In the early nineties Piet Westra, Director of the South African Library (SAL), visited the Library of Congress in Washington. He was impressed by the Centre for the Book which was attached to the Library but had been formed by an Act of Congress and differed from the numerous outreach projects of the Library. It was specifically enjoined to encourage the development of books and reading.
Inspired by this the Director raised R250 000 from NASPERS and the Board of the SAL allocated some funds to the formation of a South African Centre for the Book. Armed with a promised R750 000 he approached the DACST with a Business Plan and asked for funding for the project. DACST agreed to fund the project with R1,65 million over three years, after which time the project was to be self-funded.
The first tranche of funding was handed over in April 1997. The SAL used this money to buy equipment for the Centre for the Book. In January 1998 a Head was appointed and the Centre for the Book began its development and activities on the ground floor of 62 Queen Victoria Street in Cape Town.
The governance of the Centre for the Book was to be through an advisory committee represented equally by the SAL Board and members of the Book Development Council, subject to the jurisdiction of the SAL Board. An extended Committee was also established with representatives from the Book Chain throughout South Africa.