Fourth SA Online 1997
Crystalball gazing - to converge or not to converge
An overview for South African libraries
Suzette Oosthuizen; University of Fort Hare Library; SUZETTE@ufhcc.ufh.ac.za
Rajendra Munoo; University of Fort Hare Library; MUNOO@ufhcc.ufh.ac.za
Electronic information resources and the networked environment are two salient
characteristics affecting South African academic libraries as we wane out of the 20th
century. Whilst our profession is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and greyed,
libraries and librarians have to establish their niche in the information society.
Information technology as a tool for empowerment is also a tool for autonomy where
departments seek to become independent. Convergence, on the other hand, is a process
whereby the library and computer centre merge to provide and information service
based on information technology. With severe financial and resource cutbacks facing
South African academic libraries, the question of convergence comes to mind. This paper
aims to elucidate and opens discussion on the issue of convergence for South African
higher education, more especially though for libraries. Being essentially a synthesis of
The new millennium dawns upon us. The journey into the 21st century by higher
education institutions is not going to be a smooth one. This is due in part to the social,
economic and political factors affecting society in general, and individual institutions in
particular. The 1990's have seen institutions engaged in strategic planning exercises
where mission statements and objectives have been set. Academic libraries, too have
been re-evaluating their roles and asking themselves where they are heading.
A significant contributing factor to this has been the proliferation of information
technology (IT) which has upset the apple-cart and sown the seeds for the electronic
library. This has put the universities in a state of flux albeit the concomitant impacts on
teaching, learning and research. Corrall's (1996:35) succinct abstract encapsulates the
scenario by noting that, "the way higher education libraries are viewed, planned, and
managed must change radically if they are to survive and thrive in the future. Advances
in technology, economic and political pressures, and socio-demographic factors have
combined to create an environment posing unprecedented challenges and opportunities.
Electronic communication will transform service provision with significant shifts towards
distributed networked services, empowering the end-user and offering new roles and
responsibilities to information intermediaries. New resource models will be required to
take account of diverse customer needs and different modes of delivery".
IT on campus is bringing together or rather forcing the various stakeholders in
information provision on campus to get together. The library and computer centre being
a case in point here. The result is the process of convergence. Before embarking on an
exposition of this process it is useful to focus on these two key players.
Figure 1: The Commonalties in Service Delivery
IT, we note has jolted not only the library, but computer services and other departments
related to academic development and support. Both library services and computing
services deal with information and the commonality between them is the user. Figure 1
illustrates the new common areas of "overlap" which encourages convergence amongst
the service providers. Ironically, both services we note are being transformed. According
to Bebbington and Cronin (1989:12) they deduce that "the role of the computer centre
on campus is undergoing rapid change. Just as libraries are no longer the sole providers
of information, computer centres are no longer the sole source of computing power.
There has been a proliferation of stand-alone and networked systems, running a broad
range of applications packages from junior freshman level upwards and the trend to
distributed information processing and management is firmly established on many
Traditionally there was a cocooning at institutions where there were clearly demarcated
zones for individual services. There is now a blurring of all support services zone
boundaries warranting the dismantling of "territories". Graham Bulpitt (1996), in his
paper, The Changing Student Experience and Libraries talks of alternative methods
of service delivery where new emphasis is on course materials, library services, IT
desktop services and information skills building. IT service in the library is but one
component in the technology infrastructure. Naylor (1988:177 ) puts into perspective
this symbiotic relationship between the library and computing services by quoting
Marshall McLuhan who stated that "the library had traditionally provided and managed
the "information message", and the medium for delivery of the message has been print
on paper. The computing service has traditionally provided an "information medium" and
the message has been generated by the users of the medium. Now the library's
message is capable of being delivered through the computing services medium, the
telecommunications channel ".
Naylor (1988:177) further notes, there is a definite link between the delivery of
information and the network as such. The network has a new role to fulfil that of a "two-
way communications link". The network should now, more so than ever before, be seen
as a "strategic element than previously in the range of campus facilities".
In order to implement these services efficiently and effectively it needs to installed and
maintained. And it is for this reason that there needs to be a close contact with other
structures on campus. The library is still the hub of activities on campus and plays an
integral part in the teaching and learning processes. The question now is, with shrinking
costs and the continual justification of services, is convergence the answer to the future
justification of support services in the university?
