ASSOCIATES (2005, March, v. 11, no. 3) - associates.ucr.edu
*Support Staff Interest Group In South Africa*
South African Support Staff Interest Group
Even though the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) had been constituted in 1997 and had as one of its aims “ … unite all persons engaged or interested in library and information work and to actively safeguard and promote their dignity, rights and socio-economic status” the Support Staff still felt underrepresented.
2001 saw a breakthrough in empowerment for support staff in South Africa. This was the year in which Nondumiso Sinyenyeko approached Ingrid Thompson the Western Cape Public Relations Officer for LIASA with a call for interested persons prepared to assist her in getting something started for Support Staff in the Western Cape. This was also my, Jean Uys, first official entry into the realms of networking and being a fighter for the rights of Support Staff.
Before the annual LIASA conference the Western Cape already had an interim committee established. At the annual conference in 2001 a special Support Staff session was held to discuss the proposed establishment of an interest group for para-professionals. It was here that the term para-professional vs. support staff was heavily debated. It was felt that the term para-professional did not fully represent all library workers and therefore support staff was accepted as the best name. Strangely enough even the term Support Staff irked a few. It was felt by them that everyone that worked in libraries, including those who were managers or professionals were support staff by virtue of the fact that libraries as such were support structure, i.e. academic libraries supports the university or technikon, public libraries supported the municipality, special libraries supported the company and school libraries supported the school. It seemed doomed to failure by this controversy but a few hardy Western Capers forged forward and the name was accepted. The group wanted to represent all those who fell into the realm of non-professional, regardless of whether or not they had a diploma or certificate in librarianship.
At this meeting Nondumiso Sinyenyeko was elected to be the chairperson of this newly formed national committee. It became the aim of the national committee to provide assistance in getting a branch interest group started in each South Africa Province. This proved to be quite a difficult task. Thus far there are active groups in only 4 of our 9 provinces.
CONCERNS OF LIBRARY SUPPORT STAFF IN SOUTH AFRICA
Concerns which were raised at meetings held by the Support Staff Interest Group in the Western Cape ranged from the lack of recognition and respect, lack of continuing education opportunities, no certification in library and information science courses to staff empowerment.
Therefore when drawing up the constitution of the group, both nationally and locally, the following were the objectives of the group:
The buzz-words of the interest group became “We have your interests at heart.”
The success of this group lies largely within its activities.
Never before, since the inception of LIASA, had both professional and non-professional met to debate issues such as:
This initiative was led by the Support Staff Interest Group in the Western Cape.
Other very important activities included the Shelvers Workshops where Dewey was explained in a fun, practical way and other tasks of Shelvers were covered, such as the care of books and Time Management. The spin off from these workshops, which stretched into a total of 5 workshops, was the Shelvers Competition which has been carried over every year since its inception in 2003. 2004 saw the first National Shelvers Competition, with the winners of each branch meeting to compete against each other. Though things sometimes don’t go exactly according to plan the competition was still a huge success.
Because the Shelvers Workshops were so successful the group decided to start a range of workshops for those working in Access Services, covering topics such as Short Loan/Reserve Collections, Interlibrary Loans and Circulations. The response was not as expected and this resulted in only 1 such workshop.
As from the time the Interest Group started, motivation has been top of the agenda, and each year is started with a motivational talk. These have been highly successful over the years.
Most of the activities mentioned have been held in each of the 4 active branches. The only time that the South African Support Staff meets is annually at the LIASA conference where a pre-conference has been held in two consecutive years. At this gathering a range of speakers from the ranks of support staff presents papers which are useful and applicable to the empowerment of support staff. Furthermore it is left up to each province to motivate and empower their library workers.
There is no newsletter specifically intended for Support Staff but each branch newsletter has information pertaining to each interest group which that branch/province has. In the past years Support Staff has held many successful activities which mean that the newsletter is always full of support staff goodies. Initially Nondumiso and I had all these grand plans for this group and many of them has been realized but in 2004 due to a need on both our sides to hand over the ranks we both declined to stand for another term. The new committee has been vigilant in keeping up with the tradition of motivation and 2005 saw them holding a Workshop to empower yourself. At this workshop both Nondumiso and I were speakers.
What has starting and belonging to the Support Staff Interest meant for Nondumiso and me?
Something which neither of us has mentioned is the friendships we have both made over the years. We have great faith in the new committees, both locally and nationally, to keep this group alive and thriving.