National Library of South Africa

The National Library of South Africa is the agency of the government of South Africa which maintains a national library of all published materials relating to the country.

Staats-Bibliotheek der Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek
National Library of South Africa
Cape Town, ZA
National Library of South Africa, Cape Town campus (old postcard)
CountrySouth Africa
TypeNational Library and Public Library
LocationCape Town and Pretoria
Other information
DirectorMs E R Tise


In 1818, Lord Charles Somerset, the Cape Colony's first civil Governor, issued a proclamation to control the wine trade, imposing a tax on wine brought into Cape Town for sale. The net proceeds would be used to form a Public Library which should "lay the foundation of a system, which shall place the means of knowledge within reach of the youth of this remote corner of the Globe," (presuming a globe hath corners) "and bring within their reach what the most eloquent of ancient writers has considered to be one of the first blessings of life, 'Home Education'."[1] Since that time, South Africa's library development was bifurcated although the library in Cape Town was the original establishment.The most likely model for Cape Town's "Public Library" was the London Institution (established in 1805 in the style of an Athenaeum).[1]

The Library's first significant acquisition was the collection of Joachim Nicolaus von Dessin, who bequeathed his books to the Dutch Reformed Church in 1761 to serve as the foundation of a public library. In 1820 the board of trustees decided to donate the Dessinian Collection to the new library. Other notable donations followed over the years, among others Sir George Grey who when he left South Africa in 1861 presented the Library with his remarkable personal collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and rare books. In 1873 the South African Public Library became a legal deposit library for the Cape Colony, and from 1916 it received all printed items published throughout the country. The Library continued as a legal deposit library until 1954, when this function was taken over by the City of Cape Town. From then on it began to develop its unique character as a national reference library devoted to research based on its extensive stock, with a concurrent name change in 1967 to the South African Library.[2]

Diplomat Edmund Roberts visited the library, then called the South African Library around 1833 and described it as "once the pride and boast of the colony." He noted that the library had approximately 10,000 volumes and called it a "highly creditable place."[3]

The State Library

The "Staats-Bibliotheek der Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek" (State Library of the South African Republic) came into being thanks to a donation of books from the Maatschappij der Nederlandsche Letterkunde. These books consisted of a complete library of Dutch works, mainly Dutch literature and language, to the Transvaal Republic's government. The first consignment of eight chests of books arrived in 1883, including a chest from the Dutch Bible Society. On 21 September 1887 the Transvaal government approved the constitution of the Staats-Bibliotheek. As Pretoria began to grow in size, there arose a need for a public library. The first Pretoria Public Library had opened its doors in 1878, but because of ongoing financial problems was closed down in 1890. In 1893 strong public support and a collection of 700 saw another public library arise, this time under the wing of the Staats-Bibliotheek and with the bookstock of the former Public Library. From that time onward until 1964, the State Library performed a dual role as public library and national library. The first national librarian, the Afrikaans poet Jan Celliers, saw exchange agreements as a means of enriching the State Library's collections. The first exchange agreement was entered into in 1898 with the Smithsonian Institution of Washington in the United States. In terms of the agreement the State Library would receive all American official publications in exchange for two copies of each official publication of the South African republic. From the early thirties under the guidance of the visionary national librarian Matthew Stirling, the State Library began to develop the character of a central library for South Africa, taking on functions such as striving for a national library lending system and a centre for bibliographical information.[2]

Modern consolidation

Librería Nacional, Ciudad del Cabo, Sudáfrica, 2018-07-19, DD 09
Contemporary view of the entrance to the library in Cape Town.

