Anniversary: The Jan Smuts House Library

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The Jan Smuts House Library began as a collection of publications presented to the newly-formed institute by Chatham House in 1934.

Then known as the Information Library and situated in Cape Town, it was regularly visited by members of parliament, journalists, educators and students alike.

With a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1950 the library was expanded to include a subsidiary Africa Library. The Africa Library aimed to provide current information on political, economic and social issued pertaining to sub-Saharan Africa.
In accordance with the Smuts Memorial Trust, the two libraries were amalgamated between 1959 and 1961, forming what is today known as the Jan Smuts House Library.
What makes the Jan Smuts House Library unique to other institutional libraraies is that it it builds on the personal collection of Jan Smuts. As part of the initiative by the Smuts Memorial Trust, much of the collection from the private study of the former statesman was preserved in the library. Although the collection is now stored at Irene, the library continues to emulate Smuts’ wide range of interests. It is for this reason that the library contains such a wide range of interests such as history, philosophy, anthropology and religion.
The library also boasts the personal collection of Professor Martin Edmonds of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Lancaster. The library continues to grow and to be a reference point for students and researchers alike. Since 1975, the Jan Smuts House Library has served as a Depository Library for the United Nations as well as more recently a Development Information Centre for the World Bank.
The library has grown both in terms of its collection (mostly housed in printed format) and usage. It currently houses over 25 500 monograph titles and 350 serial titles, and serves approximately 4 000 users per annum with two permanent staff members.
Moving into the 21st century, the library is set to evolve into an African e-research resource centre. A need has also been identified by the research community for a repository where lesser known publications on African issues by Africans can be stored both in print and on an electronic database. Often monographs, research papers and books are printed by local publishers in African states and the valuable research output does not become known beyond that centre.
SAIIA wishes to create a repository of such works, using its wide research network across Africa. This would also include developing a database of such works that can be accessed electronically by African scholars seeking information on peer work, and by the international research community.

The library has become a valuable source of information, thanks principally to the generosity of early donors such as the Carnegie Corporation and individuals such as Professor Edmonds and the continued support of funders. As the 75th Anniversary Campaign continues to build momentum, it is hoped that funds raised will allow the library to grow further, acquiring more resources while becoming a modernised and technologically advanced information centre.

7 May 2009

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