Issues for South African Academic Libraries in the Post-Apartheid Era: A Review of Selected Literature -Christopher Stewart
Since the end of the apartheid era in 1994, South African higher education has been in an ongoing process of transformation. The goals of this transformation include higher education reform, expanded access, financial and operational efficiencies, and improved academic quality. South African academic libraries are faced with many significant challenges in this environment. Institutional mergers, limited financial resources, information literacy, and organizational uncertainties are a few of the major issues facing academic libraries in South Africa today. This paper will explore these and other issues faced by South African academic libraries in the post-apartheid era.
Since the end of the apartheid era in 1994, changes in the South African higher education system have reflected the new democracy's goals of redressing the inequities of the past while building an open and equitable system for the future. The purpose of this paper is to explore recent research and ideas about the academic library in this change process. General areas of inquiry will be academic libraries within the context of higher education reform, organizational change, economics, intellectual and cultural capital, and dissemination of AIDS information. The themes identified in this paper are not meant to be inclusive of all of the issues facing South African academic libraries. Rather, they are intended to provide the reader with an overview and a reasonable sample of the major issues facing South African academic libraries in the post apartheid era in general, and over the past 5-10 years specifically.
Higher Education Reform
The change process currently underway in many South African academic libraries is intertwined with the "transformative agenda" (Reddy, 2004) for higher education that began after the democratic elections in 1994. Other academic library issues linked to higher education reform and the transformative agenda are quality assurance, assessment, user services, and information literacy. All four of these issues will be discussed in this section.
Higher Education Reform -Continued
Like most institutions in South Africa, academic libraries have not escaped the "historical baggage of apartheid and separate development" (Thomas, 2007). The Extension of Higher Education Act in 1959 barred black students from most South African universities, and in general, the university system reflected societal inequalities, with black and colored institutions at a distinct disadvantage. In the years following apartheid, reforming higher education by creating a "rational and seamless system" became a national priority (Thomas, 2007). Muller (2006) describes the need articulated at the time for a reformed system to be consistent with the goals of the new democracy and also serve as an agent for social and economic change. Libraries were a part of this process from the beginning. For example, there was significant activity in forming and expanding library consortia beginning in 1992, and the National Library of South Africa Act was passed in 1998 (Furie, 2007). By the late 1990's, the South African government began to take a more aggressive role in promoting higher education reform. Thomas (2007) discusses the circumstances that led to the formation of the Size and Shape Taskforce of the Council of Higher Education (CHE). The CHE was formed as part of the National Higher Education Act in 1997. It was this task force that would start the South African higher education system on the path towards mergers, closings, and consolidations that would culminate in 2004-05 with 25 remaining institutions (Thomas, 2007). Ramifications from mergers and consolidations have been far reaching for South African academic libraries, especially in regards to organizational issues, which will be discussed later in this paper.
Quality assurance in South African academic libraries is closely linked to a post-apartheid emphasis on improving service provided by institutions serving all sectors of South African society. Dlamini (2006) reports on a study of several academic libraries in KwaZul-Natal in which library service was analyzed within the framework of Batho Pele, the South African government's manifesto calling for quality, customer respect, and openness from the public service sector (Batho Pele, 2008). This study found that while library users were in general satisfied with the provision of information services and did indeed "feel" like customers, most did not know the identity of the library's customer care person. This lack of knowledge on the part of the library users indicated to researchers that very few of the libraries had customer care policies in place. Dlamini argues for vigorous training for academic librarians in the principles of Batho Pele. Quality assurance infrastructures include the Committee for Higher Education Librarians in South Africa (CHELSA), which Thomas (2007) describes as part of a larger framework of the CHE quality assurance system. Ojedokun's (2000) study of library support for distance learning at South African universities found that library services for students in distance education programs are compromised by a lack of support from parent institutions, inadequate information technology infrastructures, and low staffing levels.
South African academic libraries, like their counterparts in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, are becoming more involved in activities related to educational outcomes assessment, namely information literacy. Thorough assessment, of course, requires rich data of and about organizations, collected in a uniform and predictable way from all academic libraries in the South African system. The dynamic change in South African higher education over the past decade highlights the need for better data collection across institutions, which has become the charge of the aforementioned CHELSA (Thomas, 2007). Mgobozi and Ocholla (2002) discuss quality of library instructional programs within the context of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), an organization which oversees the implementation of a national qualifications framework. Institutional research output is linked to governmental funding formulas as an assessment mechanism. This formula has created disparities between traditional universities and technikons, some of which have recently been recast as research institutions but are not receiving adequate support to build research library collections (van Zijl, et al., 2006).