Until 1 November 1999, for historical reasons, South Africa had two national libraries, the South African Library, founded in 1818, in Cape Town, and the State Library, founded in 1887, in Pretoria. In terms of South African legal deposit legislation, each of the national libraries was a legal deposit library, entitled to receive from the publishers a gratis copy of every book, serial, newspaper, government publication or other printed item published in South Africa. In South Africa legal deposit, in some form or another, dates back to 1842. As a result, extensive collections of material of great scholarly value have been built up in the former national libraries. During the 1990s the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology began a review of all legislation under its jurisdiction, including the National Libraries Act, No 56 of 1985. The Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in 1996 appointed a Working Group on the National Libraries of South Africa to advise him on the future of the two national libraries. The most important recommendation of the Working Group was that the two national libraries be amalgamated to form a dual-site (Cape Town and Pretoria) national library, to be known as the National Library of South Africa.[2][4]

Creation under the National Library Act

National Library of South Africa, Pretoria
Entrance foyer of the new, 2008, National Library, Pretoria

The National Library of South Africa's core national library functions are described in Section 4 subsection 1 of the National Library Act, No 92 of 1998, and cover the following broad areas:

  • to build up a complete collection of published documents emanating from or relating to South Africa;
  • to maintain and extend any other collections of published and unpublished documents with the emphasis on documents emanating from or relating to Southern Africa;
  • to promote the optimal management of collections of published documents held in South African libraries as a national resource; and to render a national bibliographic service and to act as the national bibliographic agency;
  • to promote optimal access to published documents, nationally and internationally;
  • to provide reference and information services, nationally and internationally;
  • to act as the national preservation library and to provide conservation services on a national basis;
  • to promote awareness and appreciation of the national published documentary heritage; and
  • to promote information awareness and information literacy.

See also


  1. ^ a b Coates, P. (2012). WAS THE SOUTH AFRICAN LIBRARY AN ATHENAEUM?. Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa, 66(4), 11–23.
  2. ^ a b c National Library of South Africa: Where We Come From. Retrieved from
  3. ^ Roberts, Edmund (1837). Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 396.
  4. ^ Sebe, J. (2009). "Foreword: Celebrating the tenth anniversary of the National Library of South Africa". Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa, 63 (3/4), 51–54.


External links

Charles Davidson Bell

Charles Davidson Bell FRSE (22 October 1813 – 7 April 1882) was the Surveyor-General in the Cape Colony, an artist, heraldist, and designer of Cape medals and stamps.

Company's Garden

The Company's Garden is a park and heritage site located in central Cape Town. The garden was originally created in the 1650s by the region's first European settlers and provided fertile ground to grow fresh produce to replenish ships rounding the Cape. It is watered from the Molteno Dam, which uses water from the springs on the lower slopes of Table Mountain.

History of libraries in South Africa

The history of libraries in South Africa had its start with libraries formed for private use which later were made available for the general public. In 1761, the most extensive of these early private collections, owned by Joachim von Dessin, the secretary of the Orphan Chamber, was left to the Cape consistory of the Dutch Reformed Church specifically to form the basis of a public library for the advantage of the community.The National Library of South Africa was the first library to be established in South Africa by proclamation on 20 March 1818 by Lord Charles Somerset when he stipulated that a wine tax would be levied to pay for it.The issuing of the "Molteno Regulations", in the Cape Colony in 1874, was a turning point in the development of public libraries in southern Africa. Their provision of a pound-for-pound government grant for the establishment and maintenance of libraries - even in rural areas - led to the Cape Colony having one of the greatest concentrations of libraries anywhere in the world. Due to their simplicity and success, the regulations were adopted elsewhere in southern Africa, especially after union in 1910, and remained in force until 1955.

International Standard Book Number

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.An ISBN is assigned to each edition and variation (except reprintings) of a book. For example, an e-book, a paperback and a hardcover edition of the same book would each have a different ISBN. The ISBN is 13 digits long if assigned on or after 1 January 2007, and 10 digits long if assigned before 2007. The method of assigning an ISBN is nation-based and varies from country to country, often depending on how large the publishing industry is within a country.

The initial ISBN identification format was devised in 1967, based upon the 9-digit Standard Book Numbering (SBN) created in 1966. The 10-digit ISBN format was developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and was published in 1970 as international standard ISO 2108 (the SBN code can be converted to a ten-digit ISBN by prefixing it with a zero digit "0").

Privately published books sometimes appear without an ISBN. The International ISBN agency sometimes assigns such books ISBNs on its own initiative.Another identifier, the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), identifies periodical publications such as magazines and newspapers. The International Standard Music Number (ISMN) covers musical scores.

