University libraries evolving into cybraries

11 July 2002
JOAN Rapp, Executive Director of UCT Libraries, says that it is important to discuss the evolution of academic libraries in South African universities from stable, book-oriented environments into dynamically evolving information centres with an increasing focus on electronic resources.

Rapp was the speaker at a recent Vice-Chancellor's Open Planning Forum and her topic, From Library to "Cybrary": The Impact of Rapid Change in Academic Libraries on Teaching and Research, examined the economic costs and the advantages of the new "cybrary".

According to Rapp, South African academic libraries face the challenges of trying to offer electronic academic facilities that are in line with the academic and research needs of their institutions, while trying to keep the economic costs of running their libraries at a minimum. This is a world-wide problem for research universities, but exacerbated by the South African environment.

"In South Africa the average cost of a journal increased by 203% between 1995 and 2000, while the increase during the same period in the US and Europe was about 35%. Much of the differential impact results from the decline in the rand. But, regardless of the cause, the impact has been devastating."

She explained that in South Africa the high cost of academic material is further increased by the VAT charge placed on education material by the Government.

However, Rapp pointed out that even in the US, the cost of library materials increased during the last two decades far faster than any other cost in higher education, even salaries and insurance. In fact, the cost of library material was increasing far faster even than that of healthcare, she elaborated.

Furthermore, the choice of journal publishers was narrowing because of mergers and acquisitions taking place in the publishing sector. "This means that libraries are forced to contend with high prices," Rapp added. "The amalgamation of publishers who hold power over many of the best journals has led to journals being very expensive, especially in science, engineering and medicine, where a title (one issue) can cost anything between R700 to R200 000. This cost also extends to electronic databases," she explained.

Rapp also spoke briefly about ideas still in the pipeline, such as continuing to upgrade electronic services for UCT students. She said while cost was certainly a major consideration, the Libraries placed great value on maintaining high standards of service for students and staff.

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