Global Gleanings #14: South African LIS research in international journals

Global Gleanings no. 14

This is a slightly expanded version of my column of news, views and snippets from the international literature of books, libraries, and information, which appears in LIASA-in-Touch, the newsletter of the Library and Information Association of South Africa.

Along with their peers everywhere, academic authors in South Africa strive to have their work published in prestigious, peer-reviewed ‘international’ journals, through which they can reach a much larger audience than through locally published journals (Abrahams et al. 2008). This is good. Science and scholarship know no boundaries. But there is a downside: the ‘international’ journals in which our high-flying academics publish are often inaccessible to researchers in the Global South (Himmelstein et al. 2017), and this includes their South African colleagues. Their contributions may be overlooked locally, especially by practitioner groups. That is why, in this instalment of Global Gleanings, I’m focussing on articles published in the last year or so by Southern African academics in ‘international’ journals.

Responses to the COVID pandemic

COVID has cast a long shadow over library and information services – and much is still being written on how libraries have coped. Here are two articles from South Africa. A team from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology reported on the use of their library’s LibGuides (https://libguides.library.cput.ac.za/) during lockdown, when students were not allowed on campus, illustrating that this web-based service provided much-needed online support (Becker et al. 2022). Social media have played a big role during the pandemic. Researchers at the University of KwaZulu Natal explored the use of social media for research, teaching and learning by post-graduate students of Information Studies. Smartphones were major access tools, but various challenges inhibited use of social media for academic purposes. These included the high cost of internet access and smartphones, and poor internet connectivity (Kutu, Olajide, and Kutu 2022).

Heritage

Counter-archives (Luehrmann 2015; Thorsen 2020) may be a new term for many of us, but most of us are (or should be) familiar with at least one example, the South African History Archive (SAHA, see https://www.saha.org.za/). These archives offer alternatives to the better-known governmental or state archives, or those of social media corporations, which are not always trusted to give complete and fair coverage of controversial events and issues of importance to minority or marginalized groups. Counter-archives present an alternative to the formal institutions. Bhebhe and Ngoepe (2021) examined how two of these counter-archives, the Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work in Africa (see https://sinomlando.org.za/) and the SAHA, are building and using their archives.

Another kind of archive preserves the audio-visual records produced by public broadcasters. These records are vulnerable. Many of them are in obsolete formats, and they need constant attention to ensure that they do not deteriorate and become unreadable (United States National Archives 2016). A study examining the preservation of records of three of the local radio stations of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in the Limpopo Province found that conditions of both preservation and access left much to be desired (Ngoasheng, Ngoepe, and Marutha 2021). This is worrying. The preservation of heritage is critical to the memory of a people or community, and memory is key to the maintenance of their identity. To adapt a phrase, “The price of identity is eternal vigilance”.

Indigenous knowledge

Indigenous, traditional, or local knowledge is a priceless part of our heritage. Recently an informetrics methodology was used to distinguish between these three concepts. It turns out that of the three labels, ‘traditional knowledge’ is the one used most. There is little overlap in their use, which varies by country and geographic area. This is unfortunate as it reduces communication among researchers and others interested in the topic (Onyancha 2022).

A recent article provocatively titled “Indigenous healing in South Africa: looking for a tree of truth in the forest of illusions” warns us that the use of social media has opened up the field to exploitation by bogus healers and criminal elements, in part because the ‘indigenous healing space’ in this country is poorly regulated (Maluleka and Nkwe 2022).

The question of what role our libraries play and should play in the preservation of, and access to, indigenous knowledge has been under discussion for several decades.

Professor M. Mhlongo of UNISA has been conducting research on how indigenous knowledge can be integrated into our public library services. Her latest article reports on a study of four provincial library services. Interviews conducted with the heads of these services showed that indigenous knowledge should be integrated in public library services, but that this was not yet happening. She proposed a framework identifying stakeholders and their responsibilities, and what outcomes should be sought (Mhlongo 2021).

Records management

To conclude this overview of recent research articles, I must mention an article on the legislative framework relating to the use of artificial intelligence for the management of records at the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (Modiba 2022), and another on challenges affecting records management at Statistics South Africa (Tintswalo et al. 2022).

A challenge

Interesting research is being carried out in LIS/Information Science departments at our universities. I fear that not enough of it comes to the attention of LIS practitioners to inform and enrich our practice. Are the academics and the practitioners not in danger of drifting apart?  If any heads of department and thesis supervisors are reading this, how about getting your students to write short, intelligible reports on their research for LIASA-in-touch?

 Tailpiece

To reward those who managed to read up to the end of this column, check out this poster that was presented at the 2022 IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland.

