The new Head Librarian at Fish Hoek Library, Janusz Skarzynski , has some great ideas to make the library a social hub for the community.
Cape Town born Janusz took over the reins at the library from Lyn Steyn in January this year. His interest in library work was “accidental” and came about when he took a student job at Tokai Library for four years while studying for a Bachelor degree in Administration focussing on Development.
“I discovered that I enjoyed working in a library I had an inspiring boss who made me realise that what you put in is what you get out.” He became a permanent staff member of Tokai Library in 1997 and in the years that followed had short stints helping out at the Simon’s Town and Southfield libraries. In 2006 he became the acting senior librarian at Plumstead Library before being appointed to the post in a permanent position in 2009. In 2010 he completed a post-graduate diploma in Library Science through UCT and at the end of 2012 he was appointed to his present position at Fish Hoek.
“I had done a lot of small projects with Lyn Steyn while she was the District Manager of the community libraries. I liked her approach and would like to build on what she has created over the twenty years that she was here.”
Asked whether he regretted choosing a job that is largely office and paperwork bound as opposed to “working outdoors building wells in developing countries”, Janusz replied: “I did wish to save the world and feed the hungry, but I have realised that libraries play an important role in doing just that. Libraries offer services for free to people from all walks of life, to people of all abilities. I have heard of destitute people who through visiting their local libraries have been able to rebuild their lives and become contributing members of society.”
One the plans that Janusz has for the library is to close up the foyer of the library to create a cosy space where people can meet, have coffee, read and work. This area, which has wi-fi, will also house the second hand book shop, which is currently housed in the library hall.
“The role of libraries is shifting, especially in areas where people are no longer reading as much as before,” says Janusz. “This is not the case in Fish Hoek, where we have a large and ardent reading population, but we would still like to create the space where people can meet without laying out money. We would like to move the herb garden into the courtyard where more people will have the opportunity of enjoying it and cover the area where the herb garden is now in order to create more social space. We would also like to create a closed-off study area within the library.”
Commenting on what is happening internationally with regard to community libraries, he says: “Overseas the libraries have reading groups for senior citizens, targeted at people who are less mobile. It is important to keep the elderly stimulated and interacting with others. Studies show that a lack of social interaction is at the root of many of the problems experienced by the elderly. We are looking at creating more programmes, such as workshops, where our more mature members of the community can acquire various skills – for example, how to use Skype and Facebook and how to set up Gmail.”
Janusz observes that Fish Hoek Library is well supported by the community. “We need to find other ways besides the Friends of the Library activities to give back to the community. We are toying with the idea of establishing a movie club to fill the gap created by the lack of nearby cinemas. Our Friday afternoon movies for retired people are popular.”
With children being another large segment of the community making frequent use of the library, Janusz has plans for creating a parenting group for the parents who bring their children to the Friday morning storytime activities. “I hope that this will increase the number of parents bringing their children to these activities. I am very open to any suggestions from the community. If the library can assist with any projects or give support in any way please approach us!”
When asked about plans to draw more young adults to the library, Janusz replied that this is a problem experienced throughout the world. “We are fighting a losing battle at the moment modern technology and the perception that libraries are not particularly ‘cool’are factors contributing to the phenomenon that young people are not visiting libraries. Each day we have streams of students walking past from False Bay College, but they do not come in. Perhaps we do not know what they are looking for. I visited four libraries in Melbourne last year. The policy at some public libraries in Australia is to create the space for the young people but not to invest any more energy and resources into this age-group. If young adults have been introduced to books as children they will come back to the library when they have children of their own.”
In response to a query about his own reading habits, Janusz confessed that one of the drawbacks to his job is that he is surrounded by books but has no time to read them! “I enjoy reading across the board – anything that is well written and a pleasure to read. My tastes are plebeian. At the moment I am mainly reading non-fiction but I do enjoy a good crime novel. It’s pure escapism!”
Renovating his house in Fish Hoek does not leave him much time for other hobbies. He moved here with his wife Jenny, who is an editor and proof reader of educational books. “Fish Hoek is a wonderful place. It is a friendly contained community offering everything that one would want. ! One feels safe and it is great to know that one has neighbours who care for you.”
“We have a top-notch team of fifteen staff members at Fish Hoek Library. My day is mainly taken up with administrative tasks but I try to spend some time at the counter so that I can meet our library members,” says Janusz.
Fish Hoek Library houses 91 000 items freely available for loan by the public – books, DVDs, CDs and magazines… . “We have about 87 000 books here, but readers have access to the entire collection of 6 million items from the Western Cape provincial Library Service. We add from 50 to 200 items on average a month to our stock.”
Fish Hoek Library holds the honour of being rated on of the top libraries in the Western Cape. With Janusz at the helm, the possibility of our library being the top library in the province is more than feasible!
Viv von der Heyden
Ed’s note: If you are planning on redecorating, would you be willing to donate your unwanted couches and armchairs chairs, lamps, pot plants, carpets etc. to the library for the proposed meeting space in the foyer? Contact Janusz on 021 784 2030