I am impressed by South Africa’s Library and Information Services (LIS) Transformation Charter (July 2009, 6th Draft).
The document, which is available on the web, gives a clear, detailed, forceful and realistic analysis of the country’s library sector. It also includes useful statistical data.
The report shows that libraries must be understood in their local context and as part of broad social processes:
- The description of current challenges suggests that LIS [Library and Information Services] are probably viewed by most as irrelevant collections of books for the educated and middle class.
- The question confronting the LIS sector is: How can South Africans value something they have no access to and no use for?
This is true in most of Africa, I think. It is definitely true in Uganda, where Makerere University Library organized a course to train East African librarians this summer (picture).
The Charter’s pointed to many urgent challenges:
- The uneven and unequal provision of resources within all LIS subsectors continues to reflect apartheid. Access is difficult and participation is minimal.
- The low profile of the sector is understandable given the shortages of LIS. Millions of rural South Africans live out of reach of LIS and 87% of schools do not have functional LIS.
- The uncertainty over overlapping and confusing government responsibilities and mandates has hampered the growth of LIS.
- All LIS sub-sectors suffer from the absence both of norms and standards and of empowering legislation. Perhaps the most urgent need lies within the school LIS sector.
- Insufficient information resources in indigenous languages.
- The low status of the LIS profession is evidenced by prevailing poor remuneration, low numbers of new entrants, the exodus of experienced staff and dwindling student numbers in university LIS schools
Three years have gone since this (draft of the) charter was published. I hope there has been some improvement since then. The SCECSAL conference in Nairobi last June was marked by a degree of optimism. Some speak of Afro-Optimism. The main problems remain, but I felt there was a greater sense of movement, or political and economic hope.
The Charter presents a vision of a transformed LIS:
- LIS are within reach of all South Africans. Access is free.
- More than 50% of South Africans are regular visitors and members.
- LIS are seen as places for everyone, catering for the marginalised such as people with disability, rural citizens, the jobless and the incarcerated.
- The various sub-sectors collaborate to ensure a borderless LIS system which is free of barriers and achieves equity of provision for all citizens.
- LIS are guided by norms and standards. The norms and standards provide for the needs of people with disability.
- There is an integrated funding model which ensures sustainable growth of the sector.
- LIS staff are committed professionals and are respected as such by their parent institutions, government bodies and user communities.
- They are appropriately qualified and remunerated. They are engaged in continuous professional education and development. They have codes of ethics and are held accountable.
There are stats on the number of school libraries by province on p. 41. The national situation is very weak. In 2007, education authorities reported that only 7% of the schools had functioning libraries:
- 25K public schools
- 20K schools with no library space
- 3.4K schools with library space, but no books
- 1.8 K schools with libraries
Like educators in Uganda, the South African team emphasizes the role of reading – in a traditionally oral culture.
- As institutions of reading, libraries contribute significantly to a culture of reading with an emphasis also on writing and learning.
- Although reading occurs both inside and outside of libraries, they play the leading role in building a nation of life-long readers.
- They supply not only books, but other reading materials such as newspapers, magazines, reports, and pamphlets.
- In addition to their educational and cultural roles, libraries contribute to economic development by improving productivity through a reading and functionally literate workforce.
Promoting reading also means to encourage the spread of newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and comics – any type of popular and attractive reading materials – inside and outside libraries. More at PL 68/10: Books and reading in Uganda.
I believe that libraries have a strategic role to play in all the emerging economies. This is a matter of material need.
In modernizing societies, children and adults, mothers and fathers, peasants and workers, need relevant information, meaningful instruction and reading skills and habits. Traditional knowledge, story-telling and oral fluency are insufficient – for all their value.
As the South develops, countries can often learn more ftrom each other than from the North – which has forgotten the its own struggles to achieve literacy. The Dominican republic has produced an excellent library census. South Africa has produced an excellent socio-economic analysis of libraries. Both deserve wide imitation.
The report was commissioned by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and National Council for Library and Information Services (NCLIS). The Technical Team consisted of:
- Muxe Nkondo (Chairperson)
- Joe Teffo
- Mary Nassimbeni
- Yonah Seleti
- Archie Dick
- Genevieve Hart
- Anna Brown