3. The Concept of Convergence
Convergence or, alternatively, amalgamation or integration as it is termed has become
the big issue in the 1990's. Support services are asking themselves what are they doing
and then discovering that someone else is doing the same too! Not only does one need
and depend on the services of the other, it is the support which forms the base. The
issue of convergence has been documented in the literature where various authors have
provided useful insights and case studies into the implications thereof. Adams and
McElroy (1994), Thompson (1991), The 'Follet Report' or Joint Funding Councils '
Libraries Review Group: Report (1993), are all indicative of the need for convergence.
The first reference focuses on the college library, but nevertheless provides us with
some food for thought that can be universally applied to the academic library. What we
note from the college experiences is the fact that there is a commonality in the issues to
Convergence of library and information services with computing services was a term
originally employed by institutions in the US (Williams, 1994:56). Successful working
models have been established and are serving as blueprints in other countries, notably
the UK (Lovecy,1994:1) and now South Africa (WGLIT,1996:3.1.30). Williams (1994:56)
notes that much of the published materials on convergence are by librarians themselves.
In a recent publication, Collier (1994:216) encapsulates the various factors resulting in
converged services. They are:
technocratic imperative: IT, educational technology and information services are so
intertwined that relevant technical and management skills should be harnessed together.
executive thrust: strategic and economic implications of the various services are so
great that clear and simple lines of authority should be established.
information management: the university is a knowledge based organisation which needs
to have a professional approach to managing two types of information- recorded
knowledge, its own newly discovered knowledge and its corporate information.
resource management: the various services consume a large amount of resource and if
merged are inevitably in competition.
3.1. Pioneers In Convergence
The Carnegie Mellon University amalgamated its libraries and computer services into one
service, the Academic Service Division. The concept they followed was "computing by
immersion "(Arms and Michalak,1988:153).
At the Columbia University a Scholarly Information Centre was developed and the library
director managed the merged services (Lovecy,1994:3).
The United Kingdom followed the United States fairly rapidly.
At the University of Salford, the computing services were incorporated with the library to
form the Academic Information Services. Salford was the first university in the United
Kingdom to converge (Harris,1988:147).
At the Polytechnic South West the Polytechnic Governing Body investigated the
possibility of a converged service. They reported the need for bringing the three central
academic support services closer together to enhance user services. The three services
are the Learning Resources, Computing Services and Student Services
4. Implications and Issues of Convergence
Figure 2: The Components of Convergence
Convergence is a managerial and technical issue that revolves around people. When one
deals with people it is common to encounter conflict and it is only when that obstacle
has been overcome that real and successful benefits can be noted. Figure 2 illustrates
the different aspects involved in the process of convergence. A summary of writings by
Williams (1994); Arms and Michalak (1989); Bebbington and Cronin (1989); and Naylor
(1988) bring to the fore various issues in convergence. The article by Bebbington and
Cronin (1989:7-16) forms a useful starting point to the issue of convergence. They
provide a cross-section of the different structures. Clearly the computer centre and
library are two separate entities with a culture of their own, but should be seen
holistically in the context of continual changes and the greying of both professions.
Molholt (1985:286) who deduces that a marriage is possible in the complimentary sense
that libraries have a user friendly orientation, maintain highly structured files and
collections, have relative uniformity of access which reduces the need for extensive user
training and a high degree of subject expertise. Computer centres, on the other hand
offer 24 hour access, unlimited, cost-effective storage with easily manipulatable files and
a high degree of technical expertise. The library services and the computing facilities are
one of the most widely used facilities on campus and in the modern day of technology,
the end user is not concerned about what goes into it, but rather what comes out of it.
4.1. Management Convergence
For too long heads of units such as the library, the computer services and educational
technology units to mention a few, functioned in isolation with personal and political
agendas. In many instances there was a tradition of empire building and furthermore
the creation of ivory towers, to say from our personal experience. Naylor (1988:179)
mentions that convergence eliminates this territorial fortress by allowing players to
come together, to form a single unit with more clout, and in the long run getting a
bigger piece of the pie. By coming together, it is not only the end-user's interests that
are taken into account but the broader institution's objectives too. Management
convergence forces one to develop various policies in respect of financial issues,
personnel management, staff development and appraisal of student services. Ensuring
that the policies are implemented requires an element of critical mass which is not
possible with small, isolated services. Leather and Warrender (1994:82) stress that the
above-mentioned policies have been of the major motivations underlying the many
convergence plans now affecting colleges. Arms and Michalak (1989:155,160 ) note that
financial management is another factor which needs to be carefully considered.
