Today Massmart’s second Urban Bookshelf was launched in the township of Alexandra. The project, aimed at increasing access to books, is the second in a series of planned free miniature libraries across Johannesburg to promote reading and improve literacy. The first library was opened at Phefeni Recreation Centre in Orlando, Soweto in July 2017 and featured design work by renowned graffiti artist Rasik Green aka Mr Ekse.
The most recent library, at Atrec Recreation Centre in Alexandra, is more of a striking public artwork that functions as a free miniature library. To help the structure evolve, Massmart commissioned Sifiso Gumede, an acclaimed emerging artist and Alexandra local. Gumede is part of a collective focusing on art in schools and creating more exhibition opportunities to ensure their vision of Alexandra is enjoyed by everybody.
Gumede’s etchings, which explore the notion of township education and lack of resources to meet the educational needs, have been superimposed onto screenings placed around the structure. This collaboration has provided him with a permanent exhibition space in the community he grew up in.
Massmart Brand and Corporate Communication Executive, Phumzile Siboza says: “Massmart envisions the libraries as centres for individuals to gather, learn, explore and interact. But more than anything these libraries are based on community and trust. There is no staff policing you, no membership cards or fines. The idea is to take a book, read it at your own leisure and return it when you’re done. Based on feedback from the first one in Soweto, most people return the books.”
The durably constructed library is 2.8m high and is made up of powder coated steel boxes that ensure that the books are protected from all the elements. The structure can store between 450 and 500 books and is tailored to children, young adults and adults; carrying books across eight genres, namely: African Fiction, General Fiction, Non-Fiction, Current Affairs & Politics, Law & Business, Self Help & Motivation. Massmart has partnered with major publishers Jacana and Jonathan Ball, to ensure the library remains well stocked with a diverse range of reading material. To ensure that the books cater to the local taste of readers in the community Massmart conducted extensive research that consisted of deploying field researchers to survey community members.
Commenting on his involvement in the project, Gumede says: “I strongly believe that books are weapons to succeed and overcome obstacles in life. The location is perfect because the vicinity has three schools close by. Easy access to the library will encourage not only learners to read more but everyone in my community.”