The South African Library for the Blind, the only Library servicing blind persons in Southern Africa, celebrated 100 years in operation on Thursday, 28 March 2019.
The day kicked off with a book launch of the book titled South African Library for the Blind – A Diary of the Library. The book is the library’s first internal publication and it seeks to commemorate and celebrate the history of the library since inception. The day culminated in a gala dinner hosted in Makhanda to commemorate this milestone.
The library was founded during the height of the 1918 global Influenza pandemic by a local nurse, Josephine (Josie) Wood, established a small library in a little room in her house in 1919.
“The growth since then has been tremendous. We currently have mini-libraries in each province to service the local communities, with our primary focus being on providing equal access to information in accessible formats that improves the quality of life of blind and visually impaired people, at absolutely no cost to the user,” said Francois Hendrikz, Director, South African Library for the Blind. “The library is an entity of the Department of Arts and Culture and we would like to acknowledge the impact that the department has made on the lives of blind people.
“We further extend heartfelt gratitude to our keynote speaker, the honorable Advocate Tshililo Michael Masutha (MP), Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, who promises to further advocate for the rights of blind people,” he said.
Dr Rowland said the book launched by the library made history as it was launched in braille, audio and electronic format simultaneously. “As a member myself, having joined when I was 8, I can speak on behalf of fellow blind people and say the Library has been active in making true the following words by Helen Keller, who said that the wonder of Braille is to touch words and to be touched back by them.”
Bele Netshineni, who has been a member of the library since 2014, says the library has had a huge positive impact on her life.
“I was not born blind. I was a teacher for 22 years prior to becoming blind five years ago. I suddenly felt stuck. I felt my life was over as I could no longer carry on with my life as per the norm. I soon realised I needed to redesign my life. The Library has gone above my expectations in that it is currently assisting me with my studies. I am studying towards my Masters, which I thought was a dream that would probably never come true for me,” said Netshineni.
“I am very grateful for the library staff who have been patient with me before I relearned how to use a computer, for example. I never for a second thought I could be normal again. Due to the hard work the Library has put into making access to information an ease for me, I can now grow to bigger heights. May the library continue making other lives as meaningful as they have made mine,” she said.
Audio narrators, transcribers, copy typists and proofreaders who volunteer their time at the Library were honored at the gala dinner. “Without the volunteers we would not have over 42 365 audio titles (8 473 unique titles) and 26 164 Braille titles (4 314 unique titles). It is truly an honour to work with the team of people who assist us to service our members,” said Hendrikz.