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Bertram Laslett Dyer

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 3 DECEMBER

3 December 1862: Title deeds to the farm Alexandersfontein granted to JC Coetzee.
3 December  1890: Rail link opened between Kimberley and Vryburg.
3 December  1908: Kimberley librarian Bertrand Dyer (pictured) commits suicide.
3 December  1976: Enthronement of the Rt Rev Graham Chadwick as 8th Bishop of Kimberley and Kuruman.
3 December 1989: Bishop George Swartz blesses and hallows the completed stained glass project at St Cyprians Cathedral.

Bertram Laslett Dyer, South Africa’s first ever registered librarian, was born in Dumbleton, near Evesham, England, in 1868, and died at his home at 14 Woodley Street, Kimberley, on 3 December 1908, in tragic circumstances. He was 40 years and six months old.

Kimberley was the first town in the country to employ a full-time “library mechanic”, Bertram Dyer being appointed Librarian of the Kimberley Public Library (a few months after the siege of the town was lifted) on 1 August 1900.

Dyer had been educated at the Whitechapel Foundation School and at King’s College before proceeding to the War office as a Junior Clerk. Later he became a student at Toynbee Hall, Whitechapel, and was appointed assistant librarian in Whitechapel library.

In 1888 he joined the Kensington Public library, and in 1889 was appointed sub-librarian in charge of the Brompton branch. This appointment he held until his departure for Kimberley and South Africa.

An experienced librarian, Dyer had academic qualifications, having attended the Library Association’s course in “Subject Cataloguing (Dictionary and Classified) for Public Libraries”, obtaining the highest marks in the end of course examination. Dyer had been a foundation member of the Library Association, and had founded and edited its journal, The Library Assistant. He had been Honorary Secretary from 1898 until 1900.

Frederick Rogers, a friend of Dyer from his Whitechapel days, said that: “Books were his passion”. Dyer had been a member of the Elizabethan Society, a group that studied Elizabethan period literature.

In Kimberley, Dyer proceeded to carve out his niche in the library history of South Africa by introducing the Dewey system to the complete scientific section of the library in 1903, the first such library to use what is now the recognised library classification of books.

He was first and foremost a professional librarian – and according to Fébé van Niekerk, this was most evident in his “authoritative action of weeding redundant stock, restoring old and valuable leather-bound books, implementing a card-charging system for the library and classifying the library stock…”

He was also extremely busy in extramural activities, being keen on inter-library co-operation, organizing library conferences and in publicizing libraries. He was the organizer and secretary to the first South African conference for librarians (under the auspices of the SAAAS), held in Johannesburg in 1904.

Dyer was a founder member of the South African Association for the Advancement for Science, and submitted a paper entitled “The Public Library Systems of Great Britain, America and South Africa” to the first such meeting of this association in Cape Town.

In 1906 at the SAAAS conference in Kimberley, Dyer read a paper titled: “Libraries for scantily populated Districts”. He liked writing and he wrote a great deal, mostly to periodicals informing the readerships about libraries and their progress in the country.

Perhaps what is not well known is that he is the first Africana librarian of South Africa, and obviously of Kimberley. After a gift to the Kimberley Public Library of the second volume of The Cape of Good Hope Literary Gazette, he wrote that it was “A valuable addition to the collection of Africana which is gradually being accumulated in the Kimberley reference library.” It appears that he was the person who first coined the word “Africana” for use in printed material.

For about six months in 1904 he also edited and/or wrote on libraries and library related matters for the Cape Town weekly The New Era.

He was respected by his fellow librarians throughout the country, and when asked whether the Kimberley Public Library was open to all races, had replied that there had been a Moslem priest as a subscriber, and that “…the acceptance of Parliamentary and Municipal grants makes it impossible to refuse the advantages of the Public Room to any section of the community.”

Dyer received a salary of £250 per month, increased to £300 in 1901.

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By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

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