Higher Education Reform -Continued
While SAQA lays out a framework for basic post graduate skills (Stoffberg and Blignaut, 2008) de Jager and Nassimbeni found that few South African colleges and universities do not do enough to prioritize information literacy into the institution's educational charge and integrate information literacy into the curriculum. Studies looking further into the experience of today's South African student indicate that large numbers of students continue to find information technology challenging. Swanepoel's (2003) investigation of information technology and information literacy skills of students at a satellite campus of Technikon Pretoria, for example, found that while students could perform basic library skills such as finding a book on the shelves well enough, the majority found electronic discovery of resources to be difficult. Over half of the respondents to Swanepoel's survey had never used the library's online catalog. Stoffberg and Blignaut (2008) conclude their information literacy study at the University of Tshwane (a recent merger of three technikons) by arguing that student information literacy levels will differ at each institution. No matter the institution, however, information literacy programs will succeed in proportion to levels of overall institutional support, budgets, and staffing levels.
Other information literacy studies have looked inward to assess the ability of the library organization to incorporate information literacy as a core value and, moreover, strengthen that value through effective instructional programs. Results have been mixed. Assessment has generally occurred by focusing on two factors: staff commitment and user success. One early study of the dissemination of scholarly information at the then separate Universities of Natal and Zululand found that electronic journals, though available, were widely unused. Faculty at these institutions relied far more heavily on print((Mgobozi and Ocholla, 2002). Another study at the University of Fort Hare found that students who attended library orientation did not have their information-seeking skills necessarily improved. While students at Fort Hare used the Internet frequently, the researchers found that most of this use was non-academic in nature. Browsing the open shelves was still the most common first step taken by students when beginning a research assignment. Two-thirds of the students in this study also reported knowing how to critically evaluate information found on the Internet, although most answered basic questions on how to evaluate Web-based resources incorrectly (Somi and de Jager, 2005)). Darries' (2004) investigation of the use of the Internet in delivering reference services at 36 universities and technikons found that a lack of technological resources prevented more widespread use of the Internet as a reference tool. Much of the use of the Internet for reference services is mediated, further suggesting a lack of computing resources and facilities for library users. Darries also notes, however, that many academic librarians have not yet incorporated Web and e-mail-based services into the core reference portfolio. Hoskins' (2005) study of subject librarians at university libraries in KwaZulu-Natal found that, while most used computers in their daily work, many lacked the training to use the technology to its full potential.
The introduction of democracy and an open society have affected organizational structures in South African higher education on many levels. Agencies such as the South African Department of Education, the CHE's Size and Shape Committee, CHELSA, and other organizations advocate for and actively promote the transformative agenda's emphasis on quality and assessment, which in turn creates pressure for organizational change. In addition, major issues such as redress and equity, the changing focus of professional organizations, mergers and consolidations, and multiculturalism challenge the higher education workforce in ways unthinkable before 1994.
Organizational Change -Continued
Merger activity across South African higher education has been the focus of several qualitative studies. One early study (Jayaram, 2003)ŕ examined the merger process of two technikons that would become the Durbin Institute of Technology (DITŕ. Like many higher education mergers in South Africa, this one involves a historically advantaged university (HAU) and a historically disadvantaged university (HDU). These unions often produce inequities and tensions during and after the merger process, especially if one institution is entering the merger in an already compromised financial position. Other lessons learned from the DIT study and others are for organizations not to be too inward looking during the merger process, and for managers to be aware that a strong communication strategy should be established from the start (Jayaram, 2003; Muller, 2006; Swanepoel, 2005). Other researchers have pointed out some of the contradictions that can emerge from the merger process, namely that smaller partners generally benefit more from the merger and that on the whole, library mergers don't always lead to cost savings (Swanepoel, 2005). Whatever the eventual outcome, it is likely that South African academic libraries will be heavily engaged in "bedding down merged institutions " in the coming years (Thomas, 2007#041;.
Uncertainties created by the merger process cause general anxiety throughout the organization that, in the absence of effective leadership, can cause significant problems during and after the merger. Another examination of the DIT merger (Muller, 2006) identifies several factors that increase uncertainty, including issues surrounding staff retention and deployment; a lack of formal communication; and a merger process that is too drawn out. Leaders in the merger process should build new "cultural maps" that center on "people issues" without over-emphasizing operational concerns (Muller , 2006). Jayaram(2003), however, advises merger managers to pay attention to routine operational activities so as not to let the merger process overwhelm daily life (and, by extension, staff morale) at the library.
