There’s far more to managing an institution’s information system than shelving, stock taking or shushing noisy library-goers – and no one knows that better than University of Cape Town (UCT) senior librarian, Ingrid Thomson, who recently added the 2023 Influential Library Leader of the Year Award to her long list of accolades.
A committed advocate for “moving with the times” to stay abreast of new technologies, Thomson, who heads up the Hiddingh Library, has been at the forefront of revolutionising the Library and Information Services (LIS) profession, one which she describes as “the best career ever”.
At a gala dinner earlier this month to mark the end of the 2023 Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) annual conference, Thomson was named joint winner of the 2023 LIASA-Sabinet Influential Library Leader Award with Karin Muller, Divisional Head: LIS for the City of Ekurhuleni.
Moving with the times
The award recognises remarkable librarians who are role models and champions of the profession. Winners are visionaries who inspire other library practitioners and help shape the future of the fast-changing profession.
“I don’t believe in doing things the same way just because that’s how we’ve always done them. Times change. New technologies emerge and we have to embrace them. I’m always on the lookout for how these things can tie into managing information,” Thomson said.
“Times change. New technologies emerge and we have to embrace them.”
The former journalist-turned-librarian said that during 42 years of working in her second profession, every day has been different, offering opportunities to learn something new. The transition wasn’t too disruptive, she added, given that both are entrenched in information.
“I worked for the Sunday Express and a company called Thomson Publications – no relation – and worked on various types of publications, including Reader’s Digest, as well as an industrial magazine. Journalism and librarianship all relate to information, so [it] wasn’t a completely new environment.”
She initially began working in children’s public libraries, before moving on to Tamboerskloof Primary School’s library. She started at UCT in the Faculty of Education, while completing her library degree through the University of South Africa.
Once qualified, the award-winning librarian secured a professional post in stock management before moving into the department that looked after circulation, becoming acting circulation librarian, and later a subject librarian in the Faculty of Humanities.
During her time at UCT, Thomson has seen three overhauls of the library system and, as much work as restructuring takes, she willingly embraces change. It was her personal interest in novel technologies, specifically RSS feeds, that prompted her attendance at a Learning Africa Conference workshop in 2006 which, in turn, led to her involvement with LIASA and Wikipedia.
“Then, in 2011, I went to another e-learning conference in Mauritius with a few UCT colleagues. There were no other librarians at the conference. The academics were talking about the work that they were doing with first years, special programmes and the like, but they never mentioned whether they’d spoken to their librarians.
“It got to the point where I was sitting in the front row, quite tense, asking whether librarians had been involved in all of these developments. Because the library is an important part of creating these types of curricula,” she said.
“We organised a couple of Saturday sessions to start learning how to edit Wikipedia entries and start expanding on the information that they had about South African libraries.”
Then came her work on Wikipedia, which Thomson described as something of a “baptism of fire”. With the Wikimedia South African chapter, she said: “We organised a couple of Saturday sessions to start learning how to edit Wikipedia entries and start expanding on the information that they had about South African libraries.”
She discovered that editing Wikipedia entries is not as easy as it ostensibly seems, but it was the beginning of an association with the world’s most extensive encyclopaedia that still remains active. More recently, Thomson received a full scholarship to attend Wikimania, Wikipedia’s annual conference, in Singapore.
Sharing the acclaim
In addition to her latest accolade, Thomson was the first recipient of the LIASA-EBSCO Travel Award, which enabled her to attend the International Federation of Library Associations conference in 2002. Two years later, she was selected for the South African Library Leadership Programme and became a Mortensen Center Fellow (University of Illinois).
In 2010, Thomson was the LIASA Western Cape branch librarian and was named second runner-up in the national pool.
She is quick to share the credit for her achievements with some of the great librarians with whom she said she has been privileged to work.
“Both Gwenda Thomas [former executive director of libraries at UCT] and Ujala Sagtoor [Executive Director: Libraries], I look at as mentors. And I wouldn’t be involved in all this if it wasn’t for Julian [Massawe, then head of Humanities reference], and being given the space by UCT to do these wonderful things.
“I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention Ilze Swart, who was the head of Bellville Public Library during my time there.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Please view the republishing articles page for more information.