Where It All Started
The idea for a new Library to take Rhodes University and the Makana region into the 21st century was first proposed in 2004, by the late University Librarian, Margaret Kenyon. Kenyon worked tirelessly to incorporate the vision of an enhanced and revitalised Library into the University's agenda, and her vision and hope for the future was picked up and carried forward by Gwenda Thomas and Jeanne Berger, Director and Deputy Director of the Library. On 4 September 2008, on page 3 of the Rhodes University Council Minutes, a simple sentence reflects the point at which hope became a reality: “Proposed new Library – APPROVED.”
The struggle to get to this point had been a fierce one. Thomas recalls starting in her role in 2006 and realising that, far from the done and dusted deal she had assumed the new Library to be, significant work remained to be done.
The project was still in the design phase, and funds were not guaranteed. Thomas' mandate from the Vice-Chancellor was clear; she was to ensure that a consultation process took place across the University, and a consensus between the Senate, Faculty Board, Deans and other stakeholders was reached.
Thomas and Berger never doubted it could be done. And they were not alone; the minutes from that momentous Council meeting in 2008 continued by thanking individuals on the good work done with respect to the new Library, and noted that the Director of Development, Guy White, had given feedback on the fundraising for the Library Project and “expressed optimism in this regard.”
As it happens, this optimism was not misplaced. The process of negotiating and cajoling bore fruit, and consensus was reached across the University and its stakeholders for the new Library to be built. The funds were being raised, thanks to tireless work by White and his team.
Dr Saleem Badat, Vice-Chancellor
Mere days after the University Council had given approval for the project, the contractors moved onto the site and excavation began. On a beautiful Spring morning in 2008, the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Saleem Badat, took up a spade and turned a symbolic sod of earth. The Library building project was officially underway.
The new wing of the Library was planned in such a way as to add 4500 square metres of new floor space, over five floors, thus doubling the existing floor space. The building sits on what was a car park. The original Library building's floor to floor heights have been matched, which placed something of a constraint on the headroom available for services and meant that co-ordinated planning was essential. The design of the new building’s elevations has followed the example of both the original library building and the surrounding campus buildings, so that it blends timelessly into the existing environment.
In her speech at the official opening of the new Library, Thomas stated that “the Library Building Project owes its success to the combined efforts of the former Library Building Committee, under the leadership of Professor Peter Vale, significant government and donor funding, and sheer determination on the part of the Library staff and the Rhodes University Development Team.” Margaret Kenyon, who passed away in 2005 and therefore never got to see the realisation of her dream, is honoured with a room in the building which bears her name.
The magnificent new Library, standing proudly at the heart of the campus, is testimony to the efforts of all who believed that hope could become a reality, and worked to realise the dream.
Daily Dispatch, Wednesday, November 24, 2010, p.12
Feature writer: Jean Mckeown
Additional: Cathy Gush
Photographer: Sophie Smith