An African Perspective on Interlending and Document Supply

Library Hi Tech News

ISSN: 0741-9058

Article publication date: 1 June 2000



van der Walt, H. (2000), "An African Perspective on Interlending and Document Supply", Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 17 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

An African Perspective on Interlending and Document Supply

Victoria Spain and Les Pourciau, Column Editors

An African Perspective on Interlending and Document Supply

Hester van der Walt

[The International Librarianship column of Library Hi Tech News is devoted to discussion and publicity of library conferences and events occurring on a global basis. It particularly attempts to portray library activities and developments in locales outside the UK and the USA. Column editors are Victoria Spain and Les Pourciau.]


In October 1999, the biennial International Conference on Interlending and Document Supply was held in Pretoria, South Africa. As in previous years the conference was jointly organized by the Office for International Lending of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and a local organizing committee. The local committee consisted of staff from the University of South Africa (Unisa) Library, the then-State Library (now amalgamated with the South African Library in Cape Town into the National Library of South Africa), Medunsa (Medical Library of South Africa) and the University of Pretoria. The 5th International Conference on Interlending and Document Supply was held in Aarhus in Denmark in 1997.

The Pretoria conference was a conference of firsts ­ the first interlending and document supply international conference to be held in Africa, and for many of the participants their first visit to South Africa and Africa, and their first conference of this type. Approximately 180 delegates attended from all parts of Africa and Europe. Thanks to sponsorship from the South African Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology it was possible to assist some of the speakers from African countries to attend.

The programme theme was "Empowering society through the global flow of information", to address issues affecting information professionals in both the developing and developed world. In the last decades of the twentieth century the world's trend-setting nations have taken on the characteristics of an information society, in which information becomes a nation's most critical strategic resource. The development of the information society is dependent on a rapid, copious and reliable flow of information in all media. By utilizing advanced information technology, developed countries are able to harness information resources optimally. In the twenty-first century, will this technology empower less-developed nations as well, or will lack of access to technology and inability to exploit it widen the gap between the information rich and the information poor?

The conference sought answers to these questions by exploring two sub-themes:

  1. 1.

    the globalization of information, the role of information technology in this process and its impact on interlending and document supply; and

  2. 2.

    empowerment of the developing world through interlending and document supply.

The globalization of information is a trend which seemingly threatens to disempower the developing world. Yet, properly harnessed, it could be the gateway to the information superhighway ­ even for disadvantaged countries. A better document delivery and interlending service is more vital than ever before.

Three Interlending Roleplayers

The Gauteng province of South Africa is the richest and most densely populated in the country. Apart from numerous tertiary institutions one also finds over 75 percent of the libraries and information suppliers concentrated here. A lot of the interlending activity in the country originates in the province or is channeled through it in some way. The National Library of South Africa, Unisa Library and the Library of the University of Pretoria brought considerable expertise and experience into the Interlending and Document Supply Conference.

The National Library of South Africa (NLSA) provides the national infrastructure for the country's interlending and document supply network. It administers the Southern African Interlending System (SAIS) with more than 700 members. Most of the members are institutions and individuals in South Africa itself; but there are a number of others from the Southern African Development Community countries such as Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Concurrent with the amalgamation of the two former national libraries, the State Library and South African Library, into the NLSA, an intensive investigation into a suitable information technology (IT) platform for the new institution has been under way. A modern, shared IT infrastructure is vital to ensure that the NLSA provides adequate access to the South African national documentary heritage and facilitates access to the world's information resources.

The University of Pretoria with its 29,000 residential and 21,000 distance education students provides both traditional classroom teaching as well as telematic teaching through its 11 faculties. "Telematic" is a term coined by the European Union and derived from telecommunication and informatics to describe the networking of different communication media or persons in an interactive system by means of modern technology. At the University of Pretoria, telematics is a form of distance tuition combining contact tuition with virtual campus technology, videoconferencing and interactive television teaching. The University of Pretoria's Academic Information Service is internationally in the forefront with its customer service orientation.