Amidst all of this organizational change, there is debate and discussion in the South African library community on a wide range of labor issues and the role of library professional organizations in representing workforce concerns continues (Raju, et al., 2006). After decades of separate professional associations based on race, the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) was launched in 1997 and, through its affiliation with international organizations, has eased the apartheid-era isolation of the South African library community. While valuable as a professional organization for similar reasons (networking, advocacy, etc.) as counterpart library professional organizations in other parts of the world, LIASA's role may yet expand due to circumstances that are uniquely South African. Post-apartheid labor laws are highly progressive and allow for organized groups to seek statutory status, attained through a legal process, for collective bargaining and other aspects of employer-employee relationships. Calls for LIASA to assume a greater role in representing the library profession in South Africa center mainly on academic librarians' growing anxiety about their place in a rapidly changing higher education landscape. While most prefer the benefits and prestige of a professional organization, there is growing opinion in favor of LIASA taking on the responsibilities of an occupational organization, which would in at least one scenario lead to unionization (Raju, et al., 2006).
Organizational Change -Continued
While Dick (2002) posits that there are still "many librarians with doubtful political pasts that still hold powerful positions in the library world," there is considerable effort to redress the inequities of the past by expanding library employment opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups. There are challenges as well, including high unemployment in South Africa, which results in reduced job mobility and low staff turnover. University of Witwatersrand librarian Heather Edwards (1999) outlines several strategies for managing the emerging multicultural academic library workplace, including the necessity of having a well designed plan for affirmative action hiring as required by the Department of Labor. Edwards shares some of the library's progress in placing blacks in more positions in general, and more supervisory/professional positions specifically. Perhaps most interesting about her article is her concise detail of race-based hiring scenarios. Now that this article is nearly a decade old, it would be very interesting to read a follow up story from "Wits" libraries.
Economics plays a large part in progress towards improving quality and access to South African higher education, particularly in the improvement of historically disadvantaged universities. Public funding for the transformation agenda needs to be increased (Thomas, 2007). Several information literacy and user services studies attribute poor information skills among many South African college students to a lack of information technology resources and staff in campus libraries (Darries, 2004; Ojedokun, 2000; Mgobozi and Ocholla, 2002; Stoffberg and Blignaut, 2008). The South African economic policy of growth, employment, and redistribution(GEAR) is tightly integrated with globalization and macroeconomics, neither of which provides counter balance to the commercialization of scholarly information. This puts most academic libraries - but especially under-resourced libraries - at a serious disadvantage. Dick (2005) argues that South Africa's "alliances" with organizations such as the IMF and WTO can have a detrimental affect on academic libraries. Librarians should understand the affects of macroeconomic policies on South African libraries and resist commoditization of information in all forms. The high cost of scholarly information, particularly scientific information, places particular stress on newly integrated libraries at merged upgraded institutions. A recent study comparing planning and collection development at libraries at New Zealand technikons that have been re-classed as research universities and a South African technikon that has been newly designated as a research university found that institutional support for the South African technikon library is severely inadequate to support masters and doctoral level research (van Zijl and Gericke, 2006).
Another economic challenge faced by South African academic libraries is the cost associated with building and accessing high bandwidth telecommunications infrastructures. South African library consortia are among the world's most economically, ethnically, and geographically diverses. In order to meet the needs of a democratizing society, these organizations require low tariff access to high bandwidth infrastructures (Darch, et al., 1999). While the telecommunications infrastructure has improved in South Africa over the past decadey, information technology and telecommunications costs remain a common challenge in the provision of library services at many South African colleges and universities. During the apartheid era, institutions of higher education were divided along racial and ethnic lines. Financial support was duplicated and divided, resulting in a fragmented system comprised of institutions that were designed not to work with each other (Darch, et al., 1999). While there were some "pockets of excellence," most of the citizenry lacked access to "rudimentary library and information services." In raising this point, Darch and Underwood highlight the importance of consortial purchasing. They add that, due to public sector economic challenges faced by the new democracy, academic libraries will play an increasing role in the provision of library services to the population as a whole.
Information, Research, and Cultural Capital
South Africa is a nation rich in intellectual and cultural resources. There are 11 official languages that span a vast ethnic and cultural landscape. Libraries and archives play a prominent role in preserving South Africa’s "living heritage" and promoting a "non-racial understanding of the nation’s diverse heritage" (Bredekamp, 2007). Academic libraries also play a role retaining the society's intellectual capital for the benefit of the nation. Fourie (2007) discusses the role of organizations such as the National Research Foundation facilitating knowledge creation across a range of disciplines, and the Department of Culture's Subdirectorate of Meta-Information's role in promoting, establishing, and building a national information system. De Beer (2007) outlines the importance of the 1998 National Library of South Africa Act in strengthening the national library's cataloging authority control and resource sharing across over 600 libraries in the South African region. The role of academic libraries, archives, and consortia is also highlighted in Henrici's study of approaches to developing a national information policy for South Africa, particularly the application of information communication technologies in helping overcome "legacies of the past" (2004). Raju, et al. (2007) offer a critical analysis of a recent, problematic migration of two academic libraries and one public library to an expensive, off-the-shelf integrated library systeme. The authors argue for a return to the development of open access integrated library systems such as URICA - originally produced in South Africa - as a way to "retain financial resources in the country and generate new knowledge."
