DHET R96-million grant propels UFH Alice Library closer to the vision of being a modernised library of the future

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The University of Fort Hare’s Alice Library infrastructure project that will see the facility be transformed into a futuristic space for information literacy has received a substantial financial boost through a R96-million infrastructure grant awarded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

“With this funding, the enhancement of student experience is going to be a reality. The funds will give us the spaces that will take Information Literacy for the Digital Age Initiative (#IL4DAI) to a new height,” said Dr Connie Bitso – Director of UFH Libraries.

Built in 1970, the library located on the University’s main campus in Alice, comprise four floors with each floor space measuring about 600 square metres totalling to 2400 square meters

Over the years, as the student population increased drastically, the structure became inadequate to service the current student population. Faced with this challenge, a plan to extend and upgrade the library was devised and fundraising initiatives were put in motion for the library infrastructure project. The grant from DHET is a result of the ongoing fundraising initiatives and will address some of the prevailing challenges.

“The plans for the Alice library extension that was developed by my predecessor, the late Ms Yoli Soul, is clearly going to be a reality. However, we are going to modernise it into the library of the future that will be relevant even in 15 to 20 years time,” said an excited Dr Bitso.

Sharing interesting views on digitalization and libraries and her vision for the Alice library infrastructure project - a vision that speaks to digital solutions for the 21st Century - it is evident Dr Bitso strongly believes technology, inclusivity, and versatile spaces to accommodate diversity and dynamics of users' needs are fundamental.

“The virtual realm of the library contributes heavily to its tech advancement.  For inclusivity, it should be offering digital multimedia resources to its duly registered users through a one-stop avenue all year round, anytime, anywhere, to allow for self-paced and self-regulated learning. For diversity, it should have a mobile version for its library website and catalogue so that students can easily engage with digital resources from any device when they have a good wireless connection.”

“Within the virtual realm, a technologically advanced library provides a 24/7- and 365-days online support service of an Ask-a-Librarian largely assisted through artificial intelligence to help learners get immediate answers. As well as online forums where students can find frequently asked questions and tips on literature searching, researching and referencing in the form of guides, video tutorials and voice instruction for various kinds of students' abilities, impairments and requirements.”

To ensure the Alice library is light years ahead of other universities in the country, Dr Bitso reckons that green technology, vibrancy, invigorating library spaces with a variety of lighting depending on the purpose of zone space, soundproof of zones for vibrant engagements and discussions; research-driven physical infrastructure and interior design for aesthetics that enhance concentration and studying flair – are key things to be implemented in the upgrade project.

“A library should ideally be a versatile space for all types of formal, informal and non-formal education, including various students' learning needs from practising drama, music, broadcasting studios, art studios, writing centre and career office. There should be auditoriums that could serve as a lecture hall, examination room, and performance theatre. A building that could easily host a conference without much disturbance to those who want to have a quiet study time.”

“I envisage innovative learning hubs where students will come and do projects in interactive spaces with top of the range technologies for creativity, innovation and incubation of business ideas. Areas that have technology and equipment to connect with others in a different geographical location. As far as possible, with technologies for augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and robotics. Lastly, I envisage rejuvenation areas such as a coffee shop, a restoration and meditation room,” she said.

Dr Bitso’s vision for the Alice Library is strongly aligned to one of the institutional goals set out in the University’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan which is to provide efficient and fit for purpose infrastructure and support services to the University community.