Human beings are fortunate to have, via libraries, the vast collections of books available to them whenever needed.  Library usage is open to people ranging from those men and women  who require highly specialized books necessary to their specific subjects, to school children, students and citizens who enjoy, appreciate books and read for pleasure.

The small group of people who arrived at the southern part of the African Continent in 1652 would, in all probability, been neither able to read nor write. Maybe one or two may have had a Bible.  However the Commander of the small settlement kept a Journal, which we still refer to today, and which detailed various happenings, events and the incomings and outgoings of food and money. This accounting being necessary to inform his masters in the Netherlands.  How then did libraries come into being in South Africa?

As time passed and the decision was taken to form a permanent settlement at the Cape of Storms books began, very slowly, to be visible in private homes.  One such owner was Joachim von Dessin, a soldier who arrived in 1727 from Rostock, Germany and who rose to various positions in the running of the settlement – assistant in the office of the Council of Justice, Secretary to the Orphan Chamber. He was a noted book collector buying books overseas as well as books from bankrupt estates.  He died in 1761 leaving a certain amount of money and his library of approximately 4500 books and manuscripts to the Dutch Reformed Church to form a future public library at the Cape. The years went by and eventually in 1820 this collection became part of the South African Public Library – a library that had been proclaimed in 1818 by the then governor of the Cape Colony, Lord Charles Somerset.  A wine tax was to be levied to pay for its running. Two important events took place one in 1873 when it became a legal deposit library and the other in 1916 when it began receiving all printed and published items.  Of further significance was that it eventually became  the National Reference Library.

In between the above library being built and getting under way, public libraries, school libraries, university/college libraries, museums, small book shops were opening. Private individuals, small businesses bought books which for a small fee could be borrowed and kept for a certain time. As late as the late 1950s such an exchange system was available in a Claremont pharmacy.  Local newspapers helped to keep the public aware of new publications.  The same was taking place in the rest of the country. Then on 1 November 1999 the SAL and the State Library in Pretoria ceased as such and the two campuses represented the National Library of South Africa.

Further, in the attempt to bring books to the attention of those children/young adults who had not had the chance to become book worms, the NLSA  set up “The Centre of the Book” in an old Educational Building in Queen Victoria Street Cape Town.