The City of Cape Town's libraries offer more than just books and journals as they did in the past – nowadays they also offer easy and free access to the Internet, allowing residents to get up to speed with the digital age.
Almost all of Cape Town's libraries offer public access to computers with free Internet as part of the SmartCape Public Access programme.
According to Naziem Hardy, Library Marketing and Research Officer, Library and Information Services Department, residents can use the City's public libraries for accessing the Internet and for word processing, such as typing up projects or CVs. All that is needed is a library card, which allows the cardholder to access a computer for a 45 minute session. Some libraries offer bookings for sessions, while others work on a first-come-first-served basis.
"Internet access is a major starting point for our libraries, and it's a great boost that it's for free. Around the world, others are only starting to look at providing free internet access at libraries, and we're already doing it," he says.
The main Central Library also offers wi fi, so library users can come with their laptops and access the Internet in study areas. There is a cap on the amount used, in order to prevent large downloads. "The free wi fi works very well, there is a clamour of access to free wi fi, so this works well in the library's favour," Hardy said.
The Central Library also has a small selection of books on MP3 format at present, and the City’s Library Department looking at expanding this to other libraries in the future.
Most libraries do however offer books on CD as well. These are popular with those who don't have time to sit and read a book, but can play it in the background while at home or in the car.
The City has 103 libraries, of which 98 offer electronic resources, such as access to World Book Online's three encyclopaedic databases. This is the electronic equivalent of the 26 volumes of the physical encyclopaedia set. There are three versions – World Book Kids, World Book Student, and World Book Advanced.
These internationally acclaimed databases offer residents and scholars an outstanding learning facility and help to reduce the digital divide which adversely impacts on economic and social development in the country, says Hardy.
In addition, the Central Library has additional electronic offerings, such as other encyclopaedias and specialised resources focusing on areas such as business and law. These were made available through a Carnegie grant that the library received.
"One of the biggest problems with adding more computers to libraries is space," explains Hardy. "Most libraries were not built with this in mind and can only fit in about five PCs, but Central and a new library to be opened in Harare in Khayelitsha next year have been designed to accommodate more PCs."
The Central library is also in the process of training staff how to use software it has bought with assistance from the Carnegie Grant to assist the blind and deaf.
Meanwhile, libraries across Cape Town are offering a Holiday Programme for schoolchildren during January, including puppet shows, story-telling, arts and crafts, DVD screenings, games and other activities.
Published by Martin Pollack
Source: Cape Town Government