This has been a spot in Joburg that has been on my “ to do list “ forever. I have always wanted to know what was going on in the world on the day I was born and curious about the newspapers then and of course, what does JHB City Library look like inside.

With great enthusiasm I decided to whisk myself and my four sons off to the library to share some of our heritage, introduce them to a grand library and show them how I did research when I was at school without Google and the internet.

Parking is not easy, when the library closed in 2009 for four years to undergo renovations the City Council sold the parking so the library officially has no parking, The Rea Vaya does stop just outside and there is some street parking but not recommend.

The library has just had a fence put up around it to keep the vagrants away from the building. One would think it it also there to help preserve the building and protect it from any form of vandalism when protests take place in the inner city.

On entering the building I had to stop and take in the splendour of the building. One can only imagine how many thousands of feet have passed through its doors to enjoy the silence and pleasure of engrossing themselves in the many shelves of literature. The large stained glass window above the main doors adds to the nostalgic feel reminding us of the great architecture that took place in JHB at its peak with the discovery of gold in Langlaate in 1886.

The library employs approximately 40 people and Mrs Shiburi is the head Librarian. The building that now houses the library opened in 1935. it was founded in March 1889 and opened to subscribers in June 1890, and continued the subscription library until July 1924 when it was transferred by the subscribers to the Johannesburg Town Council on condition that it was maintained as a free public library. It was the first major public library in South Africa to become a free lending library.


The library occupied different premises until in 1893 when it acquired its own land and building, formerly a Congregational chapel, in Kerk Street . In 1935 it moved to the building erected by the City Council on the former Market Square at a cost of 360 000 pounds.

William Steward, the Arts Librarian provides free tours of the library showing one around all the different rooms and explaining the history of the building. It is advisable to do this during the week as the library is only open until 13h00 on a Saturday and this is not enough time to enjoy the experience fully.

To keep up with modern times but still maintain the love for books and the ever yearning need for knowledge all 92 branches in Gauteng offer free wifi to entice the young. I was surprised at the number of students sitting upstairs studying and working on their own laptops.

All libraries still loan books on a free basis. Anyone wanting to become a member needs to produce their ID and proof of residence, a membership card can then be used at any of the branches in Gauteng. Books can be borrowed for up to 3 weeks as well as DVD’s from the City Centre branch. The loss of books continues to be a problem as people don’t return them or move. Reference books never leave the property and are closely monitored. Anyone doing research can do photocopies.

Photography is different story, there is no signage up that says “ no camera/ no photographs allowed “ but should you try and take any pictures even of plaques on the wall security approaches rapidly stating its not allowed. Any photos taken are to be paid for, R137 for an hour. This would include photos of the newsroom as the newspapers don’t fit into the copy machine.

This was the room that I had been so excited about visiting. The many large volumes holding bound copies of newspapers made me tingle with excitement. I wanted to sit all day and read them. The gentleman brought me the bound copies of The Star for February 1979. I couldn’t contain my excitement and briskly paged to the 14 February, on the day I was born headline news was “ Diplomat slain in kidnap” another front page story was “ Threats to whites in Chad “ . The only sign that it was valentines day was the red heart advert for Allied. The weather for the Transvaal was listed on the bottom right hand corner. I can say our newspapers have come a long way with more colour and more celebration for the happy moments in life. We seem to have found more balance. My boys were so intrigued by the big volumes that one of my twins even asked if he could buy a bound volume to take home. So hopefully the value of a library has left an imprint on them.

R.F Kennedy wrote a book titled The heart of a city. He was the deputy Librarian from 1921 until 1936 and the City Librarian from 1936 until 1960. This book is a reference book at the library in room 90 , known as the African Studies library. It is incredibly interesting and tells how the library was born into poverty, with many controversies and became the most progressive library in Southern Africa by the 1930’s. It shares information on the opening of different branches like Rosettenville Library in December 1938 and the first travelling library.

The final room of enjoyment for the day was the children’s room. I found all three of my younger boys sitting around a table paging through books. The room is colourful and bright with some beautiful wall art relating to child like characters which add to the imaginations that must run wild in room surrounded with so much mystery and adventure. Far off lands and space ships and talking worms are the order of the day here. The Librarian behind the counter suites this room, she wears a bright head scarf and smiles from ear to ear giving the children a feeling of warmth and security.


This proud building should not be over looked by anyone, young or old. It is filled with 40km of shelving and 1,5 million volumes in the reference Library and its Underground Stacks. No matter the subject of the book there is a reader for every one. If we want to expand our minds and knowledge we should never stop reading.