Carnegie Corporation President And Board Chair Dedicate New South African Libraries

Grantees in this story


Carnegie Corporation of New York President Vartan Gregorian and Thomas H. Kean, Chairman of the Corporation’s Board of Trustees joined South African leaders to dedicate new Carnegie Corporation-funded model libraries in Pretoria and Cape Town. Leaders from prominent South African universities also teamed with the U.S. foundation leaders to inaugurate the opening of a multi-campus electronic research consortium. The foundation has invested more than $10 million since 2004—including a new grant of $2.5 million—to revitalize the country’s public library system.

In dedicating the libraries, Vartan Gregorian said, "The library may be the single institution that best represents South Africa’s open society. No matter what form they take, libraries have become indispensable to the advancement of South Africa’s people and to the development of their democracy. South Africa’s libraries are also helping to preserve and provide access to the country’s rich cultural and intellectual patrimony.” From 1981-1989, Gregorian served as President of the New York Public Library, an institution with a network of four research libraries and 83 circulating libraries.

“South Africa is redefining the very concept of municipal libraries in response to the day-to-day needs of the people,” said Thomas H. Kean. “Today’s community libraries emphasize the basic aspirations of the vast majority of South Africans and help to meet those needs.”

Former New Jersey Governor Kean continued, “South Africans can now look to the National Library as an institution committed to protecting and preserving the rich national heritage of all South Africans. Since 1994—following centuries of colonialism and apartheid—officials at the National Library have rededicated the system to focus on cataloguing and preserving literature, artifacts and other materials relating to the history of the nation's entire population in each of the country’s 11 official languages.”

The foundation’s library work reflects the importance of public libraries in the South African context where they serve as important and powerful levers of societal change. Funding focuses on fostering the development of literacy programs; strengthening linkages between education and library systems; promoting continuing education and adult learning; and bridging the digital divide.

Initiatives carried out by the South African government over the past decade have led to a dramatic increase in primary school enrollment. Yet access to books—an indispensable tool for literacy education—remains limited as many of the country’s schools do not possess libraries. Thus, libraries—especially local libraries—in South Africa are a critical element of the primary and secondary education system.


A 2005 Carnegie Corporation grant of more than $2 million to the National Library of South Africa (NLSA) has accelerated the institution’s transformation including the construction of a new facility at its Pretoria campus, whose grand opening will be celebrated on Friday, August 1. The foundation’s funds helped to leverage a government commitment of more than $26 million for the site’s rebuilding and remodeling. The Carnegie Corporation grant funds are being used to increase access to the Internet and to catalogue and provide access to large segments of the previously un-catalogued collection. The NLSA will also use Corporation funds to purchase materials published by South Africans locally and abroad, thereby building the collection of contemporary indigenous fiction and nonfiction in all 11 official South African languages.

One of the NLSA’s primary goals, underwritten by the Corporation, is an effort to collect and rediscover aspects of African literature as well as artifacts and other materials that were often marginalized under the colonial and apartheid governments, including works in indigenous languages. In cooperation with other African countries, South African librarians have begun to assemble an important and wide-ranging collection.

“The new National Library offers nourishment to the country’s citizenry by providing access to South Africa’s national heritage, its record of triumphs and failures, and the rich lode of South Africa’s intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements,” said Vartan Gregorian. “South Africa’s public libraries contain the nation’s collective memory. They are not repositories of human endeavor alone—they are instruments of civilization that provide tools for learning, understanding and progress.”

John Tsebe, the National Librarian of South Africa, said, “The National Library must lead the way in revitalizing libraries in South Africa because libraries are essential to the nation's socioeconomic development. Our view is that the more people read, the more they become enlightened, the more employable they are and the more jobs they can create.”


Grants from Carnegie Corporation totaling more than $4.5 million will help fund the construction of the City Library of Cape Town’s new facility in a renovated, historically significant building known as the Old Drill Hall. The library’s collection is split up and spread out in a municipal building not originally intended to house a library. The move to the new facility will be completed in August 2009.

In an event held yesterday, Cape Town’s Mayor, Helen Zille officially opened the library with the promise that it would be open as a Centre of Excellence to the citizens of Cape Town on 1 September 2008.

Like many municipal libraries in South Africa, the City Library’s central facility will serve many functions—all aimed at advancing education and providing access to information to help communities make more informed decisions.

In addition to extending the library’s reference collection—available to each of the system’s 98 branches—Carnegie Corporation funding is being used by the City Library’s central facility to offer Internet connectivity and study space with literacy and educational support materials. Funds have also been allocated for staff training to help users more easily identify and access important government-supplied information.


Three of South Africa’s premier institutions of higher education have joined to develop a library portal connecting researchers to each university’s information database as well as to important international scholarly journals. This research commons will be managed by the University of Cape Town but equally shared among the universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand and KwaZulu-Natal. A ceremonial opening will be celebrated on Wednesday, July 30 at the University of Cape Town.

By significantly upgrading the quality and broadening the reach of the country’s university-based research enterprise, Carnegie Corporation’s $2.5 million grant to the three-university consortium responds to a government imperative to increase the production of doctoral graduates.

The research commons will facilitate the transition to a new generation of researchers by equipping them with the most up to date research tools and methods. A new cadre of young mostly black academics will benefit from access to the research commons as they initiate their careers and begin to publish. By cultivating this new cadre of academics, the universities will add to the nations’ considerable store of intellectual wealth as well as gradually replacing a generation of aging, predominantly white male researchers who have begun to retire.

The universities have developed, and are now piloting, an integrated electronic research system that connects researchers to aggregated information, provides collaborative computing capabilities and links researchers according to their interests and expertise. The research commons will include access to a rich lode of Africa-oriented digital content from both new and well-known sources.

Support for trained and qualified research librarians staffing the research commons as well as dedicated, fully equipped electronic research space at each of the three universities is also being funded by the Carnegie Corporation grant.


Carnegie Corporation of New York was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote "the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding." For more than 95 years the Corporation has carried out Carnegie's vision of philanthropy by building on his two major concerns: international peace and advancing education and knowledge. As a private grantmaking foundation, the Corporation will invest more than $100 million this year in nonprofits to fulfill Mr. Carnegie's mission, "to do real and permanent good in this world." The Corporation's capital fund, originally donated at a value of about $135 million, had a market value of $3 billion on September 30, 2007.