From InstaNovels (short works on Instagram) to enticing ‘Book Nook’ reading spaces in the library, we are constantly coming up with approaches to encourage our students to acquire and nurture the wonderful habit of reading. It’s an activity they will be able to enjoy throughout life for both studying and recreational purposes, and it is essential to the development of a critical outlook and critical mind. In the bigger picture it elevates education in our country.
It goes without saying that all of our libraries – be they public, community, school or university libraries - continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many still battling to provide services. On top of this we’ve witnessed the burning of libraries despite the dire literacy problem we face in South Africa. This deeply saddens me as communities should be protecting these priceless resources instead of destroying them as a way of getting attention from government.
Government educational budget cuts have also meant that a number of schools no longer have school libraries. This has resulted in a loss of staff employed as librarians who should be regarded as essential service professionals as they are at the frontline of developing a thirst for knowledge and a culture of reading.
The university sector in general is in a far better position. At UP we are fortunate to have 11 highly functional libraries serving all our faculties and we are constantly innovating ways to encourage our students to become enthusiastic readers.
We strongly resonate with this year’s South African Library Week (SALW22) theme: ReImagine! RePurpose! ReDiscover … Libraries! Library week - from 14 – 20 March this year - is organised annually by the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) – which in 2022 celebrates 25 years. liasa.org.za
To encourage a culture of reading, we have to consider what appeals to young people and to adapt what libraries offer in the digital era. It’s an exciting time on campus as we are seeing greater numbers of students return and an opportunity to further develop the online relationship we nurtured during the pandemic period. With the switch to online teaching and learning, this included making textbooks or chapters available online through acquired licenses and assisting students in understanding what plagiarism is in the online environment; how to reference properly and how to add their voice; not just cut and paste existing material.
At UP we strongly support the international open science imperative and are focused on accelerating open research to make articles published in accredited local and international journals freely available to students and academics. At the moment, a considerable amount of research is behind paywalls which many cannot afford. The digital shift to online journals and books has been huge for libraries. Today, as a library we have about 10% print journals and subscriptions and the rest are online, for which we purchase licence or lease agreements at great cost to make them available to our university staff and students.
Previously, many of the journals were published by universities or research institutes but increasingly they are being published by large international publishers that are out there to make considerable profit. A very serious discussion is happening about this worldwide as we spend millions buying subscriptions with no discount, even if our academics have contributed.
Onto recreational reading, one of several ways in which we have reimagined and repurposed our offering is to introduce a series of InstaNovels from 2020 onwards. Purists might balk at the concept but it is a great opportunity to offer a tech-savvy reading alternative for this digital age. It aligns with the Department of Library Services' overall vision to establish a modern, 21st-century library. Reading on mobile devices has a distinct advantage - you always have your book with you because you always have your phone with you.
InstaNovels are short or shortened novels or poetry published on the UP Library Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/uplibrary/, accompanied by colourful, modern illustrations created by our student interns. The concept was originally introduced by the New York Public Library in response to the rise of social media in the past decade when attention spans have decreased and addiction to technology has reduced consumption of offline content. By embracing social media channels like Instagram, the New York Public Library found a way to inspire a new generation of readers.
The InstaNovels we publish are either out of copyright or they are written by UP staff and students, creating a wonderful platform for emerging writers. Each InstaNovel is published via the UP Library Instagram (@uplibrary) story reel, where they can be accessed at any time by anyone who would like to read them.
One of our InstaNovels is a digitisation of ‘Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street’ (1923), a short story by Virginia Woolf, which later evolved into Woolf’s celebrated full-length novel Mrs Dalloway (1925). It touches on mental health and the mental effects that war has on the populace of a country, making it a pertinent and interesting read.
Our first UP student InstaNovel author, Ryan Naamdhew, is an aspiring playwright who wrote a beautiful poem about young love and loss, titled ‘Crinkle Your Face’. Our second author, Anthea Pretorius, the Project Manager: Publications in the Department Enrolment and Student Administration, wrote a short story titled ‘Hair’.
To invigorate library use within the university we have invited all our students and staff to participate in our #SALW22 competition with prizes in the form of vouchers for a local eatery. We asked staff and students to share with us how they READiscovered our libraries during COVID-19 and which creative ways they use to access library resources.
Some of them will no doubt mention Libby - the first client service robot at any university and university library in Africa. She started working in our Merensky 2 Library on campus in May 2019. Students and staff who have never interacted with robotics or AI are now doing so by visiting the library.
Libby is not a threat to anyone’s job; she’s part of the library’s innovative progress to release our library teams from repetitive tasks and questions so that they can focus on more advanced, specialised services. Robots and AI are increasingly our co-workers. The combination of skilled humans, robotics and AI technologies complement library services in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) era.
Good librarians remain invaluable and indispensable. If we look at advanced search engines for example, as fast as they are, they are not nearly as strategic and nuanced as a good librarian. Countrywide, we need to treasure our librarians and make sure that we motivate against the cutting back of libraries and put our energies into growing our libraries.