Trilogy in Praise of Libraries and those who run them: Part One

This post is dedicated to all the libraries out there. Libraries are the place where my biggest dream first got the guts to flap its wings and soar. The Central Library in Johannesburg was where I discovered how much my father loved me. With our first visit he showed me the wealth of knowledge that was available to me. It was the site where in @NixOdd’s words – I was encouraged to be less of a kitten and more of a lioness.

In Part one of my Trilogy in praise of libraries and their work, I chat with the fantastic Natalie Denton, a librarian at Central Library, Cape Town.

Natalie Denton

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. You are one of my favourite librarians and loving books and libraries, I hoped you would share how it feels to have one of the best and most important jobs in the world.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Natalie: I am definitely a people’s person! I love to empower others and motivate them to reach their full potential.  I do a lot of community work and I am also a singer.

How would you describe your relationship with books?
Natalie: I am not me without books! My mother read to me since birth and ever since the love affair with books intensified.  At 5 I was a fluent reader and would read to anyone who would listen.

Why do you love your job?
Natalie: The combination of books, information and people, of course!

Did you always want to be a librarian?
Natalie: As a child I used to play “Library-Library” hahaha! I would make card catalogues for my mother’s books and issue these books to pretend patrons!

There was a time in my life that I thought Librarians merely stamp books and could never imagine myself doing just that! My mother is a Librarian, in fact, she is the SA Librarian of the year for 2013, so as a teenager  I would go volunteer at her library, helping with the holiday programmes and activities and I realised how exciting it can be.

Let’s talk stereotypes. The old tightly wound up librarian with her hair in a bun, secretly wearing sexy clothes, shushing patrons.  Very old, possibly stale stereotypes. What type of stereotypes have people projected onto you? Are any of the stereotypes true? This is of course said with a very mischievous smile on my face.

Natalie: Hahah! I think every young man has a librarian fantasy…! I am probably deemed as very rebellious as I break all the conventions with my wild hair, colourful nails and dynamic personality… and sometimes people ask me: “Do you really work in a library?” But really, Librarians are changing with the times. We try to stay relevant and we can be cool…

Natalie and Teen Thunder

Explain what a normal day as a librarian at the Central Library, Cape Town is like?
Natalie: The first thing we do is prepare the library for the patrons before we open. We get the desks, tills and computers ready. I usually spend half my day at the Enquiries or Circulation desk helping patrons find books or information. The rest of the day I spend doing activities with teens or I communicate with patrons via e-mail or SMS to inform them about programmes at the library. I also process new magazines received. There is always something exciting happening at Central; this means no week is ever the same.

What is your biggest challenge at the Central Library, Cape Town?
Natalie: The sad fact that we are unfunded!  Libraries are hardly given the attention it deserves. We did receive funding from the Carnegie Corporation in New York that enabled us to build up an amazing collection but that came to an end. (Click here for more information on the magic the library did with the Carnegie Corporation funding)

What keeps you getting up every day despite knowing you might face these type of challenges?
Natalie: I am excited to come to work knowing that I am able to help someone improve their life. Also, my managers are awesome, they allow me the freedom to do various programmes and to live out my passion, however crazy my ideas get.

Resources. This seems to be a contested issue in public libraries in South Africa. How do you and your team ensure the Central Library keeps getting the resources they need?
Natalie: We make magic with what we have.

Has technology changed your working environment?
Natalie: Indeed! And most librarians are threatened by it. But we need to run alongside technology and embrace the change.

Do eBooks and the whole ‘Books are dying’ mania scare you?

Natalie: No! Librarians should not be threatened by technology.  These developments will not phase out librarians but simply bring out a new breed hahahaha!

Are there times when things pop up that you have to deal with that you never thought were connected with being a librarian?
Natalie: Yes. All the time.  I work closely with teenagers at the library and they often have all kinds of problems and situations. Luckily they know that they can relate to me and often ask for advice.

What projects are you and your team at the library currently working on?
Natalie: We’ve had such an eventful year that we actually considered winding down, but then a light bulb goes on in my head and we are working on a project called “ Central Out and About” . We want to take the library to the beach!!! SHHHHHH! It’s still a secret…but get your bikini ready!

If someone one there is considering a job as librarian. What path do you suggest they take?
Natalie: Firstly, volunteer. Volunteering is often overlooked but when you apply for a job in the library service it’s usually one of the first things they look at. And read read read… of course!

What does the ideal library of the future look like for you?
Natalie: FULL.  Full of students getting information for projects using e-resources. Full of businessmen coming for business breakfasts and video-conferencing with businesspeople throughout the globe. I see people downloading books and information to their “Library App” on their mobile devices.  

Natalie and her team, smug after successfully completing their attempt at breaking the  world record  for the longest book domino

Image sources:

Cape Town Daily: click here
Open Book Festival: click here
City of Cape Town: click here

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