Department of Information Science personnel present at LIASA 2021 Virtual Conference

Posted on September 28, 2021

The Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) 2021 virtual conference took place 27-30 September. This year the theme of the conference was “Libraries matter! Reflecting on a year of change.” The conference aims to examine LIASA and the LIS profession through the lens of the pandemic and the impact it had on professional services that libraries provide. Several Department of Information Science personnel presented at the conference, while the Head of Department Prof Ina Fourie also chaired a session on Impact and Influence.


Anika Meyer, Naailah Parbhoo-Ebrahim (both lecturers in the Information Science sub-discipline) and Prof Ina Fourie presented a paper titled Autoethnography as research, reflection and coping mechanism for librarians in times of crisis: a viewpoint paper.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries have faced many challenges. Librarians, as people with fears, frustrations, ideals and commitments to their jobs and families, also faced tremendous challenges. They must take care of their own emotional well-being, adapt the way they work and find new methods to stay connected with colleagues and clients. During the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, Anne-Marie Deitering (librarian and autoethnographer) noted: ‘We live our lives, every day, guided by norms like these. Living without norms is not a choice we can make. However, that does not mean we cannot notice, question, and trouble them. Noticing is one of the things that the autoethnographer does, or should do’ (Deitering, 2021:26). The emotional nature of librarians’ work has been acknowledged long before the COVID-19 pandemic (Fourie & Julien 2013).

Autoethnography is ‘a form of critical reflexive self-study, or critical reflexive action research in which the researcher takes an active, scientific, and systematic view of personal experience in relation to cultural groups identified by the researcher as similar to the self (i.e., them)’ (Hughes & Pennington 2017:11). Autoethnography is about writing to make a cultural and social contribution (Bochner & Ellis 2016). It can be approached as sole, dual, collaborative, evocative or analytical autoethnography combined with systematic reviews and action research (Bochner & Ellis 2016; Chang, Ngunjiri & Hernandez 2013). Apart from being a research method in various fields, autoethnography is also used as a mechanism for coping with traumatic events and when addressing social injustices. Inequity, disparity, marginalisation and the digital divide in the societies served by all library types became grossly evident with the pandemic. Although widely used, uptake amongst librarians is limited. Some exceptions are reported by Deitering, Schroeder and Stoddart (2017). Autoethnography holds considerable potential for librarians. Following a brief explanation of the meaning, purpose, types and ethical challenges of autoethnography, we will elaborate on opportunities within complex contexts where both clients and librarians face challenges.


Naailah Parbhoo-Ebrahim and Laetitia Cassells (lecturer in the Publishing studies sub-discipline) also presented a paper titled Digital Wellness: suggestions for implementation in academic libraries.

Digital wellness has become increasingly important with continuous advancements in technologies, schools and universities implementing online learning, and more and more professionals moving towards an online learning environment. Digital wellness is defined in this research as “a way of life, while using technology, that promotes optimal health and well-being in which body, mind and spirit are integrated by the individual to live more fully within the human, natural and digital communities” (Royal, Wasik, Horne, Dames and Newsome, 2019) which has an effect on a user’s mental, physical, social and emotional health (JISC,2021:el).

The African Centre of Excellence for Information Ethics (ACEIE) at the University of Pretoria Department of Information Science developed digital wellness toolkits (DWT’s) comprising of 9 booklets in 2015. These booklets address digital citizenship, cyber-security, cyber-safety, cyber-crimes and information ethics and are updated regularly.

The DWT’s were updated for the JCP community-based module program at the University of Pretoria for delivery to people experiencing homelessness, people who have substance use disorder and learners at the UP Pre-University academy. As an example for higher learning institutions this paper addresses the higher expectations from universities for value delivery and content presentation. This includes the further developments of online library services, materials and hybrid learning to bridge the divide many users experience. The implementation of user-centred training materials is considered successful, although there are many dangers that need to be considered. These dangers include privacy infringements, unlawful data-mining, cyber/technology addiction and ineffective ergonomics. Digital wellness will aid librarians in supporting students and staff with success, well-being and provide opportunities for effective collaboration (Birkenhauer,2020:el). This study addresses adapting the DWTs to specific needs and providing scope for further research with regards to various target groups such as masters and doctoral students and students entering the workplace. Academic libraries have the platform to provide digital wellness training to students thereby increasing the value of library programs. 

- Author Anneke Nel
Published by Anneke Nel

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