Cato Crest Library, with view of informal settlement, a photo by ellen forsyth on Flickr.
The Cato Crest Public Library in Durban, South Africa has a garden behind it. I can hear you thinking, what is so special about that as lots of libraries have gardens. That is true, but this one is unusual because it is a vegetable garden which is managed by two of the women from the informal settlement around the library. The profits from the vegetable garden are split between the library and the women.
The library is also the site of another small business enterprise. There are several sewing machines in a room underneath the library. It is a nice room, with excellent light. This room and these sewing machines contribute to local businesses run by women from the informal settlement. They aid in income generation for individuals within this community.
Like other South African public libraries there is a large information display on HIV/AIDS prevention but in many other respects this is a public library like many you would find all around the world with a colourful children’s area, pcs for public access, and well selected book stock for loan. It has a large long hours study space, also in a well lit area underneath the main library. This study space, which is open even after the library is closed, has security so people can study here safely, rather than in their tiny homes in the informal settlement. The garden and the sewing machines set this library apart, because it was designed to be responsive to the community needs. It is a library, but is also helps with to local business development. They needed a different kind of small business assistance, information as well as garden space or sewing machines. This exact model is not going to be appropriate for every public library, but you might want to think what is your equivalent of a library garden?
What demonstrates the unique responses your library is making to the community around it? What is your library garden?