Global Gleanings 13: LIASA in the Literature. Part 2: from baby steps to adulthood

In this edition of Global Gleanings, I continue my overview of the literature on LIASA, with references and some personal recollections.  Part 1 dealt with LIASA’s “prehistory”, the processes that led to its founding in 1997 and its first annual conference in 1998. This second part covers the period after 1998.

Birth and first steps

In addition to the items mentioned in Part 1, international audiences were informed about LIASA by Dick Kawooya, who compared LIASA with the Uganda Library Association (Kawooya 2001), and in conference papers and articles by Clare Walker (Walker 2001), Gwenda Thomas (Thomas 2002), and Ellen Tise. LIASA’s first President (Tise 2004)

The first decade 1997-2007: hopes and expectations In the early 2000s the literature on LIASA focused on what LIASA was doing, or was expected to do, in various areas of professional development.

A good example is an article in Libri by Nicole Brown, discussing how public libraries should respond to South Africa’s transition to democracy. At the end of the article, she mentioned the founding of LIASA and expressed the hope that our association would provide leadership in library development, so that our public libraries could become “beacons of democracy” (Brown 2004). Genevieve Hart commented that LIASA was not yet playing the “professional custodial role” that is expected of a national library association in respect of children’s literature (Hart 2002), while Dennis Ocholla, writing about diversity in the LIS workplace, pointed out that diversity issues had not yet featured in LIASA’s annual reports  (Ocholla 2002). In a contribution to the 2006 IFLA/FAIFE theme report on information accessibility by marginalised communities in South Africa, Dennis mentioned a range of activities and programmes launched by LIASA. He quoted LIASA’s 2006 programme of events in full, but questioned whether these activities and services were reaching information-deprived communities (Ocholla 2006). Pamela Mavume hoped that LIASA would play a leadership role in addressing the universal right to read (Mavume 2004). John Tsebe and Douwe Drijfhout mentioned the potential role of LIASA in developing collaborative relationships among libraries in South Africa (Tsebe and Drijfhout 2006). Generally, these writers found that LIASA had not yet made much of a difference, but they were lenient in their assessment of LIASA, pointing out that LIASA had only recently been founded and was still establishing itself.

LIS training and continuing professional development

During LIASA’s first decade, some notable themes did emerge, clustered around the training and continuing professional development (CPD) of librarians, also referred to as continuing professional development (CPE), and the status of librarians. At an international conference Clare Walker, who was very active in this field, addressed the prospective role of LIASA in CPE assessment and quality assurance (Walker 2002). The potential role of LIASA in continuing professional development was suggested in an article in Mousaion (Sewdass and Theron 2004), but by then LIASA was already deeply engaged in this field, taking on a national leadership role. Here the South African Library Leadership Progamme (SALLP) stood out as a pioneering project. It was the product of a partnership with the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and it was funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. Twenty-three senior and middle managers participated in it. Many of them subsequently rose to prominence in the profession and in LIASA. The programme was led for LIASA by our first executive director, Gwenda Thomas (Thomas 2002; Satgoor and Schnuer 2005; Satgoor 2007).

Related to the issue of CPD/CPE was a cluster of themes including the accreditation of educational programmes for LIS, recognition of LIS education, and the status of librarians and information workers. In a historical review of LIS education and training in South Africa, Jaya Raju mentioned the founding of LIASA, but stated that our association had not yet taken on the task of accrediting LIS programmes, a task that had previously been assumed by SAILIS (J. Raju 2005). In 2006 Reggie Raju reported on an investigation, mandated by the Executive Council of LIASA, into the possibility of acquiring statutory status for the LIS profession in South Africa (R. Raju 2006). The feasibility of unionising LIS workers was also investigated. It was found that there was substantial support for the professional association as opposed to a trade union, to address the industrial and professional concern of workers in our sector. The authors mentioned that the role played by “the professional library association in South Africa” should be investigated, but made no concrete comments about LIASA (R. Raju, Stilwell, and Leach 2006). These themes received much attention subsequently.

More general assessments of LIASA’s first decade and beyond can be found in contributions  by Clare Walker (Walker 2006; 2007; 2012). In the run-up to the 2007 IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) of 2007, Archie Dick gave a keynote address to a colloquium of LIASA’s Higher Education Libraries Interest Group (now HELIG), in which he emphasised the need for collaboration “across borders and divisions” (Dick 2006).

The 2007 IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC)

The year 2007 saw a milestone for LIASA. Its tenth anniversary coincided with the IFLA WLIC, which was held in Durban. LIASA held a special celebratory annual conference in Durban, during which honorary memberships were awarded to ten colleagues who had played leading roles in LIASA’s founding and early years.

