Saturday, 2 August 2014

Is Cape Town's Best Library in Milnerton?

Back in the good old days, if I discovered something remarkable, I'd share it with you by text (assuming I knew how to write and you knew how to read), on a postcard (assuming the ship delivered it). These days we have blogs and cameraphones, so let me share one of the most remarkable discoveries of my life with you.

If you're not in South Africa this might not seem like a big deal to you, but today I discovered the best South African municipal library I have *ever* seen: the Milnerton library


From the outside, you'll agree it's pretty unassuming. As a new arrival in Milnerton I only discovered it through Google (it's not on a main public route), and from the outside it's not exactly promising of literary delight. The context here, let's face it, is that most South African libraries are pretty depressing places, laden with ancient books (if you ever want to know how to operate Windows 1995 you're in luck), and normally poorly-lit and cramped.

I think the Milnerton Library's exterior style can best be described as 'missile-silo chic', and it even comes with one of those quaintly-lettered signboards in a font you still see gracing numerous State buildings from the 1980s. Not a good start then.


Walk inside, and you're greeted by... err, what? This wasn't expected.


Pass through the turn-style, and you enter Charlie's Chocolate Factory for book lovers. Space and light!


Symmetry!


Display shelves!


And don't ask me WHERE they got this guy, enticing you to a themed section on Egypt.


Trust me, I could continue. The staff I dealt with were friendly and exuding a quiet aura of pride over their workplace. The computer I used to access the library catalogue actually worked, and had a conveniently placed chair to sit on. And, the most important part of all: my wife and I walked out with our arms loaded with books we actually WANTED to read, including several newer titles, rather than just grabbing the least faded titles.

It was a revelation, and simultaneously a sad indictment for what's happened to the library system in other parts of the country due to constant budget cuts and low staff morale. My deepest admiration and thanks goes to the library staff and municipality for their effort and innovation in creating this degree of order and pleasure in a chaotic environment and ... to a large extent, country.

Given how unexpected this find was I also cannot swear that Milnerton Library is the BEST library in Cape Town, or possibly even all of South Africa, but I'd be willing to take a bet on both of those scores.

PS: As a side-note, I later learned that the online catalogue system I used was known as the City of Cape Town's Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC), and in addition to seeing whether specific titles you're interested in are available in which library, you can also renew your library books electronically. 

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