The relevance of popular English language fiction to Black adult readers in libraries affiliated to the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Library Services.
The KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Library Services (KZNPLS) is attempting to address the reading needs of black adult users neglected during the apartheid era. The provision of popular adult English fiction, which consumes a considerable portion of the KZNPLS book budget, has catered for the recreational reading tastes of a small, educated, predominantly white group. This study explores whether popular adult English fiction has a role to play in the reading needs of black adult users in libraries affiliated to KZNPLS. An exploratory survey using the semi-structured interview was conducted in black libraries affiliated to KZNPLS to investigate whether there was an interest in popular English fiction and whether it was assisting readers to develop English language reading skills. The findings of the survey suggested that needs were very broad. However, basic literacy material was the most needed, and popular English fiction was playing a significant role in improving English language reading skills and fluency. The study suggests that if transformation and development is to take place in South Africa, the country's inhabitants must cultivate the critical thinking skills necessary for full utilisation of information technology. The oral tradition is not sufficient for South Africa's information needs but should be incorporated into a synergic union with global information systems. Reading has an established role to play in the development of critical thinking skills but South Africa lacks a strong reading culture. The fostering of English-language reading ability is appropriate as English is the lingua franca of South Africa and the foremost language of technology. The structure of much popular English fiction has transcultural appeal due to its use of archetypal formulas. Popular English fiction provides reading motivation but has a controversial history due to elitist condemnations of its literary quality. To overcome the debate of whether libraries should prefer literary merit or popularity in their fiction collections, it is recommended that diversity be the touchstone and that readers be given full opportunity to indulge in the free voluntary reading that provides fertile ground for the cultivation of critical thinking skills.
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