“Don’t they know how important it is?” A case study of information literacy education in a small South African town
The paper comes out of a month-long case study of information literacy education in two public libraries in a small South African town in the rural province of Mpumalanga, undertaken in October 2004. The participant observation study is the second phase of a two-phase mixed methods study, which explores the capacity of public libraries in South Africa for information literacy education – in the context of the dire shortage of school libraries. The focus in the second phase is on the connections between public libraries and schools. However, the relations between the two libraries and their staff members are found to impact on these relations with the study finding that historical context and the conflicts arising from unequal positions of power impact significantly on information literacy education in the town. The paper concentrates, however, on just two threads of enquiry: the views of teachers and principals in the seven schools of the town on the educational role of libraries as revealed in interviews; and pupils’ use of the two public libraries in seeking information for their school assignments. The study reveals a lack of cognizance of the high level demands of information-seeking in libraries among the teachers. They tend to see the library as a warehouse from which things are “fetched”. The study finds a paradox – a gulf certainly exists between the public libraries and schools but the gulf comes from shared limited conceptions of the educational role of public libraries and of information literacy. The intense gaze of the participant observation contributes a nuanced understanding of the challenges for information literacy education in South Africa.