Successfully hosting a large and prestigious international conference such as the WLIC was a feather in the young association’s cap. At the time I was the Secretary General of IFLA and in that capacity I was intimately involved in organizing the congress, working closely with the South African national committee. During my spell at IFLA I worked on six WLICs and by 2007 I had learned that the tripartite relations between IFLA, the professional conference organizing company and the relevant national committee can be quite tricky. In South Africa’s case, however, there was good and amicable collaboration. The congress was unfortunately marred by a spate of muggings in Durban. During the congress this was a daily headache for me. The SAPS officer tasked with ensuring the safety of delegates was unhelpful, blaming muggings on the victims, and maintaining that they should have taken taxis to get to the convention centre, even if their hotels were a block or two away! The situation was exacerbated by social media. Delegates posted and reposted reports of muggings, thereby inflating the number of incidents. This led to some initial hesitancy on the part of delegates when the WLIC was later held in Cape Town.

The Durban WLIC stimulated a good crop of conference papers and other publications about LIASA itself and South African LIS more generally. Archie Dick contributed a chapter on freedom of access to information and freedom of expression to the IFLA/FAIFE World report, briefly referring to LIASA’s modest role  (Dick 2007). Tommy Matthee (IFLA’s second President) and Marjatta Lahti of the Finnish Library Association, co-authored a conference paper on collaboration between the Finnish library associations and South African libraries, starting with Finnish support for the ANC in exile, and also covering later cooperative activities (Matthee and Lahti 2007). Ujala Satgoor presented a paper on the South African Library Leadership Project, mentioned earlier (Satgoor 2007). Clare Walker wrote a chapter on library associations in South Africa from 1930 to 2005, which included a thorough account of the prehistory and founding of LIASA (Walker 2007). It was published in a volume entitled Libraries for the future: progress and development of South African libraries, that had been specially commissioned to coincide with the congress and was published by LIASA. This collection of chapters on various aspects of LIS in South Africa served as a valuable overview of the state of LIS in our country at that time (Bothma, Underwood, and Ngulube 2007). Would 2027 not be a good time for a follow-up?

LIASA’s second decade and after, 2007-   

The advent of LIASA in 1997 had attracted much attention both domestically and internationally. After 2007, LIASA was an established part of our LIS landscape, and no longer itself a topic in the literature. There were a few exceptions. Clare Walker (Walker 2012) and later Ujala Satgoor  (Satgoor 2013) presented papers featuring LIASA, while Musa Khomo and Jaya Raju investigated the extent to which LIS workers in KwaZulu-Natal were joining LIASA, and reasons for non-membership. They found that significant numbers of LIS workers, especially support staff, had not joined LIASA, and they recommended a more aggressive recruitment drive (Khomo and Raju 2009). This is a problem that has not gone away.

In theses and articles since 2007 LIASA has frequently been referred to, as part of general background on LIS in South Africa, or because LIASA’s membership was involved, or because LIASA’s discussion list was used to elicit survey responses. These items are too many to list here. In some articles, posts on LIASA’s discussion list and/or news items in LIASA-in-Touch were used as indicators of the attitudes and opinions of LIASA members, and by extension, South African librarians. For example, Archie Dick analysed comments on LIASA’s website about the destruction of a library in Timbuktu to reveal how librarians talk about the preservation of libraries and their contents (Dick 2013), while I analysed reactions of librarians using LIASA’s discussion list to comment on the burning of public libraries (Lor 2013). LIASA was mentioned (but not prominently) as a player in setting the national agenda for the transformation of LIS (Stilwell 2009) and in a critical assessment of IFLA’s impact in South Africa (Underwood 2009).

The 2015 IFLA WLIC in Cape Town

In 2015 LIASA again hosted the IFLA WLIC, this time in Cape Town 2015, but by then I had retired and was able to attend as an ordinary delegate with few responsibilities other than helping to organise one of the satellite events. For me it was a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience, as everything was going smoothly – at least as far as I could see. At a big international conference there are always some issues and problems behind the scenes. Good management ensures that the delegates don’t notice them. If there were any, I can’t recall noticing them in Cape Town. The Cape Town WLIC did not generate as much literature relevant to LIASA as its predecessor, but a book donation project was reported in International leads, the newsletter of the International Relations Round Table of the American Library Association (ALA). For the congress, the Africa Subcommittee of the ALA’s International Relations Committee had organised a children’s book donations project, “Give a Book, Change a Life”. This was done in collaboration with LIASA and IFLA’s Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section. Some 500 children’s books were donated by IFLA delegates (Hunsinger 2016).

