Article for Universe Awareness

Observatory Establishes Astronomy Library Corner in South Africa

From 18 to 26 March this year, celebrations commenced for the South African National Library week with the theme ‘My library, your library’. South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) librarians set out to establish an astronomy corner at the Sutherland Library to advance astronomy literacy, in conjunction with Sutherland library in the Northern Cape.

The South African National Library week is an annual event spearheaded by Library and  Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) with the aim of promoting access to public libraries, create awareness about libraries as well as to strengthen access to information. According to Zuthobeke Mvakade, the SAAO librarian, this year’s theme means “bringing libraries into the heart of communities which instills a sense of ownership in each and every community member”.

In part, the library corner initiative seeks to strengthen the link between the observatory and the Sutherland community through science awareness. As such, working together with the Sutherland public library to create a space, that will be dedicated to hosting astronomy resources, almost ensures a symbiotic relationship between the observatory and the community of Sutherland through education. “There are many challenges faced by teachers when tackling the ‘Earth and Beyond’ theme, we therefore hope that the resources will at least enhance the way learners and teachers engage with this topic”.

The programme consisted of school visits, astronomy hands-on activities, access to astronomy information on computers – promoting Information Communication Technology (ICT) and motivational talks about the benefits of using libraries. “We are planning a follow-up library week to hand-over a prize to a patron who has made the use of the library consistently since the launch in March”.

The library corner was made possible by the generous funding from the International Astronomical Union’s Office Of Astronomy for Development (IAU/OAD). An expression of gratitude also goes to Universe Awareness (UNAWE) for the wonderful educational material in Dutch and in English. “The Dutch books were especially handy, since the community of Sutherland predominantly speak Afrikaans. Certainly, our community development and outreach link to the Sutherland community made it easy for schools to respond and come in numbers to the event.”

Zuthobeke Mvakade concludes, “We are looking forward to expanding our reach to more libraries, as well as more learners in the future, with the hope that all our stakeholders will be available to help us carry this dream forward”.


Thembela Mantungwa
South African Astronomical Observatory

written for Universe Awareness (UNAWE)