A history of the University of Natal libraries, 1910-2003.
The University of Natal was unique in South Africa for many years in that, unlike other South African universities, it was split between two geographically distant campuses, Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The research problem which was central to this study was to document the development of the libraries of the University of Natal from inception in 1910 to the point of merger at the end of 2003 in order to arrive at an understanding of how the libraries in the two centres, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, developed. Linked to the central problem were two sub-problems which were, firstly to discover whether the two libraries had, as stated by a highly placed University Task Team, developed “too independently ...” (1) was true or at least partially true and secondly to find out whether the personalities of individual University Librarians had a significant influence on the development of the libraries. In order to solve the research problem and the two sub-problems as well as to guide the structure of the chapters, four research questions were posed: • What administrative problems were encountered as the libraries expanded and how did the dual-centred nature of the University affect their development? • What level of financial support did the University provide to the libraries and was this sufficient? • What impact did the introduction of information and communications technology (ICT) have on the development of the libraries? and lastly; • What services were offered to users of the libraries and how did these differ between the two centres. The broad approach to the study is interpretative. It has been written as a narrative, with interpretations interwoven throughout the discussion, in chronological order to best show change over time. Understanding the present and anticipating and managing change with some measure of success depends to an extent on our appreciation and understanding of history. This study, by investigating the historical record of the nine decades of existence of the University of Natal Libraries, is not only a revelation of the past but will also, it is hoped, assist in identifying possible future trends in academic librarianship in South Africa, particularly as far as the management of multi-centred university libraries is concerned. The value of the study also lies in the consolidation and interpretation of information in numerous unpublished records and scattered, ephemeral resources. The historical research method was chosen for this study. Given the nature of the research problem it was deemed to be the optimal method for the collection and analysis of data. In order to gain an understanding of the problem, evidence was gathered from primary sources, such as letters, library committee minutes, memoranda, newsletters, photographs and reports, including library annual reports, as well as secondary sources. Oral testimonies assisted in verifying information pertaining to the written record, shedding light on certain events and providing added insight. The research undertaken for the study showed that an offer of a Library Fellowship by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which would enable a staff member to undergo professional training in librarianship in the United States, was the catalyst for the unification of the two libraries. This system prevailed for 22 years. Thereafter the unitary library system was dismantled and the two libraries developed in completely different directions until economic necessity resulted in a concerted effort to bring the libraries together again in 1997, although this time as a federal rather than a unitary system. The research showed that the criticism that the two libraries had developed too independently was true and that a holistic approach to library services at the University of Natal was lacking. Secondly, the research also showed that the personalities of individual University Librarians did exert a significant influence on the development of the libraries although other elements also influenced their development. Although the study is an history of a university library rooted in a “first world” (2) culture there are lessons to be learnt which could be applied to other institutions, particularly in the context of post-apartheid South African higher education. Several dual- or multi-centred institutions now exist. The integration of different libraries, each with its own idiosyncrasies and its own ethos can be complex and is potentially divisive. There has to be institutional commitment to the idea of a unitary library system as the library service in any university is shaped to a large extent by the parent institution. The study was limited to an investigation of the historical record of the University of Natal Libraries. An historical analysis of university libraries on a national scale lay beyond the scope of this study. It was also limited to a focus on the institution itself and the difficulties encountered in the administration of a dual-centred library service rather than focusing on the library service from the users’ point of view. Lastly the study suggests several areas for future research. It is noted that there is a dearth of in-depth critical texts available on the history of South African university libraries. An historical analysis of university libraries on a national scale would become feasible if research is undertaken into the histories of more South African university libraries. (1) [University of Natal, Library Task Team], A report on the University of Natal Libraries submitted to the Executive Implementation Team, 1998, p. 31. (2) C. Darch & P. Underwood, Dirt road or yellow brick superhighway?, Library hi tech, vol. 17, no. 3, p. 285.
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