A librarian of the future

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By KAJAL PREMNATH

Seated in the St Andrew’s College quad, a gentle breeze caressing our faces while our hands seek comfort in the warmth of the coffee cups in front of us, Vuyokazi Jamieson and I giggle at the expense of her mum’s cooking: “My mother was not a great cook which is probably why I am not the best cook!”

Her childhood reminiscences are sharply interrupted by the screech of the school bell. Seconds later, a flood of boys in navy blazers with books in hand crowd the little eating area – their loud chatting and laughter taking over the space. Vuyokazi continues her story, while sporadic calls of, “Good morning, Ma’am,” fill the air. Without missing a beat, Vuyokazi replies, “Morning, boys!” to every single greeting before seamlessly flowing right back into the topic at hand.

The newly-renovated Cawse Library gleams at the heart of St Andrew’s College. Double-storied with glass walls, the creatively-designed building serves the students of both St Andrew’s and the Diocesan School for Girls. The library is a site for innovation, with comfortable study rooms, accessible greenscreen areas, and digital and audio versions of books available at the touch of a button. In line with the idea of a ‘library of the future’, the Cawse proudly asserts itself as a space designed for and by its users.

In a glass-walled office on the second floor of the library, works the woman behind this project – a librarian of the future, Vuyokazi Jamieson.

Vuyokazi Jamieson, 43, has served as Cawse Library’s Head Librarian since 2016.
Photo: Kajal Premnath

Born in a small rural community of Dungu within the Ntabankulu Municipality, near Mount Frere, Vuyokazi moved to Mthatha at aged 11.

It was here that she was schooled before enrolling at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University) in which she earned a BBibl degree in Library and Information Sciences. From here, her journey took her to the University of Cape Town where she earned her Honours degree.

In Cape Town, Vuyokazi found herself working at the University of Cape Town libraries for a decade, followed by eighteen months in Bishops Diocesan School.

The Unitra alumnus found herself back in the Eastern Cape working at Rhodes University as she wished to make more time for her daughters – time that Cape Town did not allow her. Vuyokazi proudly asserts that her life revolves around her children – she would change anything at a moment’s notice for them.

After a bus accident involving her daughter, Vuyokazi’s personal needs changed once more. Her desire to find a job with more flexible hours, in order to care for her daughter, led her to St Andrew’s College.

The Cawse Library was in desperate need of a renovation. Vuyokazi, who is currently doing a Masters in Education (MEd) thesis titled “Library of the Future”, proved to be the perfect candidate. Her experience led her to be a key part of designing the Cawse Library as we know it today. “I love (my job),” she says. “I dream it.”

Vuyokazi credits her passion to multiple mentor figures she has encountered throughout her life. Susan Gibbons, the Library Director at Yale, is one of them. Vuyokazi received funding from an internship program funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York to travel to the United States of America to shadow Gibbons.

It was here that Vuyokazi saw the value in the Personal Librarian Programme. The programme pairs each incoming student with a librarian in order to make the transition into tertiary education easier. She successfully implemented the programme at the Rhodes University Library.

Other mentors include Gwenda Thomas, who worked with Vuyokazi at her time at the Rhodes University Library, and Judy Hilton-Green, who was Vuyokazi’s predecessor at Bishops. “Each person brings something different,” the Cawse librarian explained. “But, they have one thing in common – they believe in my abilities.”

Her job at St Andrew’s College calls for her to be both a teacher and a librarian. Vuyokazi teaches Grade 8 Information Literacy, which includes topics such as plagiarism and referencing. “She’s pretty fair in terms of how she handles situations,” says one of her students. “We tend to be ourselves in the classroom. We feel comfortable when we work with her.”

Vuyokazi employs a hands-on approach when teaching Grade 8 Information Literacy. She moves around the classroom, interacting with her students. Photo: Kajal Premnath

The South African School Librarians’ Conference is the latest of Vuyokazi’s ventures. The conference, which took place from 28 June to 2 July 2019, was themed ‘Libraries of the Future’. Vuyokazi asserts that updating library spaces to suit the needs of its users is important, however irrelevant if not run by a ‘librarian of the future’ – someone who evolves with the space and moves away from the traditional ‘shushing’ librarian stereotype.

To Gwen Johnson, who worked with Vuyokazi to organise the conference, Vuyokazi Jamieson exemplifies a librarian of the future: “She’s absolutely fabulous to work with. She connects with her students really well.”

According to the Library and Information Association of SA (LIASA) president, Nikki Crowster, as reported by TimesLive earlier this month, “Libraries can be spaces of learning, leisure, entertainment, collaboration, creativity, imaginary worlds, debate, support, and service.”

However, their value is not always necessarily recognised. Keeping in line with Vuyokazi’s infectious futurism, Crowster asserts that “we need more library services that respond to the needs of our people. Not just places where books are stamped. We also need more holistic support from the government: buildings, staffing, books and other materials of continuous and consistently high quality need to be rolled out across the country.”

Vuyokazi, as a librarian, recognises this lack of support in rectifying South Africa’s reading problem. However, she is hopeful: “We are an academic town with a forward-thinking university that is prioritising the Community Engagement aspect in its vision.”

Cawse Library, too, partakes in helping its surrounding community. Vuyokazi oversaw a partnership between St Andrew’s and Nombulelo Secondary School in which much-needed renovations were made to Nombulelo’s school library. The renovations are planned to be completed by January 2020.

From this partnership was born the Interact Club at St Andrew’s in which their students plan to partner with the students at Nombulelo to further boost the libraries of other schools.

Vuyokazi has recently won the LIASA Librarian of the Year 2nd runner up award for 2019. The Association describes the librarian of the year to be someone who is “a role model for the Library and Information Services community and a person whose contributions make a lasting impact on the sector.”

From the Personal Librarian Programme, to organising the South African School Librarian’s Conference, to aiding in the renovation of Nombulelo’s library; Vuyokazi Jamieson is an active and valuable member of Makhanda’s academic community. However, as she has proved time and time again, her desire to be the best mother (and possibly better cook) she can be for her daughters takes priority.

Vuyokazi Jamieson (left) and Gwen Johnson meet to plan the South African Schools’ Librarians Conference. Photo: Kajal Premnath

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