People studying at Joburg library

Long Live the Johannesburg City Library

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.

People studying at Joburg libraryA typical Tuesday morning at 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.

Outside Johannesburg City LibraryThe library’s imposing front steps.

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.

Books at the Johannesburg City LibraryOld books.

Old newspapers at the Johannesburg City LibraryMiles of newspapers.

Studious youth at the Johannesburg City LibraryStudious youth.

Card catalogueCard catalogues used to freak me out in college. Today, they’re charming.

The Johannesburg City Library also has beautiful architecture and design that appears to be perfectly restored and maintained.

Staircase in the Johannesburg City LibraryThe library’s restored staircase and bannister.

Pillar in the libraryA beautiful pillar and ceiling.

Stained glass in libraryStained glass above the library’s main entrance.

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.

People in the library

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  • Reply Rosemary November 22, 2016 at 2:15 am

    Thanks for this- great photographs

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2016 at 7:56 am

      My pleasure Rosemary!

  • Reply autumnashbough November 22, 2016 at 4:34 am

    One of the prettiest libraries I’ve seen. And so bright!

    I love libraries. They keep me from being poor.

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2016 at 7:56 am

      Yes, it does have beautiful natural light.

  • Reply Expatorama November 22, 2016 at 6:41 am

    It’s just a pity about the escalators in the entrance hall, they’re just not in keeping with the rest of the beautiful library.

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2016 at 7:55 am

      I actually hadn’t thought of that but you’re totally right.

  • Reply uponablackstar November 22, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Your photos are emotionally beautiful.
    I can;t believe I have lived with Jozi for 10 years and never met her ‘bookish’ friend


  • Reply catjuggles November 22, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Oh I love your post People can be so short sighted and then miss the charm totally

  • Reply Gail Scott Wilson November 22, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Spent many hours in that library during my student days, it used to also house the Museum which I’m led to believe a lot is still in storage and some is now housed at Museum Africa.

  • Reply Juan November 23, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    I remember my mom taking me and my sister there eons ago, I’m really glad to see that it is still open.

  • Reply How to join a public library in South Africa. - Reading Therapy & Literacy Support February 20, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    […] Long Live the Johannesburg City Library by 2Summers […]

  • Reply Brady May 10, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    This is one of the most amazing sites! Alive with energy and positivity!

    P.S I am booking a trip to the wilds as in … tomorrow morning! :>

    Thanks for the great work

    • Reply 2summers May 12, 2019 at 6:15 pm

      Yay, I hope you loved it!

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