International Standard Serial Number

An International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) is an eight-digit serial number used to uniquely identify a serial publication, such as a magazine. The ISSN is especially helpful in distinguishing between serials with the same title. ISSN are used in ordering, cataloging, interlibrary loans, and other practices in connection with serial literature.The ISSN system was first drafted as an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) international standard in 1971 and published as ISO 3297 in 1975. ISO subcommittee TC 46/SC 9 is responsible for maintaining the standard.

When a serial with the same content is published in more than one media type, a different ISSN is assigned to each media type. For example, many serials are published both in print and electronic media. The ISSN system refers to these types as print ISSN (p-ISSN) and electronic ISSN (e-ISSN), respectively. Conversely, as defined in ISO 3297:2007, every serial in the ISSN system is also assigned a linking ISSN (ISSN-L), typically the same as the ISSN assigned to the serial in its first published medium, which links together all ISSNs assigned to the serial in every medium.

Knot of Stone

Knot of Stone: the day that changed South Africa’s history is a 2011 historical murder mystery written by South African/Dutch author Nicolaas Vergunst.

Legal deposit

Legal deposit is a legal requirement that a person or group submit copies of their publications to a repository, usually a library. The requirement is mostly limited to books and periodicals. The number of copies varies and can range from one to 19 (in Poland). Typically, the national library is one of the repositories of these copies. In some countries there is also a legal deposit requirement placed on the government, and it is required to send copies of documents to publicly accessible libraries.

In the year 2000, UNESCO published recommendations for the construction of legal deposit legislation.

Leslie Casson

Leslie Frank Casson (1903–1969) was a mediaevalist and art historian. Born in England, he was professor of English Language and Medieval Literature at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, from 1952–68, where he was also head of the department. His area of interest extended from Latin manuscripts to the poetry of Edmund Spenser. He also worked on the manuscripts in the Grey Collection, the library bequeathed by George Grey to the National Library of South Africa; it comprises 5,000 volumes, including 115 manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. For the Early English Text Society, he edited the Middle English romance Sir Degrevant.

Library and Information Association of South Africa

The Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) is a professional non-profit organization, representing all institutions and people working in libraries and information services in South Africa. .

List of libraries

This is an alphabetical list of notable libraries around the world. It includes both notable public lending libraries and research libraries.

Minister of Arts and Culture

The Minister of Arts and Culture is a Minister of the Cabinet of South Africa who is responsible for overseeing the Department of Arts and Culture. The portfolio was created on 29 April 2004 on the appointment of the second Cabinet of President Thabo Mbeki, when the Arts, Culture, Science and Technology portfolio was divided into two. As of 26 May 2014 the incumbent minister is Nathi Mthethwa and his deputy is Maggie Sotyu.

National Archives and Records Service of South Africa

National Archives and Records Service — institutional network, operating on a centralized and decentralized provincial basis under central government control. The National Archives and Records Service of South Africa was established by passing of the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act in 1996.

Peter Johan Lor

Peter Johan Lor was born in the Netherlands and emigrated to South Africa. He did his studies in Librarianship and Library Science at the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Pretoria in South Africa and at the University of Caen in France. He received a B.Bibl. Honors (an honors degree in Library Science) from the University of Stellenbosch as well as a Masters in Library Science from the University of Pretoria. He also was granted his D.Phil. in Library and Information Science from the University of Pretoria in 1990. In 2008, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Pretoria for his extraordinary professional work in different associations and as a professor and researcher in Library Science.Throughout his varied career as a professor, librarian, manager, and researcher, Peter Lor has been passionate about issues of International Librarianship, specifically the development of libraries around the world. As a practitioner, Lor served in various libraries in South Africa as well as holding the position of senior librarian at the University of Pretoria (1976–80). He also worked as the director of South Africa's State Library for eight years. In 1999, the National Library of South Africa was created by merging the State Library in Pretoria and the South African Library in Cape Town. Lor became the first National Librarian, responsible for this merger. Peter Lor was also active in the creation of the Library and Information Association of South Africa. This association replaced former library associations that had been segregated along racial lines. Further, he was involved in developing national library policies for post-apartheid South Africa. In addition to his active role in the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA)in its early years (1996-2000), he served in a variety of capacities in other organizations such as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and the Conference of Directors of National Libraries (CDNL). Beginning in February 2005 until September 2008, he served as the Secretary General of IFLA. He has also served as a consultant on library development and has worked as an advocate for libraries in the World Summit on the Information Society.As for his extensive teaching experience, Lor began as an associate professor and then professor in Information Science at the University of South Africa (1986-1992). He has also taught at the University of Pretoria in the Department of Information Science. As of January 2009, he is a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the School of Information Studies.Peter Lor is the author of around 150 professional and research publications. Some of Peter Lor’s most recent research interests include:

