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By hannesnel, 8 September, 2014

I recently spoke to the CEO of a private learning institution about his efforts to obtain accreditation. He felt rather dejected. They submitted an application for accreditation with the CHE/HEQC five years ago and are still struggling to obtain the accreditation. According to him the only stumbling block is their library – the CHE feels that their library is not good (big?) enough in spite of the fact that they successfully accredited to offer a good number of other qualifications with the same library.

I have a library in my pocket that provides me with access to more information than any university or public library in the world. For any topic on which you may search for information in books I will find more and more recent information on my cell phone.

Many, probably most, lecturers at universities are opposed to students consulting and quoting web sites in their research reports. The internet, they claim, is full of worthless and false information – most certainly not acceptable for academic research purposes. Why would books be any different? Through the ages as much nonsense has been written in books as is currently on the internet. Even so, students need to adapt their research approach to the nature and volume of information that is available on the internet. All that is needed is that students find corroboration for anything that they use in their research. Simple logic will tell the student if it is necessary to confirm information and to what extent. Triangulation comes to mind.

When studying for a D Phil I visited the university library three times, then gave up. Normally I love spending time in a library. However, this time I could find only two books with information that I could use and in both instances it was only one paragraph in each book. Even more, the large majority, probably more than 80% of the books in the library, are so outdated that one can no longer quote them. We are living in an age when information is becoming available faster than an exploding nuclear bomb can spread it’s radiation (ok, perhaps I am exaggerating a little bit here).

The Pretoria university library is currently developing a databank with the most recent South African legislation and amendments to existing acts. I am sure some students will be able to use this. However, any student who knows how to operate a laptop computer can find any information on the most recent legislation on the internet while working in his room, sitting on a bench in a park, watching rugby at Loftus, etc. without having to consult a university library.

Some three years ago I visited a professor at the Free State University. I did not know where his office was and while trying to find it I came across this huge hall.  The front windows stretch from the floor to the roof, so that the room is friendly and warm. The whole place was filled with students sitting on bar stools at round tables, working on laptop computers. All right, some might have been playing computer games. The place reminded me of a super-size internet café, which it probably is. I cannot think of a more stimulating atmosphere in which to do research and study. If we had such facilities when I was a young student I would have moved in there, and I would have stayed there probably for a decade or longer.

Meanwhile private learning institutions are required to have huge libraries if they are to stand any chance of being accredited. Even learning institutions offering online learning are required to have a library full of dead trees transformed into sheets of paper. Mark my word, if you are not an accomplice in killing your share of trees you will not be accredited.

Hannes Nel


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