People 'n' Issues

Free Soweto library as art

August 1st, 2017
Massmart recently launched its first Urban Bookshelf, a literacy project developed to increase access to books in under-served communities at Phefeni Recreation Centre in Orland, Soweto.
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Through a curated process Massmart commissioned GASS Architecture Studio to design the unique book sharing station, or lending library, and a renowned graffiti artist Rasik Green aka Mr Ekse to enrich the design.

“This is the first of many artist-designed free miniature libraries” says Massmart Sustainability Executive Alexander Haw “We have earmarked other locations around Johannesburg and will be collaborating with various other artists and architects to create different interpretations of the Massmart Urban Bookshelf. We hope that through this project we will promote reading and improve literacy.”

Made of powder coated steel, the book sharing station is 2.8m high and consists of durable steel boxes that ensure the books are protected from all the elements. The structure is tailored to both kids and adults, with children’s literature at the bottom for easy access. The structure also has built-in benches so people can have a seat while browsing. It can store 450 to 500 books and books are arranged into eight genres, namely, African Fiction; General Fiction; Non-Fiction; Current Affairs & Politics; Law & Business; Self Help & Motivation Young Adults and Children’s books.

The Urban Bookshelf works similarly to a traditional library except there is no need for library card and there are no fees. The community can borrow and return books at their leisure.   To provide and replenish the structure with a diverse range of reading material Massmart partnered with major publishers, namely Jacana and Jonathan Ball. To ensure that the books cater to the local taste of readers in the community Massmart conducted extensive research.

Haw says “We deployed field researchers to study the habits of readers in the community. Our survey looked into several dimensions of this exploration by noting the role of libraries in people’s lives and by paying particular attention to people’s purposes for reading. Our research’s key findings highlighted how libraries add value communities and serve as cultural centres where individuals gather to learn, explore and interact. It also gave us insight into the local book taste of the community and informed us on which books and genres are required and desired for our structure.”

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