Speech by Ms Buyelwa Sonjica, Deputy Minister at the inaugural meeting of the National Council for Library and Information Services (NACLIS); Centre for the Book, 62 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town

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11 Mar 2004

Chairperson of the Council, Prof. Seth Manaka, members of the Council, officials of the Dept. of Arts and Culture and the Dept. of Education, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a privilege to address you at this, the very first meeting of the new National Council for Library and Information Services, which fittingly coincides with the tenth anniversary of our hard-won democracy. We will all recall how important the sharing of information during the struggle years was and how precious information is to sustaining human rights.

The Bill of Rights in the constitution itself declares that everyone has the right of access to information and this is a right that the government has enshrined in legislation in the form of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

Libraries play a vital role in this Freedom of Information environment, especially in a developmental sense. Democracy can only be sustained by providing access to all the information necessary for our citizens to take informed decisions. This is necessary for young learners, for mature adults and for the elderly as well. You cannot begin to think of how to implement concepts of lifelong learning without thinking of libraries before all else.

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Library and information services, or LIS, is at the centre of the information revolution. South African society, including the LIS sector, is being transformed in a concerted effort to eliminate past injustices and inequities. The LIS sector is facing tremendous challenges that need to be overcome in order to promote democracy and socio-economic development in our country. These challenges include:

  • raising low levels of literacy and information literacy;
  • promoting a culture of reading and life-long learning;
  • stimulating the publishing industry to publish more works of both fiction and non-fiction in African languages in order for South Africa to become a nation of readers; and, above all else -
  • the transformation of information services and library collections to answer the needs of all communities.

These challenges also exist within the global context of the development of electronic information and the Internet. Across the world librarians and archivists are debating how this profound revolution is transforming their professions. One of the biggest challenges is the preservation of information in the electronic environment. This complex issue affects intellectual property, copyright, legal deposit and archival issues.

The National Library and Information Services Council has therefore been established in order to advise on the transformation of the LIS sector to ensure that the needs of all communities are addressed in a co-ordinated manner and in partnership with the Minister of Education, and the provinces.

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The Council is the result of wide consultation between my Department (formerly called the Dept. of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology) and the Department of Education on the one hand, and various players in the LIS sector on the other.

These players include the National Library of South Africa, the South African Library for the Blind, the places of legal deposit, provincial library services, provincial government departments responsible for LIS, metropolitan library services, the then Committee of University Librarians, the then Committee of Technikon Librarians, the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA), departments of library and information science at universities and the former technikons, and others.

Two important reports published by my Department laid the theoretical foundation for an advisory council for library and information services in South Africa and which served as points of departure for further discussions.

The first was the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage of 1996, which recommended that such a Council be established to assist in the formulation of LIS policy, to provide co-ordinating networks and mechanisms, and to set priorities for extending national LIS. The Council was to provide a vehicle for co-ordination at the national level and advise on linkages between the national and provincial governments.

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The second report, published in 1997, was the result of an investigation by an inter-ministerial Working Group into the LIS Function at the national level. The purpose of the investigation was to advise the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and the Minister of Education on appropriate mechanisms to:

  1. ensure good governance of the library and information system at the national level; and
  2. facilitate maximum availability and use of all relevant information sources, and resources in the advancement of the Reconstruction and Development Programme - the RDP.

The Working Group also advised that an advisory council for LIS be established.

Ultimately the Constitution outlines the legislative framework wherein library and information services should be provided. This necessitated that the body should be an advisory body. I am referring here to Schedule 5 of the Constitution, which specifies that “Libraries other than national” are the exclusive legislative competency of the provinces.

The objective of the National Council for Library and Information Services Act, 2001, was to establish a council to advise the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and the Minister of Education on matters relating to library and information services in order to facilitate access to information for all communities. The Council must inform and advise the Ministers on matters relating to the development and co-ordination of library and information services; the promotion of co-operation; legislation; policies to govern the allocation of public funds; deficiencies of the LIS system and priorities needed to eliminate them; the promotion of literacy, a culture of reading, and information literacy; and the utilisation of information technology.