Bebbington and Cronin (1989:7) states that libraries are hierarchical and bureaucratic
whereas computer centres are less hierarchical. In a converged service, there is usually
a much flatter organisation and as Williams (1994:59) notes, the result is that instead of
the traditional management structure "the informated organisation needs more smart
people operating with initiative and autonomy in an organisational context characterised
Woodsworth (1991:20-42,47) discusses the creation of a new managerial post such as
the chief information officer whose role and function revolves around information
management. A more consultative and participatory style of management develops that
may involve all in the organisation. Caution should be taken not to develop too wide a
span where there is no control and furthermore where service is not delivered. The
person heading the converged service need not necessarily be a computer wizard.
Instead, it should be a person who is competent to manage people and deliver a service
effectively and efficiently. Librarians have been considered to have an advantage in this
context with their vast people skills and service orientation.
4.2. Staffing Convergence
This is perhaps the nuts and bolts of the converged service and needs to be carefully
approached. All too often, senior management makes the decisions that are short
sighted of the people who actually deliver the service. House and Moon (1994:77) note
that the traditional role of the university library has been the information provider in
learning activities. Computing services provide tools such as, communication channels
and could not be regarded as an information service. Cimbala (1987:395-397) says that
in a converged service there needs to be a clear definition of roles and functions. Several
problems are inherent in creating such an organisation. Staff of existing libraries and
computing may well be against change. Not only will there be a refined role to play for
librarians but also computer staff too. Staff, in the converged service will need to
exchange skills reciprocally. A major concern of staff during the converging process is
the acceptance of the actual idea, of "downgrading", salary and working hours and the
psychological implications of being managed by a "librarian". A well planned converged
service will take all these factors into consideration where staff should be reassured of
the new manager's commitment and taking their interests to heart. Naylor (1988:182-
183) notes that the new kind of person being employed should be comfortable with IT
and systems as well as possessing traditional library skills. The future will see the roles
of both the librarian and computer service staff as being that of consultant providing
help to the user. Training and multi-skilled staff are necessary to make convergence
work. Lovecy (1994 :7) notices that "in the area of staffing too, there are potential
savings. Libraries have generally a fairly large pool of staff involved in issue desk work;
computing services have normally only two or three similar staff to work at a reception
desk. If library staff can be re-deployed in emergency to cover for leave and sickness,
the service in computing will be improved". Knowledge and expertise can also be shared
To address the issue of staffing and staff attitudes, the new manager of the converged
service will have to be very dynamic with strong leadership, decision making abilities
and a policy of accommodation needs to be adopted. It is important that these staff now
regard themselves as part of a single entity and, if required, could be asked to work
anywhere in the service. In doing so it may be possible to provide instant support for
areas that have been ailing in the past. Leather and Warrender (1994:84) observe that
"on the overall, staff are frequently willing to learn what other people do, what
equipment they use, what skills people have and how the services are presented to the
4.3. Technical Convergence
This facet of the convergence process is the milestone! Not only have
telecommunications and microcomputers affected individuals. These facets have also
created a new generation of people; the information society. With improvements in
telecommunications there is an improvement in service delivery. We have noted earlier
in the essay that both the library and computer services have embraced and accepted
the fact that they are brought together by technical convergence. Technical convergence
will offer more exposure to more people in respect of PCs and the array of information
on them. Institutions are implementing IT strategies and as frequently cited in the
literature (Molholt,1994; The Follet Report,1993; Brindley,1988), there is a move
towards networking and resource sharing, the "wired-up campus", the "electronic
library" and the "virtual library". In the new information service, information is
democratised. New applications can be easily assimilated to provide a variety of services
cutting across all services. Again, we see that information has no boundaries. Naylor
(1988:178) talks of the idea instituted by Simon at Carnegie Mellon University of
"computing by immersion", where the objective is the exposure to computing for
everyone, where, at the end of the day, the feel of it and the potential thereof becomes
4.4. Service Convergence
There is the move towards a client-centred approach. A library's attitude to service is
likely to be different from the computer services and can help to make a positive
contribution towards assisting computer services to become user centred. The other
debate surrounding the issue of service convergence is what to include in a converged
service. Naylor (1988:180) talks of a "one stop information shop" which includes even
student career counselling, while others go on to include educational technology units.
