‘The Best Things in Life are Free’

The Library and Information Association of South Africa celebrated South African Library Week from 20th to 26th March. This made us think about the value of libraries and who still uses them.

With the increase in ebooks and the ability of many South Africans to access the Internet on their phones, libraries are often overlooked. However, they are invaluable in communities where access to books, computers and WiFi are needed and where a place to do research or homework is sought after.

The history of libraries can be traced back thousands of years. One of the earliest libraries was the Library of Alexandria, which was likely established by Ptolemy I Soter in the third century BC. At its peak it may have included over 500,000 papyrus scrolls containing works of literature and texts on history, law, mathematics and science.

Activity #1: Class Discussion
Do libraries have a future and, more specifically, what role does the library play in your school?

Consider the following:

  • What are some of the functions of both school libraries and public libraries?
  • When was the last time you visited a library?

Do libraries still have a role to play in our schools and communities?


  1. Libraries play a fundamental role in learning and growing. School libraries are cherished as safe, physical spaces for children and young adults to read, inquire and build new knowledge.3 Librarians are able to help us find the right book to read or access the information that we need.
  2. Libraries maintain history. Since the ancient Roman Empire, the purpose of libraries has been to store different kinds of information, such as historical, literary, musical and military documents.4 Even though a lot has changed since then, libraries continue to store important and valuable documents and information.
  3. Libraries offer free educational resources. Public libraries play a vital role in supporting education and literacy. The present reading crisis in South Africa means that only 18% of children in grade 4 can read for meaning; this further highlights the importance of libraries.5
  4. Libraries help to build communities. A library is a place where people from all walks of life are welcome. They help individuals to expand their network and become a part of a community. Children can attend reading sessions while young people can join reading groups and find a safe space to share ideas and research. Libraries organise events for the elderly community and offer free access to the arts.

Libraries help develop and foster a love of reading. Everyone, but especially children, needs access to books. The positive impact that reading for pleasure has on one’s mental health and well-being should be a key reason for keeping libraries going.

Find some optional activities below which can be incorporated into your lesson planning.

Activity #2: Informal Blog
Read the following extract about the writer’s visits to the library:

“I always felt as if I was transported to some place that was mysterious and safe and kind to my storytelling self, far away from my average life filled with its average issues and, to my mind, average ugliness. I think this is the power of these bookish spaces – whether it’s a library or a good book shop. They care about your imagination and make a safe space for it, they feed it, nurture it with possibility, offer respite from the loud and non-believing world outside over there. And the especially marvellous thing about a library? It’s free. There is nothing they require in return. Other than to bring the books back obviously.”

Using the above as a creative stimulus, write a blog post about a place that for you is ‘mysterious and safe and kind’.

Activity #3: Formal Speech
Your school has taken the decision to close your school library. The Board of Governors/Directors/ Principals feel that having a library is outdated and that the space can be better utilised as a Robotics and Coding Lab.

Write a persuasive speech convincing them of the necessity of your library, giving them reasons why the library is so important.

Activity #4: Research Task
Visit your school library (provided you have one) and in groups, do the following research:

  1. Find out from each member of the group what type of book they like to read. Listen carefully to what each person enjoys.
  2. Each person in the group now needs to select a book for another member of the group. They will need to use the information shared in the discussion to select an appropriate book.
  3. Once everyone has a book to read, discuss the covers of your books and what they suggest about the stories inside.
  4. Reading time: read the first few pages of the book that has been chosen for you.
  5. In your groups, discuss your initial impression of your book. Do you think you are going to enjoy it?

Activity #5: Prepared Reading Task
Choose a book that you have recently finished and prepare a short extract from it to read to the class.

You need to provide some context so that the class understands how your chosen extract fits into the plotline; you should also explain why you chose this specific extract. Make sure that you practise reading your extract a few times beforehand so that you can read with fluency and expression.

If you are using the Achieve Careers English HL 2023 Programme, the following information is recommended to support the facilitation of the activities above:

  • Grade 8 ENG HL: Section 1 (p. 20 and pp. 22-24) and Section 2 (pp. 28-34)
  • Grade 9 ENG HL: Section 1 (pp. 10-12 and pp. 20-23) 
  • Grade 10 ENG HL: Section 1 (pp. 16-17) 
  • Grade 11 ENG HL: Section 1 (p. 15 and pp. 24-25) and Section 2 (pp Grade 10 ENG HL: Section 1 (pp. 16-17) 
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