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The functions of NACLIS have been formulated broadly in order to create a proper operational framework for the Council and to ensure the maximum benefit of its activities for all users of libraries and information. The functions can be divided into two categories:

  1. The Council's role in advising Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and the Minister of Education on various aspects of library and information services, including development, co-ordination and legislation. Of importance will also be policy formulation regarding the allocation of public funds, expanding the training of library sector workers, the promotion of literacy, and of a culture of reading and information literacy.
  2. The second category is of a more general nature, according to which the Council must co-ordinate responses of the LIS sector to problems, liaise with other bodies and councils, and play an advocacy role.

It will be expected of that NACLIS will debate and make considered, scientific and practical recommendations, within the framework of realistic funding possibilities, for transforming South African library and information services to the advantage of all users of information and to thereby also strengthen the National System of Innovation.

The Council will bear a heavy burden of responsibility, since it will have to ensure that the needs of all components of the LIS sector, and the communities they serve, are considered and brought to the attention of my ministry also to the attention of the Minister of Education. You will have noted that I regard the Department of Education as a full partner with DAC in championing NACLIS. After all, learners are undoubtedly the most frequent users of community libraries - go to any community library in the afternoons and see for yourself.

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The Council consists of twelve members, appointed by Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, with the concurrence of the Minister of Education, after a process of public nomination. One of the ex officio members is the National Librarian of South Africa. I must digress here and congratulate Mr John Tsebe on his very recent appointment as National Librarian and welcome him to the family of institutions associated with the Department of Arts and Culture. LIASA, the Library and Information Association of South Africa, is also represented on the Council in order to facilitate co-operation between the Council and the professional association of the LIS sector. Its members have the necessary expertise and insight into the totality of all aspects that affect library and information services delivery and should propose innovative solutions to long-standing, as well as new problems. Members should therefore be well informed of the role of information in society and should have experience in research, development and education matters pertaining to LIS.

The Department of Education and the Department of Arts and Culture are represented by very senior officials as an indication of the seriousness with which this council is regarded.

Importantly, recommendations should always be made in close consultation with all the communities the Council will serve, so that there will be input from grass-roots level as well.

LIS in South Africa should be revitalised from the bottom up, with the Council steering and co-ordinating new ideas and initiatives for restructuring the LIS sector. Information, and access thereto through libraries and other means, will play a vital role in furthering democratisation and in promoting human rights and human development in South Africa. According to the Human development report 2000 of the United Nations, “human rights and human development share a common vision and a common purpose - to secure the freedom, well-being and dignity of all people everywhere.”

The Council should have the vision to integrate these local needs and ideals with those of the global Information Society, which offers both advantages and challenges to developing communities. It is therefore clear that the Council will have a challenging, but exciting, task ahead of it. It would be a case of thinking globally in order to enhance access to international information sources for development at both regional and local levels.

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I am not merely talking in the abstract, the problems confronting this sector are very real and urgent, they are also stirring public controversy. Take the issue of the levying of VAT on books, for example. There has been heated debate on this issue, but the position of the Minister of Finance is that other ways must be found to reduce the cost of books and to finance the development of a reading culture in the nation. Trevor Manuel said in answer to a question in Parliament last year that “The Government should, via its expenditure programmes, make the necessary funds available for libraries and schools to acquire the necessary books for learners and the general public, especially for those who cannot afford to buy books. Parents, the schools and libraries should in turn encourage children to start reading from a young age, and they will as a result hopefully develop a lifelong habit.”

I am happy to announce that my Department has taken this “Tip from Trevor” to heart. On 11 June, in this very building, the famous Centre for the Book, the Department of Arts and Culture, in conjunction with the National Library of South Africa and the University of South Africa (UNISA) will be hosting a symposium on “The cost of developing a Reading Culture” which will address these important issues. NACLIS will, I am sure, play a major role in this symposium.

Prof. Manaka, members of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to formally declare this meeting open and the National Council on Library and Information Services well and truly launched, may God bless you in your deliberations.

Thank you.