Education, training and the status of LIS professionals

As in LIASA’s first decade, after 2007 there was one prominent cluster of themes in the literature relating to LIASA: themes relating to LIS education and training, and the professional status of LIS workers. An article in Libri reported on an interesting comparison of the assessment and evaluation of LIS education in South Africa, New Zealand and the United States (Ocholla, Dorner, and Britz 2013). Training needs of LIS workers other than professional staff were also addressed: library assistants, for whom a new occupational certificate had been developed within the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) (Molepo and Lakheni 2015), and general workers (Meyer 2010). In these articles the potential role of LIASA was touched on.

A master’s thesis was submitted on the continuous professional development requirements of public librarians in Mpumalanga (Maboya 2020), and an article appeared on CPD needs of academic librarians in Durban (Moonasar and Underwood 2018). In both publications recommendations were made on the role LIASA should play, but in Durban doubts were expressed about LIASA’s capacity. Finally, Reggie Raju and colleagues reported on a survey undertaken as part of LIASA’s continuing investigation into the acquisition of statutory status for the LIS sector (R. Raju, Witbooi, and Goosen 2012).

Conclusion

The literature covered in both parts of this review shows that LIASA’s main focus has been on the education, training, and status of LIS workers – and rightly so. Our efforts in these areas are directly in the interests of our members. At the same time, they benefit the institutions in which LIS workers are employed, and they benefit the people of South Africa as a whole.

In Part 1 I referred to the question raised in the early 1990s in the context of the NEP process: how can and should libraries contribute to the reorientation and transformation of our society? That transformation is a work in progress. Sometimes it seems that South Africa is not making much progress. And how is LIASA doing? Each generation has to address such questions anew. Transformation should be a never-ending process, not an end-state. The celebration of our twenty-fifth anniversary should prompt us to reflect anew on what we are doing, for whom, and to what effect.

It is easy for associations to become complacent and lose the “fire in their belly”. When I recently visited the (old) LIASA website I noticed that the tab “Awards and grants” seemed to be the most populated one on the site. At the risk of making myself unpopular – which I do from time to time – I have to tell you that this is not a good sign. It is a symptom of organizational arthritis. And while I am taking that risk, as a grumpy old professor, I notice that the pages of LIASA-in-Touch contain lots of nice reports and pictures of events, but not as much substantial content as I would like to see – content to make us think about what we are doing, why, and for whom. This is not the editor’s fault. It’s what members send in.

Our profession is challenged today as never before. Neoliberal capitalism wants us to flit unthinkingly from novelty to novelty, focussing our attention and spending our resources on the latest technology, the latest buzz words, the latest “ultimate solutions”. In following the latest trends, we risk losing our soul.

A twenty-fifth anniversary is a good time for celebration – and to reflect on where we come from, and where we should be heading.

Bibliography

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Brown, Nicole E. 2004. “The Shift from Apartheid to Democracy: Issues and Impacts on Public Libraries in Cape Town, South Africa.” Libri 54 (3). https://doi.org/10.1515/LIBR.2004.169.

Dick, Archie Leonard. 2006. “Where We Still Need to Succeed : Keynote Address.” Conference paper presented at the LIASA WCHELIG Winter Colloquium : Collaboration for success, Cape Town, June 14. http://eprints.rclis.org/7830/.

———. 2007. “From Censorship to Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression in South Africa.” In Access to Libraries and Information: Towards a  Fairer World, edited by Theo J D Bothma, 7:7–12. IFLA/FAIFE World Report Series. The Hague: IFLA.

———. 2013. “Reacting to Timbuktu.” Information Development 29 (2): 104–5. https://doi.org/10.1177/0266666913483067.

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Kawooya, Dick. 2001. “Management Prospects and Challenges of Library Associations in Africa: The Case for Uganda Library Association and the Library and Information Association of South Africa.” Conference paper presented at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress, Boston MA, August. https://archive.ifla.org/VII/s40/pub/mla-kawooya.pdf.

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———. 2013. “The LIASA Landscape [PowerPoint Slides].” In . http://liasa.org.za/sites/default/files/notices/LIASA%20Leadership%20Weekend%20-%20LIASA%20Context.pdf.

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———. 2002. “Chasing Certificates: Problems of CPE Assessment and Quality Assurance Within the South African National Qualifications Framework.” In Continuing Professional Education for the Information Society; The Fifth World Conference on Continuing Professional Education for the Library and Information Science Professions, edited by Patricia Layzell Ward, 243-. München: K.G. Saur.

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———. 2012. “A New Voice: The Growth Path of LIASA, 1997-2012 [Powerpoint Slides].” Presented at the 14th LIASA Annual Conference, Durban, October 1. http://liasa.org.za/sites/default/files/notices/walker_clare.pdf.

About Peter Lor

Peter Johan Lor is a Netherlands-born South African librarian and academic. In retirement he continues to pursue scholarly interests as a research fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
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