New beginnings during a pandemic


Otto Foundation CEO, Zephne Ladbrook, writes:


"It takes a dedicated project manager and a team of artisans to construct a library. But it takes a community to instil a reading culture at a school.

it takes a community to instil

a reading culture at a school


The Otto Foundation believes that a library can be the cornerstone for establishing a reading culture in a school community. It is by no means the only member of the village required to raise a generation of readers, but it is a good starting point, and a real-world symbol of the value that the community attaches to books and reading.

At the start of 2020, before the whole world’s best laid plans were turned on their heads by the COVID-19 pandemic, we set about creating such a cornerstone at Walmer Estate Primary School in District Six, Cape Town."

The Otto Foundation Literacy Director, Nonikiwe Mashologu, reflects on the Protea Library project:

“We can all agree that the world we live in has been very different since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a time of uncertainty. Sometimes scary, sometimes emotional, and sometimes strangely calm - allowing us to take stock of what is important.

This is why setting up the Protea Library at Walmer Estate Primary school was such an important process for the Otto Foundation team this year. It gave us something to dream about and something concrete to work towards. It was a rare point of certainty during uncertain times. Despite all of the pressures and distractions, our team stayed committed to creating a magical, multi-functional space that would become a springboard for our efforts to support the teachers and management of Walmer Estate Primary to improve the learning outcomes at the school.

it gave us something to dream about and

something concrete to work towards


The Protea library is the third library we have created in a cluster of schools at the foot of Table Mountain in the District Six/ Zonnebloem area. The Sunflower Learning Centre is a shared library for Zonnebloem Girls’ and Boys’ Primary schools, established by the Otto Foundation in 2016.​ In 2019, we launched the Liyabona Library at Holy Cross Primary School. Our library family is growing steadily.

A library has to be more than a room filled with books. We believe that the right design and aesthetics can make a library a safe, inviting, creativity-inspiring platform from which learners can be introduced to the wonder of books, be encouraged to recognize the importance of their own stories, and develop a curiosity about the many fascinating dimensions of the world and the people around them.

Along with a plethora of creative partners, we put a lot of thought into the design of the library space.

We first had to decide how to effectively use the space. School libraries often also serve as meeting places, training venues, event venues and more! Lienkie Troskie from Vizi architects assisted us with an initial lay-out and design to create a light, fun space for learners of different ages that could be easily adapted to different purposes.

We were proud to use a local renovation team, and to source all the library furniture and design features from local creatives and manufacturers.

The video below gives a glimpse into our process. There are some ‘before’ images, an overview of the initial design, a few of the execution steps and a preview of the final product.

To ensure that a school library can become the heart of a reading community at a school it is critically important to have the school management and teaching staff on board. We hosted a planning workshop with all the staff members of Walmer Estate Primary to make sure that we understand their needs and get their input and insights into the library design. We consulted with the management team throughout the process and continued to communicate our plans to all staff.

learners participated in a

"name your library" competition


To give the learners a sense of ownership of the library, and to get them excited about the project, the teaching staff helped us to host a ‘name your library’ competition. The Otto Foundation team and the school management chose the winning name, The Protea Library, from among these entries.

When older learners returned to school after the level 5 lockdown, they visited the library-in-the-making for a fun “poll” that helped us to select a colour for the feature wall. The learners were able to experience the space and received their own copies of some of our favourite local books to give them a taste of things to come.

Zephne says:

it is their wall,

built around a safe space

for their learning


"Personally, I feel this is a vital contribution to the process. The learners feel they are part of the construction of their library, they start to see it take shape, and they feel a sense of agency. This turns a simple design element like a feature wall into a bright reminder that it is their wall, built around a safe space for their learning."

Nonikiwe continues:


We have hosted a first library lesson for all the classes in the school to show them what we are working on, and to get their input on (i) the books that they would like to see on the shelves, and (ii) the purposes that they would like the library to serve. These have been truly happy days for our team, and we can’t wait for the library to become part of the daily life of every Walmer Estate Primary School learner.

The restrictions associated with various levels of the lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 delayed some aspects of the library set-up.

Since we’ve been able to access the site again it has been all hands on deck to finish the renovation, get all the furniture in place, source the initial set of books, get all the books onto an electronic catalogue, and set up the systems to initiate a lending programme.


it has made us incredibly

happy to see the shelves filling up


Walmer Estate Primary previously had a small container library with a good variety of non-fiction books. These books, along with an initial set of books from our partner organization ‘The Bookery’, and a collection of good local books that we have built up over the course of the year have a given us a good and diverse base of books for the library. It has made us incredibly happy to see the shelves filling up!

Library lessons will commence in the fourth term, and the library will be officially opened by Western Cape Premier Alan Winde on 12 November.

We look forward to sharing the journey and stories of the Protea Library with our community as we move along.

Closing comments from Zephne:


"Over the past two months The Otto Foundation team has been at the Protea Library almost daily to finish the set-up. It is a highlight for me when inquisitive beings pop in at the bright green door (and this door is bright!) to ask when they will be allowed to visit the library, to browse the book selection, and to take books home.

we will cut the ribbon in front of this

“more than just a room with books"


On the 12th of November we will host a small opening for The Protea Library- observing all COVID-19 protocols. We will cut the ribbon in front of this “more than just a room with books”; officially celebrating and marking both the progress and the process it takes to build a library.

We remain mindful that it is the school community who planted the seeds for the Protea Library and that this library “room” will need the ongoing commitment and passion of every learner, educator and parent to make it catalyst for a thriving culture of reading.

Oh, and what do young kids love most in a library? To be read to, off course."


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 “The future of South Africa rests in the hands of our youth. We must support them, in every way we can,

to imagine a future with infinite possibilities, and equip them with the skills that they will need to build that future”.
 - Chris Otto -

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