Minister Meyer Speaks at the Launch of National Book Week
The Deputy Mayor of Overstrand Municipality, Alderman Pieter Scholtz,
National Book Week Ambassador, Ms Liezel van Westhuizen,
Director of the Western Cape Government's Library and Archive Services, Mrs Nomaza Dingayo,
Members of the media,
Ladies and gentlemen.
Good morning and thank you for inviting me to be part of an event that focuses on something that has had a profound impact on my own life, namely books. In fact, my relationship with books continues to this day. In trying to understand why this is indeed so, I am reminded of the words of St Paul.
Writing to his son Timothy he says:
"When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books,
and above all the parchments (2 Timothy 4:13)."
In an 1863 sermon, "Paul -- His Cloak and His Books", CH Spurgeon said of Paul:
"He was inspired, and yet he wants books!
He had been preaching for 30 years, and yet he wants books!
He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!
He had a wider experience than most men do, and yet he wants books!
He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things that it was not lawful for a man to utter, and yet he wants books!
He had written a major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!"
American Founding Father, and third President of the United States of America, Thomas Jeffeson, puts the above in context for me with his words:
"A library book... is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, is their only capital."
This morning I am joined by approximately 1.2 million library users in the Western Cape (45 631 from the Hermanus area) to, firstly, share with you our passion for books and, secondly, to invite you to join a library and get access to the amazing world of books.
Columnist Pete Hamill of the New York Daily News once said that what libraries gives us is all three tenses - the past tense, the present tense in which we live and the future that we can only imagine. These places have teachers who are living and dead and we are lucky to have them. If I sit here and read Aristotle, he is speaking to me across a thousand years - more than a thousand years. That sense that I am in the company of the great greatest people who ever lived is a humbling experience but a liberating experience.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are also celebrating Heritage Month and if indeed we accept that libraries are about the past, present and future, then libraries are surely then also repositories of humanity's heritage. I want to therefore encourage you to in keeping with the theme "Stay Connected: Getting to Know Your Library"; join a library and gain access to much more that books. Gain access to an understanding of our common heritage.
One can, however, only stay connected if you were connected in the first place. The key to the connection is the library card. The library card provides access. To what you may ask? Celebrated author, Toni Morrison, describes the access as follows:
"Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilisations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission. No committee decides who may enter, no crisis of body or spirit must accompany the entrant. No tuition is charged, no oath sworn, no visa demanded. Of the monuments humans build for themselves, very few say touch me, use me, my hush is not indifference, my space is not barrier. If I inspire awe, it is because I am in awe of you and the possibilities that dwell in you."
The institution Morrison refers to is of course the public library. We have more than 330 such institutions in the Western Cape. Worth mentioning is that one of these institutions, namely, the Hawston Public Library is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. For 25 years the Hawston Library and its staff have been giving thousands of readers access to a world beyond the confines of space and time and opening up a world of possibilities.
One of the possibilities which I believe that libraries are certainly well positioned to explore and promote is cultural warmth. The musician, Gloria Estefan, makes the following comment:
"The library takes me away from my everyday life and allows me to see other places and learn to understand other people unlike myself."
Estefan's words in fact bring to the fore the role that libraries could play to build understanding between people from different backgrounds and cultures. Libraries can and should therefore become centres of cultural warmth.
In conclusion, I do want to encourage everyone of the approximately 4 million citizens of the Western Cape who have not yet joined a public library to do so and I am confident that if they do indeed take up the challenge they will one day understand what the author, Rita Mae Brown, meant when she said:
"When I got my library card, that's when my life began."