The University of South Africa (Unisa) was established in 1873 as the mother institution for a number of university colleges. In 1946, when these colleges were in the process of becoming autonomous universities, Unisa became one of the first institutions to offer distance education as its sole function. Through its system of distance teaching, Unisa caters to approximately 120,000 students both inside and outside the borders of South Africa.

The Unisa Library is one of the primary support services of the university's tuition and research functions. It consists of an extensive collection of approximately 1.8 million books, periodicals (approximately 5,000 current titles), audio-visual and microform material. Besides the study collection and research and reference collections, the library also has numerous special collections and archives. In 1998, it circulated a total of 630,000 items. In terms of interlibrary loans, the library supplied 33,000 items to other libraries and obtained 10,000 items from other libraries.

The four days of the conference were divided into plenary and breakaway sessions focussing on specific themes. Delegates were also taken to visit the Unisa and University of Pretoria Libraries, and the Pretoria Community Library. The conference was opened by Ben Ngubane, Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, with Sjoerd Koopman, IFLA coordinator of professional activities, as keynote speaker. Professor John Willemse, executive director of the Unisa Library and chair of the conference organizing committee, welcomed delegates.

Global Flow of Information

The first plenary session of the conference on Monday 25 October examined the global flow of information. Phyllis Spies, vice-president of worldwide sales for OCLC, took a tongue-in-cheek, yet penetrating look at the information society and its impact on people's lives. Her paper was followed by one by Professor Rocky Ralebipi on rethinking information systems and issues of empowerment in the African context. Ralebipi, who at the time of the conference was head of the department of information studies of the University of the North, South Africa, and since has been appointed vice-rector of the university, presented the case for indigenous ways of knowing.

Malcolm Smith, director of the British Library, then took a look at the changing role of the traditional players in the new information age. He showed how virtually instant online access to the full text of articles in major journals was engineering a virtual rethink of how libraries provide information to their users. Smith argued that document supply services in the new paradigm could have a vital, though substantially different role to play. The last speaker of the session was Mary Jackson, senior program officer for access services at the Association for Research Libraries. She described the global resources program, which seeks to improve access to international research materials through cooperative structures and the use of new technologies. Jackson gave an overview of six test projects for varying models of access in North American libraries. She pointed out that, although North American libraries were no longer able to collect comprehensively, this did provide an opportunity for the global interlibrary loan community to provide access to and delivery of research materials regardless of location of the material or the scholar.

Empowerment through Information Technology

In the second plenary session on the Monday, the focus shifted to empowering through information and communication technology. The question can rightly be asked whether electronic document delivery works. Anne Morris, research coordinator at the Department of Information Science at Loughborough University in the UK, discussed the results and conclusions of the eLib-funded FIDDO (focused investigation of document delivery options) project, which has been evaluating different electronic document access systems in trials with academics using them in their own workplaces. Following this presentation, a paper by John Eilts of the Research Libraries Group was presented by his colleague, Linda West. The Research Libraries Group had a challenge to expedite document delivery among its widely dispersed membership. The result was the Ariel software, which uses many Internet standards to give almost instantaneous delivery of images almost as sharp as the originals, so that many consortia in the USA and around the world have found that using Ariel has strengthened their resource sharing with faster delivery of non-returnables.

In sharp contrast was Eric Ndegwa's description of the struggles of document delivery services in East Africa. Ndegwa, senior assistant librarian at Maseno University College in Kenya, described how effective use of information technology has been hampered by logistical problems such as communication technology glitches, packaging and lack of financial resources. The session closed with Vasilka Hristovska, interlending librarian at the National and University Library at St. Kliment Ohridski, Macedonia, who discussed how the library's interlending and document supply system functioned in the framework of possibilities offered by that country. In Hristovska's opinion the best and least expensive way of interlending is electronic requesting and full-text transmission of library material.

