He was impressed by the Centre for the Book which was attached to the Library but had been formed by an Act of Congress and differed from the numerous outreach projects of the Library.
It was specifically enjoined to encourage the development of books and reading. DACST agreed to fund the project with R1,65 million over three years, after which time the project was to be self-funded.
The first tranche of funding was handed over in April An extended Committee was also established with representatives from the Book Chain throughout South Africa. Described as the finest Edwardian building in Cape Town, the building that presently houses the Centre for the Book was erected just before the first World War to be the headquarters of the University of the Cape of Good Hope established in to be an examining university.
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This University examined the students of several colleges, like Victoria College, Stellenbosch, and the South African College, Cape Town and others, which are today universities in their own right. Both are commemorated by bas-relief portrait busts in the entrance hall of the building.
The design by British architects W. Hawke and W.
McKinlay was chosen in a public competition. The architects moved to South Africa to oversee its construction, and were subsequently to design many of the public buildings required for the government of the Union of South Africa, including the Bloemfontein Law Courts.
It has been described as one of the finest Edwardian building in Cape Town, even though it was a scaled-down version of the original design.
It was opened in At this time, fire detection systems and an electric lift were installed, and other modifications were made for the storage of documents. Unfortunately, long-term neglect of maintenance took its toll on the building, especially during the s and s when the Archives were planning to move to new premises.
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By the time the Archives moved out in February , the building was in a serious state of dilapidation, with a leaking roof and crumbling stone-work the major problems. The building was proclaimed a National Monument in As early as , the Department of National Education had offered it to the South African Library which planned to use it to house its special collections. The Public Works Department appointed consultants to plan for its renovation, under the guidance of leading restoration consultant, John Rennie.
The most pressing problem was replacing the roof and stopping the leaks, and with a limited budget allocation this was done as a matter of priority while planning the restoration of the rest of the building proceeded. A new lift has been provided, to allow entry and movement for disabled persons, as well as new toilet and kitchen facilities.
The lift itself deserves comment as probably the most complicated in Cape town.
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It has three doors to enable it to serve different levels of the building; the external door is protected internally and externally by a key-pad plus intercom to the front desk; the reception desk can monitor the position of the lift as well as sending it to the external exit; where the lift opens into book storage areas, it is key-operated for security. It has a novel snail button which delays the closing of the doors to enable wheelchairs and trolleys to enter without being caught in the doors; and the internal finishes were carefully designed by the architects.
The Centre also aims to make books more accessible, more affordable and more attractive to the majority of South Africans, particularly children and disadvantaged people deprived rural areas and informal settlements. The building is meant to be a place where organisations involved with literacy, reading, publishing, and allied fields can use the superb facilities for conferences, symposia, training courses and exhibitions.
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