A team of three French librarians conducted a survey to determine empirically whether the old stereotype that librarians are women with their hair in a bun, glasses, a cardigan, and a cat is true. They decided to focus on the cat. The research question was, “In France, to what extent do librarians represent a larger than average proportion of cat people?” They found that 79% of librarians are women, 73% identify as cat people, and 56% have a cat, as against 16% who have a dog. One respondent commented, “Dogs come after being called…cats take the message and call you back later”. The presenters made some interesting methodological comments (Delaune, Gaffet, and Papon-Vidal 2022).

References

Abrahams, Luci, Mark Burke, Eve Gray, and Andrew Rens. 2008. Opening Access to Knowledge in Southern African Universities. Study Series. Johannesburg: SARUA Southern African Regional Universities Association.

Becker, Deborah A., Joanne Arendse, Veliswa Tshetsha, Zulaiga Davids, and Vuyokazi Kiva-Johnson. 2022. “The Development of LibGuides at Cape Peninsula University of Technology Libraries and the Impact of the COVID-19 Lockdown on Their Usage.” IFLA Journal 48 (1): 57–68. https://doi.org/10.1177/03400352211046025.

Bhebhe, Sindiso, and Mpho Ngoepe. 2021. “Building Counter-Archives: Oral History Programmes of the Sinomlando Centre and Memory Work in Africa and the South African History Archive.” Information Development, March, 0266666921999754. https://doi.org/10.1177/0266666921999754.

Delaune, Camille, Mathilde Gaffet, and Laure Papon-Vidal. 2022. “Are Librarians Cat People?” Poster presented at the IFLA World Librar and Information Congress, Dublin, July. http://repository.ifla.org/bitstream/123456789/2137/1/151-delaune-en-poster.pdf.

Himmelstein, Daniel S, Ariel Rodriguez Romero, Jacob G Levernier, Thomas Anthony Munro, Stephen Reid McLaughlin, Bastian Greshake Tzovaras, and Casey S Greene. 2017. “Sci-Hub Provides Access to Nearly All Scholarly Literature.” ELife 7: e32822. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.32822.

Kutu, Idowu Febishola, Olabode Olajide, and Jacob Oloruntoba Kutu. 2022. “Awareness, Accessibility and Challenges of Social Media as Experienced by Postgraduate Information Studies Students, University of KwaZulu-Natal During the COVID-19 Pandemics Lockdown.” African Journal of Library, Archives and Information Science 32 (1): 81–95.

Luehrmann, Sonja. 2015. “Counter-Archives: Sympathy on Record.” In Religion in Secular Archives: Soviet Atheism and Historical Knowledge, edited by Sonja Luehrmann, 0. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199943623.003.0005.

Maluleka, Jan Resenga, and Marcia Nkwe. 2022. “Indigenous Healing in South Africa: Looking for a Tree of Truth in the Forest of Illusions.” Global Knowledge, Memory and Communication ahead-of-print (ahead-of-print). https://doi.org/10.1108/GKMC-12-2021-0202.

Mhlongo, Maned. 2021. “A Framework for the Integration of Indigenous Knowledge into Libraries in South Africa.” IFLA Journal, June, 03400352211018224. https://doi.org/10.1177/03400352211018224.

Modiba, Mashilo. 2022. “Legislation Used to Apply Artificial Intelligence for the Management of Records at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.” African Journal of Library, Archives and Information Science 32 (1): 21–35.

Ngoasheng, Cyril, Mpho Ngoepe, and Ngoako Solomon Marutha. 2021. “Sounds like a Broken Record: Preservation and Access of Audio-Visual Records at the South African Broadcasting Corporation Radio.” Global Knowledge, Memory and Communication ahead-of-print (ahead-of-print). https://doi.org/10.1108/GKMC-11-2020-0185.

Onyancha, Omwoyo Bosire. 2022. “Indigenous Knowledge, Traditional Knowledge and Local Knowledge: What Is the Difference? An Informetrics Perspective.” Global Knowledge, Memory and Communication ahead-of-print (ahead-of-print). https://doi.org/10.1108/GKMC-01-2022-0011.

Thorsen, Sofie. 2020. “Counter-Archiving: Combating Data Colonialism.” FARSIGHT (blog). November 16, 2020. https://medium.com/copenhagen-institute-for-futures-studies/counter-archiving-combating-data-colonialism-be17ffead4.

Tintswalo, Shiphamele, Adrino Mazenda, Tyanai Masiya, and Elvin Shava. 2022. “Management of Records at Statistics South Africa: Challenges and Prospects.” Information Development 38 (2): 286–98. https://doi.org/10.1177/0266666920981680.

United States National Archives. 2016. “Resources – Publications: Managing Audiovisual Records.” National Archives. August 15, 2016. https://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/publications/managing-audiovisual-records.html.

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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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