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About Us: History of the Library

History of the Library

Historical Background

In 1933 the University decided to construct a separate building for the library, which was still located in the Old Arts building. With a contribution of £10 000 from Mining Geologist Dr Hans Merensky, the construction began in 1937. General Jan Smuts laid the cornerstone on 11 October 1937 and on 15 April 1938, the building was officially opened.

"This country has given me so much that I am only too happy to be allowed to help it develop and to give back to it a fraction of what it has given to me..." - Dr Hans Merensky, at the opening of the Merensky Library.

In designing the building, architect Gerhard Moerdyk was influenced by various styles, including Art Deco, Neo-Classicism, Arts and Crafts, as well as local styles such as Cape Dutch and Regency. Moerdyk himself described the building as a study in Persian style, with influences from Africa including the Zimbabwean and ancient Egyptian ruins. He used local materials and incorporated symbols of African origin. The prominent zigzag pattern, for example, is taken from the Zimbabwean ruins and represents water and fertility. The crocodile as a water figure and the bird as a symbol of space symbolises the freedom and creativity of the author. The curving walls symbolise an open book while the green bevelled glass windows, imported from Italy, helped reduce the sun’s heat and protect paper against ultraviolet light. The design of the building is a source of controversy and speculation, with some claiming that Moerdyk used it as a practice run for the design of the Voortrekker Monument, as there are many similarities between the two buildings. Today this national monument serves as the Edoardo Villa museum and houses amongst others, a Mimi Coertse and Marita Napier collection, as well as the largest South African sheet music collection.

Merensky 2 Library

Consisting of six levels, this building houses the University of Pretoria’s Department of Library Services Learning Centre; Technical Services, and the faculty libraries for Humanities, Theology, Natural, and Agricultural Sciences, Engineering, Built Environment, and Information Technology, and, Economic and Management Sciences. It is a focal point of the University's Hatfield Campus. The original library was initially housed in the Old Arts building before being relocated to the Old Merensky Library. Despite expansions to the Old Merensky Library in 1957, it soon became too small and the firm Lou, Marais, Marquard, and Kuhn was appointed to design a new library in 1969. Construction started in November 1971 and in August 1975 the building was completed. The southern wing of the Old Chemistry building was demolished during the construction process. Adjacent to the library there is a study centre that can accommodate up to 1 230 students and is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Centenary Tapestry

An interesting feature of the library is the spacious feel of the ground floor due to the three-level-high ceiling in the central area. The wall of the mezzanine level is now adorned by an eye-catching panelled tapestry which was commissioned by the University in commemoration of its centenary celebrations in 2008. The idea was to create a work of art that would portray the University, and which could be left as a legacy for future generations.

This tapestry was designed and embroidered by rural community members of the Kaross™ embroidery initiative in the Limpopo Province. This embroidery initiative was established in 1989 by Irma van Rooyen, a BA Fine Arts graduate of the University of Pretoria and a recipient of the Tuks Alumni Laureate Award. The conceptualisation of the tapestry and the execution of the design were done by Irma van Rooyen in collaboration with designer Calvin Mahlaule. Once the design was finalised, 15 embroiderers were employed to create the 15 x 1.2m tapestry. The work was executed on separate pieces of material using approximately 10kg of yarn. The individual pieces of material were later applied and combined in a continuous process of layering the embroidered images and reworking them until the full-length artwork was created.

This work of art reflects the culture, creative spirit, and 'voice' of its makers and is a joyous manifestation of colour and craftsmanship.

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Mamelodi Campus Library

The Mamelodi Campus library was established in 1982 when Vista University was founded. It started operating in temporary shelters until 1992 when a new building was erected in Mamelodi East where its current location is on the corner of Hinterland Street and Hans Strydom. It started operating in 1983 under the Vista University banner. Due to the Ministerial restructuring of Higher Education that took place between 1997-2003 due to policy developments such as the National Plan for Higher Education (NPHE) of 2001, mergers and acquisitions of various tertiary institutions were undertaken nationally and out of this process, the University of Pretoria was mandated to take over the Vista University (Mamelodi Campus). The library services of Vista University were also incorporated into the University of Pretoria’s Department of Library Services in 2004.

Law Library

In 1921 the University Library received a donation of 76 books for its off-campus (buitemuurs) library from the Pretoria Law Society. This is the earliest mention of law books in the Ad Destinatum books of the University of Pretoria. With a budget of only £400 for the entire library – it seems safe to say that the law collection could not have been very large at that stage of its history. The authors of Ad Destinatum described that there were virtually no law books in the library in 1927. Through the depression years, the budget for books for the university library, in general, was around £1000 for 5 years, but by 1936 it had risen to the sum of £3200! The Law Library continued to grow though and in 1925 the library of Judge Mason was purchased for the university. In later years the Africana and the Law sections were considered the best equipped in the library as a whole. During the period 1927-1960 the collection of Roman-Dutch law books grew considerably. In 1928 a law book collection, consisting of valuable books from the 17th and 18th centuries on Roman-Dutch law, was taken on loan from Dr Carel Potgieter. 1931 saw the purchase of the collection of Judge GFWG van Pittius. The books of Chief Justice J de Villiers were loaned to the library for a long period.

Recent donations to the Law Library collection include items from the collection of Chief Justice Rumpff. Amongst this material were the trial documents of the Rivonia “Treason Trial” of Nelson Mandela and others of 1961. Copies of the “Treason Trial” were presented to President Mandela at a ceremony in the main library on 7 September 1999. Browsing through the collection of old sources and old authorities’ books one realises that over the years many valuable and rare old books have been generously donated to the Law Library’s collection. These books are housed separately and are part of a project by which all the catalogue records are being entered into the University’s online catalogue. These records are available worldwide.

Jotello F. Soga Library

The history of the Jotello F. Soga Library (JFS Library), formerly known as the Veterinary Science Library, dates to its inception in 1974. It is a branch library of the University of Pretoria’s Department of Library Services, formerly known as the Academic Information Service. Due to a lack of space, the library was moved from its original premises on the Onderstepoort campus to the Sir Arnold Theiler building in 1987. From 1920 when the Faculty of Veterinary Science was started under Sir Arnold Theiler as the first dean, until 1973, students and staff used the library of the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute. Staff in the original library included the librarian, the library assistant, and Johannes Moropotli whose duties were mainly to act as a messenger. The library plays a unique role in veterinary teaching, learning, and research in South Africa and the region as it serves the only veterinary faculty in the country. The decade starting in 2000 saw the implementation of various electronic products and services by the library and how students and staff use the library has changed dramatically over the past years.

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