On Tuesday 25 October, the plenary session concentrated on empowering clients through electronic access. Jean Cooper, assistant director of interlibrary services at the Alderman Library at the University of West Virginia, USA, began the conversation by describing the growing demand for distance education in the USA and how the University of Virginia Library has been collaborating with the University's Division of Continuing Education to provide library services for off-site students. Conversely, the University of Zimbabwe Medical Library is hampered by poor funding and poor telecommunication with only occasional Internet connectivity. However, according to Hammer Bamhare, outreach librarian at the Medical Library, a viable interlending and document supply service has nevertheless been achieved with the use of CD-ROM facilities combined with e-mail on the Healthnet system.

Several other short papers followed, starting with Diston Chiweza's account of the state of affairs at the Chancellor College Library at the University of Malawi. Chiweza examined the effects of successive devaluations of the national currency of the Republic of Malawi, budget cuts and increasing emphasis on information technology on the services of the library. He postulated that alternative routes and possibly assistance from developed countries were needed for the promotion of interlending and document supply in countries with ailing economies such as Malawi. Chiweza was followed by Assunta Arte of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Richerche of Italy and Peter Szántó of the National Technical Information Centre and Library, Hungary. Both emphasized that electronic document delivery was the route of the future for libraries in developing countries, enabling them to compensate for decreasing acquisitions and insufficient holdings. Arte emphasized that the automation of procedures and the advent of online catalogues facilitated the access and use of remote resources, doing away with the acquisition of expensive journals and books. Szántó reviewed the successful introduction of Internet-based systems in Hungary with massive discounts and described how the National Technical Information Centre and Library was transformed into an access library. This could serve as a model for developing countries on how to compensate for decreasing acquisitions and insufficient holdings.

Innovative and Special Applications

Wednesday 27 October was devoted to parallel sessions and workshops on technical expertise and innovative applications. The first workshop, presented by Céléste Botha of the National Library of South Africa and Mary Jackson, was a practical hands-on session on new ways of solving everyday problems and improving the workflow and turnover time of interlending and document supply departments. It was attended by 64 delegates, seven from African countries and most of the rest from South Africa. The other workshop was a demonstration of the powerful OCLC systems presented by Catherine Charney, Stuart Hunt and Colette Mak of OCLC.

The morning parallel session focussed on the many types of innovative and special applications available in the field. Nigel Lees, acting librarian at the Library and Information Centre of the Royal Society of Chemistry in London, discussed the role of specialist information suppliers and their role in meeting the challenge of a global information society. Smaller but information-rich bodies such as the Royal Society have members in less developed countries and can assist these members in identifying information that is key to their needs. The National Research Council and the CISTI Document Delivery Services is an integral part of the Canadian Innovation System, a national strategy focussing on the needs of the Canadian research and development community.

Naomi Krym, Manager of Document Delivery at CISTI, described how CISTI supports the small and medium enterprises that have been responsible for most of the growth in the Canadian economy over the past ten years. Library network specialist Barbara Shuh at the ISO Interlibrary Loan Application Standards Maintenance Agency at the National Library of Canada described the changes taking place in the communications protocol developed for interlibrary loans within the Open System Interconnection Framework in Canada and Europe. The Agency will ensure that the interlending protocol specifications will evolve correctly to meet the messaging systems' requirements for the new era of interlending and document supply. Electronic preprint or e-prints of journal articles and conference papers are becoming an increasingly important communication tool among scientists in physics, astronomy, and mathematics as well as those in other disciplines.

