Backgound of the Library Practice for Young Learners Project

Not long after South Africa’s first general elections as a democracy, the Education Policy Unit (EPU) at the University of Natal, hosted an international conference titled ‘School Learners and Libraries’. In terms of education policy formulation, by the time the conference was held at the end of November 1995, only the first White Paper for Education and Training (Department of Education 1995) had been issued by the new government. There was keen interest and debate about library policy and what would constitute such policy in a new South Africa. The need for redress in terms of school libraries was self-evident. In the early 1990s researchers of the National Education Policy Investigation (National Education Policy Investigation 1992) conducted a critical situational analysis of library and information services in South Africa and found that school libraries were concentrated mostly in urban white, Indian and coloured schools. Following the publication of its pre-election Policy Framework for Education and Training (African National Congress 1994), the African National Congress (ANC) appointed researchers to develop plans for implementing the policy after the elections. They calculated that the cost of establishing the traditional Western model of a centralised library in every one of South Africa’s schools was not tenable. There were other pressing educational needs that were to be prioritised by the national Treasury. Thus, alternatives needed to be considered by policy developers.

It was in this context that the 1995 EPU conference – funded by Sida – aimed to bring together people from education and library service sectors to consider alternatives to the traditional Western model of a centralised school library. At the conference experts presented international and southern African experience in implementing alternative models. These were:

  • The joint-use library that is operational in Sweden.
  • The mobile library that has been implemented in Brazil.
  • The integrated curriculum approach introduced in Namibia.
  • The regional library service that supports remote schools in the outback of Australia.
  • In South Africa the classroom box library.
  • The virtual library, made possible by Internet connectivity, was found to be useful in many schools internationally, especially in developed countries.

In response to a conference resolution calling for a redressive school library policy, the Department of Education initiated a process that led to the drafting of the National Policy Framework for School Library Standards. The Policy Framework document was a significant departure from the past. It sought to be informed by and integrate other policies such as the outcomes-based education curriculum and governance of schools. By so doing, it included innovations that had not been tested.

Towards the end of the process of formulating the Policy Framework, the Library Practice for Young Learners (LPYL) project was initiated. This project was developed during a period of financial constraints and cutbacks in the provincial education systems. It was increasingly recognised that provincial departments were unlikely to allocate more funds to develop existing school libraries and start new libraries. Thus, librarians and library managers had to become more resourceful in how they ran school libraries and provided a service to teachers and learners. Their own capacity to cope with cutbacks, and develop their ingenuity and resourcefulness to provide and sustain an excellent and innovative service despite limited resources was the key. This contextual understanding focused the LPYL project on human resource development rather than on the provision of material resources such as computers, books and shelving. Furthermore, the project was designed to explore some of the untested innovations in the Policy Framework among a sample of school librarians in all of South Africa’s nine provinces. The project was also designed as a North-South collaboration to provide exchanges of knowledge and expertise between Swedish and South African library personnel. So far the project has comprised two phases involving South Africa’s national and provincial education departments and two non-governmental organisations, and Sweden’s Bibliotek i Samhälle (BIS). For Phase One the South African nongovernmental organisation was the Library and Information Workers’ Organisation (LIWO). But when this organisation ceased to operate, EPU became the South African partner for Phase Two.

Phase One: 1997–1999

Ideas from the School Learners and Libraries conference and the National Policy Framework for School Libraries formed the important bases for the strategic direction of this phase. The main targets were school library policy developers and implementers as well as practitioners at schools serving disadvantaged communities with few resources and inadequate infrastructure. The aims embraced for Phase One were to:

  • Build a common vision and understanding of the National Policy Framework for School library Standards among national and provincial senior managers with a school library responsibility
  • Assist in operationalising the Policy Framework at a provincial level within an outcomes-based education context
  • Develop the capacity of teacher-librarians and media advisors to be innovative in using limited resources
  • Facilitate the democratic process of planning and developing school libraries.

Phase Two: 2000–2001

The Business plan LYPYL, 2000, for Phase Two announced that the phase would exercise the principles of continuity (for Phase One participants), quality and depth (of developmental interventions), extension rather than repetition (of Phase One activities), development and not dependency, reflexivity (on lessons learnt from Phase One), coherence (with national policy trajectories), and interdisciplinary co-operation (with public/community librarians). Based on these principles, the Business Plan developed strategic objectives and implementation plans, and stipulated the role of stakeholders in the project. Six strategic objectives were:

  • Capacity building and development
  • Materials development
  • Advocacy
  • Study tour exchange programme
  • Information and communication technologies
  • Case study research

(Extracts from the Introduction in
Nalker. S & Mbokazi. S, Developing Libraries for South African Learners and Teachers,
Durban: Education Policy Unit 2002)