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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Factors that impact on South African black Library and Information Services professionals' perceptions of Information Technology

Robert Moropa Human Resources Services Division,
University of South Africa,
Pretoria, South Africa


The phenomenal development of information and communication technology (ICT)[1] has set in motion a major paradigm shift within the Libraiy and Information profession. ICT has developed to such an extent that it has become necessary for the profession to add to its vocabulary the concept "virtual library". Electronic information resources (the "stock" of a virtual library) are supplementing, and in many cases replacing the established printed resources (the stock of libraries as we know them today). Libraries are compelled to accommodate a flood of electronic databases and text services if they are to survive (Shillinglaw 1997).

The new paradigm, which is electronic-based, demands that members of the Library and Information Services profession acquire new skills and competencies The current skills that the profession possesses were acquired in the former book-based culture. ICT has rendered these skills largely inadequate and thus, new skills must be mastered.

In South Africa, however, the number of black Library and Information Services professionals who are equipping themselves with the necessary ICT skills is significantly lower than that of their white counterparts.

The purpose of this paper, based on an exploratory study conducted at the Unisa Library in April 1997, is to determine: (a) if this is in fact the case, (b) what the reasons are and (c) how it can be rectified.

For the purpose of this paper a staff member holding a first level degree (eg B.Bibl) in Library and Information Science, or a degree plus a Higher Diploma in Library and Information Science, will be regarded as a professional or qualified librarian. In South Africa there is currently a debate going on regarding who qualifies to be included in the category professional or qualified librarian. The reason for this is that a myriad of Library and Information Science qualifications at diploma level are being offered at Universities and Technikons.


2.1 Background to the survey

The survey was conducted to ascertain why some librarians become acknowledged ICT experts, while the competence of others remains at a basic functional level.

An ICT expert is someone with extensive knowledge of one or more of the following: database services, database construction and maintenance, library systems, Internet services, networks, advanced application programs (e.g. Paradox, Access, desktop publishing, presentation programs), PC operation and maintenance, simple programming tasks, the automation of specific library lunctions and multimedia services or processes.

Unisa Library came into existence in 1946 and is among the leading libraries in South Africa as far as ICT facilities are concerned. Its core operations, starting from ordering of material to lending, are fully automated [2]

Preparations are underway to add the following ICT facilities (a) an electronic text centre, (b) an electronic learning centre, (c) the electronic storage, and delivery to students, of information and learning resources, (d) and the electronic storage and on-demand printing of recommended materials.

All professional staff and senior administrative and support staff are each provided with a PC which is linked to the University's computer network. These staff members are ICT literate. This implies the ability to use relevant programs, eg. WordPerfect, library systems (Unis) and database services (Sabinet, CD-ROM, Knight Ridder). In total the Library has 294 PCs of which 242 are allocated to staff.

The Library Management has created an ICT support unit to assist staff This unit forms a link between the Library and the University's Department of Computer Services. There are 4 posts in the unit and to date suitable applications for filling posts in this unit have only been received from white applicants.

2.2 Profile of the Respondents

All black professional librarians on the staff were surveyed. A sirnilar number of white professionals in equivalent posts completed questionnaires. An overall response rate of 84% was obtained. The response rate for white staff was 90% and for black staff 75%.


3.1 Assumptions underlying the survey

Certain assumptions regarding factors impacting on the motivation of black librarians to become ICT experts were made at the start of the survey, based on informal discussions with participants and from the literature. These factors can be divided into three categories, i.e. social environmental factors, work environment factors, and internal factors. Social environmental factors include the staff member's past and present social milieu. Staff member's work environment factors include, among others, encouragement to participate in ICT activities, perceived exclusion from ICT activities (see Table 1 for additional factors in this category). The individual's motivation to be involved in ICT is discussed under Internal Factors.

Table 1: Factors that impact on participants' interest to acquire advanced ICT skills

3.2 Staff involvement in ICT developments/projects It was important to establish how many staff are involved in the development or implementation of computer related projects in the Library. Nearly 60% of white librarians (54 people) indicated their involvement in projects, whereas only 20% of black librarians (4 people), all in senior posts, are active.

3.3 Social Environmental Factors

Fifty two percent (52%) of the white librarians were exposed to science and technology when young, while only 13% of the black librarians received this exposure.

The respondents were asked to indicate whether computer matters are often discussed in their social environment e.g. with family and/or friends. Although 81% of white staff members and 62% of black librarians indicated that such discussions do occur regularly, the question does not indicate the technological level of such discussions.

3.4 Work Environmental factors

The results of the survey show that 90% of white staff considered that they are encouraged to participate in computer related activities in the library. But within the same work environment only 30% of black respondents stated that they received encouragement.

Respondents were queried as to whether they feel excluded from computer related developments in the library. Most white librarians (81%) did not consider that they were excluded, while only 27% of black librarians held the same opinion.

The assumption that ICT is the domain of white librarians in the Unisa Library was tested in the survey. The statistics show that 76% of white librarians and 20% of black librarians did not see ICT as racially exclusive. This suggests that 80% of black librarians have the perception that ICT is racially exclusive.

The perception of respondents was tested whether ICT experts share their knowledge freely with colleagues. 67% of white librarians and 38% of black librarians stated that ICT experts share their knowledge.

Another work environment factor identified was lack of time to practice ICT skills. 90% of white librarians and 60% of black respondents concurred that there was not enough time for hands on experience.

3.5 Internal factors

When asked if they have sufficient knowledge to participate adequately in meetings and discussions on computer related matters, 57% of white librarians and 77% of black librarians stated that they do not have sufficient knowledge.

All black librarians thought they would gain from learning about networks, databases, the Internet and other advanced ICT matters, while 95% of white librarians shared the same view.

The interest of staff in computer related matters was questioned. 66% of white staff members indicated that they were interested in computer related matters. However, all the black librarians expressed interest.

3.6 Additional factors

Participants were asked to list additional factors that have prevented them from improving their ICT skills. Lack of time seems to be the major factor followed by lack of opportunities to attend courses and thereby be exposed to developments in ICT.


This survey showed that the interest in computer related matters is high (100%) among black librarians in the Unisa Library.

The following have been identified through the survey as inhibiting factors for black staff to participate in the library ICT field. They are:

The implications of the above are:

This problem can only be solved through the active participation of both management and all staff.



  1. he acronym "ICT" is used in the place of the one that is commonly used, namely, IT (Information Technology). The reason is that developments of communications technology have added impetas in the developments of IT and have made it possible for IT to have a major impact globally. A good example of this and of the interdependence between the two fields of technology is the Internet. The use of the term "information and communication technology" recognizes the interdependence of these two fields.

  2. The Unisa Library catalogue is available on the World Wide Web.
    Address: http://www.unisa.ac.za/netcat/index.html