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UJ, ACU librarians adopt smart technologies to provide superior services to communities

​As libraries face academic barriers in the Covid-19 era, librarians continue to find innovative ways to serve their communities. This was the overarching message during the two-day virtual conference at the University of Johannesburg, which was held under the theme Journey of change: a ‘New Normal’. The conference, held from 7 – 8 September 2021, was hosted by the UJ Library in collaboration with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).

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Various speakers shared their experiences on how they have grappled with “interdisciplinary adoption” to smart technologies in a rapidly changing world. This was as they sought to expand access to digital resources, launch virtual programmes and the optimum use of information literacy.

With libraries rapidly adapting to and expanding their digital services, speakers from various institutions said they have had to extend their online renewal policies and expand online services like e-books. They now have to stream their programmes using virtual platforms, among other available technologies.

In open-ended responses, library staff described a range of new activities ranging from reallocating print collection budgets to digital materials, reaching out by phone to those digitally disconnected, as well as deploying library 3D printers and adding or expanding virtual library cards.

“An ecosystem of collaboration between the library, academic staff and students is crucial as it gives us the opportunity to develop and network with others in their field, from across the globe,” said Professor Maria Frahm-Arp, Executive Director: Library and Information Centre.

“We are incredibly proud of the technologies being developed within our institution with the help of our sponsors and we are excited to see what further advances can be made in the future,” she added.

Among the array of speakers was UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, Prof Saurabh Sinha, UJ Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation; Brian Mhlanga from Henley Business School; Rebeca Gouwer from Cambridge University and Donna Bourne-Tyson, an ACU Research Community Steering member from Dalhousie Libraries.

Bourne-Tyson said libraries have always felt like privacy and security for our students, but the digital realm has required everyone much more cognizance of cybersecurity.

“We are shifting popular programmes online, sharing hyperlocal information and resources, and continuing to connect with our communities by chat, text, phone and email. Additionally, libraries are preparing for even greater need to support sustainable training for staff.”

With a growing number of stay at home orders, the number of libraries with staff working on-site has likely declined. Libraries also have begun to report job losses and budgetary concerns.

Said Prof Sinha: “Libraries continue to play essential roles in our communities even as we work remotely to ensure health and safety. A culture of adaptation and resilience is key as we will need libraries to safely reopen, support distance learning and telework and expand economic recovery services through the use of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) framework.” “Collaborative landscape modalities will be needed for libraries to continue providing vital services such as advancing digital inclusion and facilitating connectivity, as well as keeping our employees working so they can deliver these services.”

Throughout the conference, participants leveraged their talks through the use of social media to share information related to COVID-19. This was as they shared their experiences in responding to changes in library services and to promote available library resources to promote participation and encourage ethical online self-response.


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