Teach your child to use the library

27 August 2014

Do you or your child feel a bit lost in a library? It is a treasure trove of resources and you shouldn’t let a little lack of knowledge keep you away. We explain exactly how a library works.

Most cities and towns have libraries that stock a wide variety of books. Every library has different sections, such as a children’s section, a fiction section, a non-fiction section, a reference section, a section for computer users and a section where you can read magazines and newspapers.

Libraries also offer various services:

Reference services (reference books)

Information on a wide range of subjects is available at libraries. Reference books may not be taken out; they may be used only in the library. In addition to traditional reference books such as encyclopedias, there are pamphlet collections, study collections and information on the community.

Services for adults

Services for adults include access to books (also large-print books), audiovisual material (CDs and DVDs), newspapers and magazines. Most libraries also offer additional activities, which include programmes such as art and handiwork sessions.

Services for children

Libraries have children’s sections where study books and books for relaxation are available. Sometimes libraries offer activities such as story telling, film shows and school holiday programmes.


In most libraries there is free access to computers and the internet. These services are available in all the provinces. Inquire at your library about limitations associated with this service.

Magazines and newspapers

Libraries keep a variety of magazines and newspapers.

Audiovisual material

Non-printed material available in libraries includes CDs, videos and DVDs. Certain libraries also have audio books (books read on CDs) for the blind. Libraries usually provide access to World Book Online, and  Encyclopaedia Brittanica Online.

How to find a specific book 

Books are classified and arranged according to the Dewey system of decimal classification. This makes it easy to find a specific book or a number of books by the same author. The American, Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), developed this system before 1876 and it’s still used today (with a few changes) to classify books and arrange them on the shelves. More than 200 000 libraries in at least 135 countries use the Dewey system.

How to use a library

When you want to take out a book you must show your library membership card. The book and your information is scanned into a computer and the library employee will stamp the date by which you must return the book in the front of the book. You must return the book before or on that date or you wil have to pay a fine. If you don’t return the book you’ll have to pay for it. If you want to keep the book beyond the return date you can renew the lending period.

How to become a member of a library

If you want to become a member of the local library you must provide proof of your identity. You’ll have to fill in a registration form, show an ID book or driver’s licence and provide proof of a street address. Children don’t have ID books or driver’s licenes so a birth certificate or a copy of one will do. But a parent’s signature and proof of street address is required.

About five days later you can fetch your library cards. Now you’re a member of the library and you can take out books for 14 days at a time. DVDs may not be taken out for longer than two days. Find out what the benefits of your library and the lending conditions are.


Look after library books; remember, you’re not the only person who will use them. Wash your hands before paging through a book and don’t eat while reading. You’re definitely not allowed to write in a library book or tear out pages or pictures. If you do you’ll have to pay for the book.

Keep library books out of reach of pets and young brothers and sisters who might damage them. If you and other library members look after the books you borrow many people can use them for years to come. If you’re not yet a member of your local library, I recommend you become one soon. With the summer holidays just around the corner you’ll have lots of free time to enjoy reading.

- Rikus van Rooy

Ekstra sources: Rone Reesberg of the Brackenfell library near Cape Town; Pamphlet: Library and Information Services of the City of Cape Town; Information brochure of the Brackenfell library; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dewey_Decimal_Classification

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