Gregory Youngen, physics/astronomy librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is of the opinion that e-prints can provide an alternative to costly and time-consuming document delivery services as they grow in numbers and availability. "But we are a third-world country" is often heard as an excuse for abusing the principles of intellectual property. Nico Ferreira, deputy director in the Department of Library Services at Unisa, took a critical look at the attitude of library and information services in South Africa toward the laws and regulations regarding intellectual property. Ferreira highlighted the effects of piracy and counterfeiting and came to the conclusion that intellectual property legislation should be adopted in developing countries where it does not exist and updated where it does. Complementing his paper was Denise Nicholson's description of the Copyright Task Team established by the South African Universities' Vice-Chancellors' Association (SAUVCA) in conjunction with the Committee of Technikon Principals (CTP). Nicholson, copyright services librarian at the University of the Witwatersrand, is convenor of the task team, mandated with addressing the needs of the educational sector and libraries in regard to new draft copyright regulations and with finding solutions to ensure that fair and balanced regulations are passed, which will enhance education in South Africa while respecting the rights of copyright owners.

National Systems

The second parallel session on the afternoon of Wednesday 25 October put the spotlight on the evolution of national systems, with four papers from almost the four corners of the earth ­ New Zealand (Elaine Hall), Chile (Maria Arenas Franco), Sweden (Gudrun Oettinger), and South Africa (Peter Lor).

Elaine Hall is assistant national librarian (user services) at the National Library of New Zealand, which operates in a political environment that is committed to ensuring effective control and value for money of public expenditure. She described the strategies employed by the National Library to provide access to information for New Zealanders. In Chile, access to information has been facilitated by Alerta al Conocimiento, a closed corporation owned by nine Chilean universities that share information included in their serials collections. Franco, director of library systems at Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Chile, analysed the benefits of the consortium's services, which include reduced costs and greater efficiency and access.

Gudrun Oettinger, head of loan services at the Royal Library, which is the national library of Sweden, described how the decentralization of higher education in Sweden and the increase in student numbers placed growing pressure on university and public libraries, leading to the Royal Library's LIBRIS system for research libraries being made available on the Internet. Lor took conference delegates through the trauma and turmoil in South Africa that has prompted a rethinking of the nature and structure of the Southern African Interlending System (SAIS), which is administered by the National Library of South Africa. SAIS currently has members in eight countries belonging to the Southern African Development Community. Factors driving changes in the Southern African interlending sector include the decline of library funding; the advent of regional consortia and higher education library consortia; and a possible shift from print-on-paper to electronic journal subscriptions.

Cooperative ventures

The final plenary sessions, on Thursday 29 October, moved from cooperative ventures to the conference wrap-up. Several cooperative ventures were discussed. Niels Mark, director of the Statsbiblioteket in Aarhus, Denmark, outlined the Danish-financed IFLA project in Ghana to promote interlending and document delivery with new information technology and its possibilities for application in other parts of the world. Pentti Vattulainen, director of the National Repository Library (NRL) in Kuopio, Finland, discussed the document delivery and book donation program between the NRL and the National Library of Karelia in Russia, its meaning for the whole library community in the Republic of Karelia and especially for the minorities speaking Finno-Ugric languages.

In Zambia, a bibliographic network for the country is being developed. Gertrude Chelemu, reference librarian at the Copperbelt University, discussed the potential for interlending and document supply in such a network between the University of Zambia in Lusaka and the Copperbelt University. Charles Omekwu of the department of library, archival and information services at the University of Ibadan took delegates through the policy issues that may hinder or engender effective interlending and document supply between and within institutions, in the context of the dissemination of policy information by senior government officials in Nigeria. The results of Omekwu's survey showed that awareness of the available information is vital for the effective participation of government institutions in cooperative document supply ventures.

Interlending and Document Supply in the Future

The 7th Interlending and Document Supply Conference will be held in Ljubljana in Yugoslavia in 2001. The South African organizing committee has donated US$1,000 to IFLA which will be used as seed money for future interlending conferences, starting with the Ljubljana conference.

Hester van der Walt is the Manager of Corporate Communication in the Office of the National Librarian, National Library of South

Victoria Spain is "International Librarianship" co-editor, Library Hi Tech News, and Bibliographic Services Librarian, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts.

Les Pourciau is "International Librarianship" co-editor, Library Hi Tech News, and Director of Libraries (Retired), University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee.

Related articles