I keep reading articles about gentrification in downtown Johannesburg. These articles — usually written by foreign journalists, or Capetonians — proclaim the city of Joburg remains blighted, crime-ridden, and poverty-stricken with the exception of a few pockets of upscale hipsterdom, like Maboneng and Braamfontein.
I dispute this proclamation. As proof, I present the Johannesburg City Library.
The Johannesburg City Library is a huge, beautiful building on Albertina Sisulu Road (formerly Market Street), overlooking Beyers Naude Square (formerly Library Gardens) in the center of the Joburg CBD. Originally opened in 1935, the library closed for three years between 2009 and 2012 as it underwent a major renovation and expansion.
I poked my head into the library once or twice after the renovation was completed. But I never got around to exploring it properly until last week, when I went with Marie-Lais Emond to take photos for the Citizen “Other Side of the City” column.
I couldn’t believe: 1) how nice this library is; 2) how many amazing things are contained inside of the library; 3) how many people use this library; and 4) that people still go to libraries at all.
I confess that I can’t remember the last time I went to a library. I’ve been missing out.
Inside the Johannesburg City Library
The Johannesburg City Library is filled with books — about 1.5 million of them — as well as studious youth and a smattering of adults reading newspapers. There are major collections of Africana, music, and children’s books. Well curated works of art line the library’s walls. There is a full-sized theatre and a studio space for local artists. The basement has hundreds of miles of shelves, containing thousands (millions?) of newspapers dating back to the 19th century.
The Johannesburg City Library also has beautiful architecture and design that appears to be perfectly restored and maintained.
The Johannesburg City Library is neither gentrified nor blighted. It’s a real, historic, vibrant, well-used space. (There’s wifi, too, although I was too busy taking photos to test it properly.)
The library is open from 9:00 to 5:00 on weekdays and 9:00 to 1:00 on Saturdays. Get there early if you want to find a seat.