Reading for life


    Biblionef, established in 1918 by former Dutch ambassador, Max Vegelin van Claerbergen, is an international network of independent non-profit organisations (NGOs) donating new story books to children in developing countries.

    biblionef-1Prieska Primary in Northern Cape recently received over 2 500 books from Biblionef South Africa in late 2013The organisation has depots in five countries; Netherlands, France, Belgium, Suriname in South America, and South Africa.

    The South African depot in Central Square, Pinelands, in Cape Town, is the only one in Africa and was established in 1998 by its current executive director, Jean Williams. Williams has 20 years’ experience working in public libraries.

    “I worked at the Ocean View public library, which is approximately four kilometres away from Masiphumelele and reached out to supply books from the boot of my car to this area in 1994. We eventually opened up a satellite library in a farm house in Masiphumelele in 1995,” said Williams.

    In 1998, with Biblionef’s assistance, she opened the Masiphumelele Library, near Noordhoek.

    Biblionef works with a number of organisations to distribute English and indigenous language to  where they are needed. The organisation has donated one million books from 1998 to 2012 and, aiming to build a lifelong love of reading in children across the world, wants to donate another million books by 2016.


    On winning the Western Cape Government‘s Promotion of Marginalised Indigenous Languages award, at the Arts and Culture, Language, Heritage, Geographical Names, Museums, Libraries and Archives Awards in February this year, Walters said, “We are excited about receiving the award and going to our next big event which is the handover of Setswana books to the Ministry of Education in Botswana at the end of February. This motivates us to work even harder.”

    She adds, “Mother tongue learning and reading is every child’s right.”

    “From the ages of one to seven years there is so much potential for brain development but the environment for this needs to be created. The possibility, therefore, exists for children to be introduced to English without sacrificing their mother tongue.”

    The Biblionef office receives requests for book donations on a daily basis; it responds by providing books to Early Childhood Development centres, schools and informal libraries mostly in townships, informal settlements and remote rural areas. Each request is assessed according to merit and needs.

    biblionef-2To foster a lifelong love for reading among the world’s children, Biblionef donates books to schools, libraries and early childhood development centres


    This year Biblionef partnered with the City of Johannesburg‘s Library Services, benefiting schools across the city. Each primary school will receive 250 brand new storybooks in the children’s home languages and books in English.

    “Our recent big donation was made to 122 schools in the Central Johannesburg area in partnership with the library service of the City of Johannesburg. The amount of books donated was 30 500 to the value of R1.83-million,” said Walters.

    “A book is a resource which can be used over and over again. If anyone has books at home which they are not using I would suggest that they look for a school or charity and pass it onto them. Biblionef deals only with new books as we see our donation as a ‘gift’ and want the children to get excited about receiving colourful, inspirational books in their home language,” she added.

    Biblionef’s books have reached more than 3.2 million children. The NGO donates an average of 12 000 books per month; has assisted 51 schools and communities with informal libraries with shelves, cupboards, container and farm libraries; and has supported 21 schools for the blind and partially sighted with Braille and large print books.

    biblionef-3In partnership with Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development and funder Ibby SA, 15 schools in the Mqanduli area of Eastern Cape will be receiving books throughout the year of 2014 (Images: Biblionef South Africa Facebook page)Biblionef has also had more than 83 titles translated into the country’s eleven official languages.

    “We managed to get the book Fly eagle, Fly translated and printed in all 11 official languages. This book, written by Anglican bishop, Christopher Gregorowski, has been claimed as one of the best books ever written in South Africa,” she said.


    To donate the price of a book (R60), visit the Biblionef website and donate through the secure payment option, or make an EFT or direct deposit into the NGO’s bank account:

    Account name: Biblionef
    Bank: Nedbank
    Branch: Pinelands
    Branch Code: 104709
    Account Number: 1047029170

    For more information on Biblionef, contact the office on 021 531 0447 or visit the website.