The August 18 plenary session at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ World Library and Information Congress in Cape Town featured archaeologist and Africanist Alinah Kelo Segobye, former deputy executive director of the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa. Segobye said she grew up in Botswana and credited the public library system there with “providing an escape” from the traditional chores a girl has to do at home.
“The library gave us little orange cards assuring that we were diligent members,” Segobye said, “and taught us how to access knowledge resources.” A teacher had urged her to get a card and expand her horizons because the “high illiteracy rates throughout the continent especially affect the prospects for girls and women.”
Segobye said that one ray of hope is South Africa’s National Development Plan 2030, announced by President Jacob Zuma in 2011, that aims to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality by the year 2030 (interestingly, the same target date as the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development). “The idea is,” she said, “to build a South Africa that many of us truly believe we deserve.” This plan also includes creating more jobs, ensuring enhanced quality of education, and building a knowledge-based economy. “Driving our economy through knowledge will replace our dependence on a mineral-driven endowment” (diamonds and gold), she explained.
“Libraries will remain critical in this journey to the milestone years of 2030 and 2063” (the African Union’s Agenda 2063), Segobye said. “Libraries have come a long way from the village community hub centered on the baobab tree and the European-style buildings of colonialism,” she said. “They are new spaces” that will help us actualize “our desire to learn, to be creative, and to share.”