Article by Dr J.P. Nel, MD Mentornet
It is an international trend for library budgets to be slashed. Especially in South Africa public libraries are disappearing at an alarming rate where they are needed the most, namely in rural areas and small towns. To make things worse, people read much less than two decades ago. Printed books are being replaced by e-books and even they are read by a rather small percentage of the population.
Computers and the internet are not bad news only. Dedicated computer programmes render the work of librarians much more accurate and less time consuming even if not always much easier.
The nature, layout and even functions of libraries are also changing rapidly. Libraries used to be halls filled with printed materials and trained staff to assist library members to find the information that they need. Now book shelves are being replaced by computer screens. More tables and chairs are brought in, although they are increasingly arranged like stools and round tables in a bar. Library members are allowed to enjoy coffee, cold drinks, sandwiches and cakes while doing research in the library. Books on computer no longer take up much physical space. The internet provides access to more information than the book shelves of any library in the world. Libraries look more like internet cafes than the quiet, clinical rows upon rows of books of some two decades ago.
In spite of all the changes in the library environment, quality assurance bodies still insist that learning institutions must have libraries with a minimum number of books. This, and many other questions about the validity and relevance of quality criteria used by quality assurance bodies, which I will discuss in a number of articles after this one, makes me wonder if quality assurance bodies make any contribution to the quality of learning offered by both public and private learning institutions.