only time the children really have to work on projects and study. And now they can’t even put it to good use.”
Municipal spokesman Ongama Mtimka was unable to give any details of the dispute and whether or not any solution was likely to be reached in the near future.
SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) provincial spokesman Siphiwo Ndunyana said the dispute was a result of the workers not being compensated for working overtime.
“We don’t mind working the 40 hour week that spills over into the weekend as long as the hours fall within those 40 hours.”
He said anything over that should be overtime.
With regards to computers at libraries, Mtimka said the municipality was busy with a “smart city project” that would see all the libraries getting access to the internet and e-mail for the general public.
The public will have access to e-books and will be able to print documents, said Mtimka, but he could not give any details of when the project would be implemented, how much it wold cost or where funding was coming from.
Additional reporting by Bobbi Sands, Tremaine van Aart and Mkhululi Ndamase.

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