Chit Chat: Atilla Lourens

2012-02-25 21:21

Last week, the Joburg library was reopened to much fanfare after a R68 million face-lift. KARABO KGOLENG gets to know Atilla Lourens, the deputy director of library and information services

Why did you become a librarian?
I’m passionate about service and making a difference to people’s lives. Librarians contribute to education and self-enrichment.

As a young person, I was looking for a career that would make me feel happy, so I looked at people-oriented jobs such as teaching and nursing.

However, I have always treasured books and information, so this was a natural decision for me.

Tell us about your career path.

My training was a four-year degree at RAU (now University of Johannesburg). I had to choose between private, public or university libraries to work at. I chose the public sector and started at Phuthadichaba.

I then moved to the University of Qwaqwa. After that I spent 14 years in Soweto, then Alex, then Sandton and now I’m at the Joburg City Library, which services the entire city.

What do you think of the perception of librarians as scary and strict?
I thought they were like that when I was a child, but things have changed over the years.

It takes a different kind of person to become a librarian today.

I grew up in a rural area and back then it didn’t always take a qualified person to become a librarian. Now it is a highly professional occupation.

You need to be IT savvy and able to work well with children and youth from different backgrounds. You also have to create and develop programmes and events like story times and workshops, and you must have good interpersonal skills.

Librarians also have a sexy side, don’t they? You know, the stereotypical shy bespectacled librarian with mousy hair tied in a ponytail who turns out to have a hidden, naughty side?
(Laughs) Well, my younger colleagues at the City Library are very funky.

They don’t take themselves too seriously, but they like the service, are passionate about their work and, because they work with youth, they are quite competitive with their use of technology.

They know the latest gadgets and are in touch with what’s hot and what’s not. Sometimes I feel that even though I have all this experience, I have to catch up with them.

Describe a day in your life?
Now that I’m in management, my working day is not that of a typical librarian, but generally the occupation requires opening the library in the morning.

This time is spent on stock checks, and paper work and administration, before the public comes in.

You have to be available to help people find the information that they are looking for and answer their questions. The busiest time is after lunch, when the school children come in.

They usually need a lot of help with their projects and the librarian has to find out what their teachers require.

How has the job evolved?
It requires a lot of outreach work and community involvement. For example, there is a programme at the Johannesburg City Library called the Story Skirmish.

It involves the participation of 150 schools in and around the city. Remember that most schools don’t have libraries, so the librarian has to be highly organised and informed.

It’s important for people to know that we do a lot more than just checking books in and out of the library.

We also get books to people who can’t come to us, we work with prisons and old-age homes, and we also provide computer-based literacy classes.

The difference that we make is not seen immediately, but we teach people to self-educate, which is valuable for society.

What are your favourite books?
Books are my life so I like to read everything. However, good fiction about life and books about historical figures are my favourites.

I’m currently reading The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg, which I am enjoying so far. I’m not a fan of thrillers, whodunits and murder stories.

What do you do to relax?
I love my home. I don’t really go out much and on weekends I read. I get all the adventure I need from books.

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