For South African Library Week (18 – 24 March), libraries nationwide aim to celebrate their advancements and highlight the important social, cultural and educational role they play in our broader community.
The importance of libraries is undeniable, and any researcher, information specialist or librarian can easily attest to it – but there is something special about young students explaining why they love their library, perhaps because of the notion that millennials value their Wi-Fi connection more than anything and that all they need is that Google search bar to gain direct access to all the information they’ll ever need. Contrary to that notion, many young minds are aware that libraries offer much more than just old books and computer access.
Through the recent LIASA MAIG #LibraryLoversMonth campaign in which the Department of Library Services at the University of Pretoria (UP) participated, students were invited to write a letter to the Library relating about a time when our librarians, services, resources, or spaces had a positive impact on their academic work. The positive response was overwhelming, with almost 200 letters received.
First-year student, Keitumetse Mokoena, wrote: “The library has shown me that pen and paper frustrations can be minimised by reaching the correct shelf and reading. Your resources, services and cubicles can make a person fall in love with a building.” Another student, Deborah Monareng, expressed how the library offers a disciplined learning environment with “excellent training sessions offered by knowledgeable and friendly librarians” which developed a “profound love for [her] studies”.
Ofentse Mabulana explained how finding the perfect study spot for herself and consistently revisiting it “changed [her] academic life” because she started to make positive associations with that particular area. Many students referred to the library as their “second home” and perceive access to it as a “blessing”.
In the 21st century in socio-politically challenged South Africa, our libraries serve as a sanctuary-learning centre – a place where people are eager to soak up as much knowledge as they can in a comfortable and inviting environment. In another letter, undergraduate student Katlego Kekana expressed his gratitude to the library staff members who helped him improve his marks by more than 20% by showing him how to locate suitable scholarly articles for an assignment he “desperately needed help with”.
Many students want to spend their time in the library and not just check out a book that their lecturer said they needed and then leave. This indicates that the services offered by library staff are just as significant to students as the resources offered, which means that the human input and expertise are valued, regardless of how strong the Wi-Fi connection may be. Overall, the letters received showed that the library is very relevant in promoting and supporting learning, research, habit forming, information resource sharing, collaborative studying, and free access to information and infrastructure.
The relevance of the library today has been questioned by many scholars, arguing that the Internet has replaced library information services. However, through the opinions gathered during the #LibraryLoversMonth campaign, it is refreshing to be reminded in this annual South African Library Week, that in the current information age, students and researchers appreciate the value that our information specialists and librarians bring to their studies as a gateway to knowledge and lifelong learning. The collective effort to preserve, organise and create new knowledge at a tertiary institution such as the University of Pretoria is what drives growth in this country – and the library is at the heart of it all.