Like other academic libraries across the globe, South African higher education institutions are promoting the open access model as an alternative to the commercially driven system that dominates scholarly publishing. In a study of South African research managers and scholars, Fullard (2007) found that while there was a high awareness of open access in the South African research community, only a minority of respondents could identify key tenets of open access. Respondents also showed a general lack of knowledge about the relationships between open access and the rising costs of scholarly material. Fullard concludes by pointing out that approximately 90 percent of scholarly publication is generated by research at six-seven historically advantaged institutions. This disparity of scholarly output produces a general level of satisfaction with the current model accompanied by the belief that open access journals lack the rigor of commercially produced publications; this in turn inhibits near term collective movement towards open access in South African higher education. Fullard (2007) stresses the importance of the academic library's role in generating awareness and "advocating for open access at the policy level." She also highlights the importance of building institutional repositories at South African universities as a way of preserving intellectual capital and research output. One important open access resource for preserving African intellectual capital, however, is already enjoying widespread success as a major resource for scholars across the world. Aluka is an "international, collaborative initiative building an online digital library of scholarly resources from and about Africa." In addition to housing major collections on African cultural heritage, plants, and freedom struggles, Aluka "builds capacity in Africa for digitization and use of online materials for teaching and research." Currently, South Africa leads the 91 Aluka international members in institutional participation ("What is Aluka." 2008).
HIV/AIDS Information Dissemination
In South Africa, a nation in which an estimated 12 percent of the population is living with HIV/AIDS, almost 25 percent of those cases are concentrated among 15-24 year olds (World Health Organization, 2008). The academic library has an important role to play in the campus HIV/AIDS information network. Dube and Ocholla's study of 36 universities and technikons in South Africa stressed the importance of information resources provided by the library:
"HIV/AIDS specific information resources provided by the library are crucial as their depth, appropriateness, relevance accessibility, affordability, and usability will strengthen or compromise the institutional response."
Another study found that the majority of students at the Pietermaritzberg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal had difficulty locating HIV/AIDS information on campus. Results from this study are of particular relevance to the academic library. Findings include students' preference for having access to HIV/AIDS information in a variety of formats, integrating AIDS education into the curriculum, and making HIV/AIDS research findings available online (Ntombella, et al., 2008).
South African higher education faces significant challenges in the pos-apartheid era. While the transformative agenda reshapes higher education, academic libraries are compelled to adjust to new organizational and financial realities. These realities often find the academic library without adequate resources to maintain quality and ensure educational outcomes. Institutional mergers and re-organizations place additional pressure on libraries that are not equipped to meet the needs of institutions hastily re-classed as research universities. Within this climate of mandated (and often uncertain) organizational change, there is growing debate on the benefits of unionization for academic library professionals. As this occurs, core library functions such as information literacy are compromised by a lack of institutional support, low faculty awareness, and uneven levels of student preparedness given the economic disparities that still exist in South Africa. Broader economic issues, especially for under-resourced institutions, include the high cost of telecommunications in a country that faces major challenges in improving and expanding its telecommunications infrastructure as its economy globalizes. Despite these significant challenges, South African academic libraries have not retreated from their responsibilities in ensuring access and teaching students the skills to navigate increasingly complex information environments. Equally impressive, amid the uncertainty and anxiety that accompanies rapid change, South African librarians have embraced their responsibilities in preserving the nation's intellectual capital and opened avenues for research and scholarship across one of the world's most diverse cultural landscapes.
It is clear that South African academic libraries take their role in the transformative agenda very seriously. South African higher education has made tremendous strides since the end of the apartheid era in addressing decades of inequality as has, of course, the entire nation. In the coming years, South African academic libraries will need to make strong arguments for the library’s role in strengthening quality in a higher education system that endeavors to be a mechanism for access and change across all sectors of South African society. Hopefully, the ideas presented here will provide the reader with a good starting point for further inquiry on these issues. Most of the research papers and articles discussed in this literature review are accompanied by extensive bibliographies that invite further investigation for anyone interested in the scope of change underway in South African higher education. As an academic librarian, I invite my colleagues to learn more about the role South African academic libraries are playing in institutional and societal change. We can learn a great deal from them. End of article
Stewart - References
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About the author
Christopher Stewart is Dean of Libraries at Illinois Institute of Technology. His recently completed doctoral studies included travel to South Africa to examine issues facing South African higher education. E-mail: stewart [at] iit [dot] edu
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