Developmental role of libraries in developing countries

National and regional information policy

Library and information services legislation

Information flows between developed and developing countries

International and comparative librarianship and information work

National digital heritage: capturing, organization, preservation and access

Research methods in library and information science


Pretoria (; Xhosa: E-Pitoli) is a city in the northern part of Gauteng province in South Africa. It straddles the Apies River and has spread eastwards into the foothills of the Magaliesberg mountains. It is one of the country's three capital cities, serving as the seat of the administrative branch of government (Cape Town is the legislative capital and Bloemfontein the judicial capital), and of foreign embassies to South Africa. Pretoria has a reputation for being an academic city with three universities, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Human Sciences Research Council. The city also hosts the National Research Foundation and the South African Bureau of Standards making the city a hub for research. Pretoria is the central part of the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality which was formed by the amalgamation of several former local authorities including Centurion and Soshanguve. There have been proposals to change the name of Pretoria itself to Tshwane, and the proposed name change has caused some public controversy.

Pretoria is named after the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, and within South Africa sometimes called the "Jacaranda City" due to the thousands of jacaranda trees planted in its streets, parks and gardens.

South African National Library and Information Consortium

South African National Library and Information Consortium (SANLiC) is a non-profit consortium of member institutions aimed at negotiating the procurement of, and securing access to information resources on behalf of its members.

Timeline of Cape Town

The following is a timeline of the history of Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

Van Riebeeck Society

The Van Riebeeck Society is a South African organisation founded in 1918, setting itself the goal of republishing historical primary sources and making these available to the average reader. With rare exceptions a new volume has been published annually. Fees from subscribing members finance the publications. The Society's publications maintain a high academic standard and it has produced valuable Africana.

Since its inception the Society has had close links with the National Library of South Africa (South African Library) in Cape Town. Two men who were instrumental in the Society's founding were A.C.G. Lloyd, librarian of the South African Public Library, and John X. Merriman, at one time prime minister of the Cape Colony and a trustee of the library.

The discovery by Lloyd in November 1911 of a large fragment of Adam Tas's diary of 1704, was to a large extent responsible for the Society's creation. As leader of the free burghers opposed to the Dutch East India Company and governor of the Cape, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, Tas personified the struggle against colonialism. The trustees of the library raised the funds needed to publish the diary in 1914.

With surplus money from the publication fund, it was decided to publish Baron van Pallandt's General Remarks on the Cape of Good Hope, an 1803 pamphlet originally written in French, printed clandestinely and suppressed by Uitenhage De Mist in 1803, and consequently a rare work. This was published in 1917 and met with the disapproval of General J. B. M. Hertzog, the then prime minister, who was upset by passages describing the poor treatment meted out to the Khoikhoi by the settlers. Hertzog's denunciation of the work led to enormously increased sales.

Bolstered by this success, the trustees decided to publish certain reports on the Cape by Governor Maurits Pasques de Chavonnes, and by the commissioner at the Cape, Baron Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff. However, the library's mandate did not include publishing archival documents so that a decision was taken to found a private society to deal with the management of the project. This led on 29 August to the first meeting of the 'Van Riebeeck Society for the Publication of Southern African Historical Documents'. The initial membership was 54, many being members of parliament, and the de Chavonnes reports made up the first publication.

Virtual International Authority File

The Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) is an international authority file. It is a joint project of several national libraries and operated by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC).

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