Service convergence must involve a willingness from all parties and not be conducted
haphazardly. It will also mean the added responsibility of student support and
development by both the new converged service.
5. Successful Convergence
Of course the above factors are not smoothly implemented but various authors share
optimism about a converged service. There are various institutions which have functional
converged services both in the UK and the US. There is a need to provide operational
services that may make convergence a reality. The work of Armsby (1994:63-64)
provides ten principles for the functioning of above factors. In various cases, the paper
work is left to senior managers whom at various meetings work through the stages of
implementation. Leather and Warrender (1994:91) list some of the successful elements
of convergence. They focus on college libraries, but some elements could be useful for
university libraries. They include:
Genuine management commitment in terms of fixing the service goals, fitting into a
strategic plan, adequate resource sharing and giving targets and expectations against
which the new service can measure its performance.
A rational structure, which has credibility for those who have to implement policies and
work within the new service. A degree of vision and boldness is required as piecemeal
mergers can lead to a planning blight.
A sound management structure, enabling team management to start as quickly as
possible. This will facilitate the flow of ideas and information between the different
services. There should be a service policy and a set of objectives and aims for each of
the component parts so that everyone has an agenda.
Clear goals for the service in terms of how it can assist the college and its departments.
This will give a sense of purpose and a perception of its growth needs.
New resources are important for success and an analysis of requirements must be made
by the learning resources team. If the object of convergence was to open up services to
support both student-centred and resource-based learning, then convergence will cost
more, not less. Convergence cannot be a cost-cutting exercise. It can create efficiencies,
better use of resources and staffing advantages but as a mechanism to reduce college
costs it cannot be considered. A good learning resource service should be ambitious on
behalf of the students. This should be the primary goal.
A converged service manager as a member of the senior management team with direct
access to the executive level of the college. He/She needs to be close to the decision
6. What are the Advantages of Convergence
Leather and Warrender (1994:86) provide a lucid overview of the advantages of
convergence. They note that convergence should be a tool for achieving change and
making better use of resources. Convergence can be seen as a threat, but not
infrequently it can lead to a genuine reassessment of how a college deploys its
resources. It can unite what might previously have been a whole collection of smaller,
under-funded services in need of urgent revitalisation, if the college is to support its
curriculum's mission properly. The main advantages of convergence are:
an opportunity for positive change and a new political dimension to a college
rationalisation of piecemeal provision
the addressing of the new curriculum and learning imperatives
planning of new services or removal of conflicting service provision
an audit of resources and skills
creation of a common service philosophy
the handling of new technological challenges
support for new student and staff demands
help in coping with college policy initiatives
7. The Disadvantages of Convergence
According to Lovecy (1994:54) staff constitute the biggest problem to convergence,
because of resistance to change. Sidgreaves (1988:139) faced this with the computing
staff at Polytechnic South West where he noted "there was little immediate enthusiasm
and even some concern voiced about demarcation for using their skills jointly with
library staff to develop expanded information services". There is also the issue of
computing staff not wanting to be managed by a librarian and vice versa.
Another problem Lovecy (1994:55) mentions, that faces convergence is housing or
accommodation . The computer centre and the library are apart from one another. Who
would be willing to give up their empires? The library is a fairly established structure.
There may be some reluctance on the part of the computer centre as there are certain
ergonomic factors that need to be catered for. However, with microelectronics, the space
problem can be addressed amicably.
Non co-operation, accountability and the sheer thought of failure is another
disadvantage of convergence, where once the service starts to operate, teething
problems arise and no one is prepared to accept responsibility. Or from the mere fact
that initial friendships turn sour. Another factor to be considered is staff turnover. The
converged service should therefore be more top management driven and supported
where the institution's objectives are primary.
8. The South African Scenario: Possibilities and Prospects
Having gained an overview of the process of convergence it will be noteworthy to raise
a few considerations for South African universities. In this context then, one needs to
look at the transformations in higher education as a starting point.
The Green Paper (1996) on the transformation of South African higher education has
been of debate recently. It is a policy document that acknowledges the inequalities of
the previous government's apartheid education system. In the Green Paper, the National
Commission on Higher Education (NCHE,1996) highlights, in addition to new visions,
principles, goals and objectives, aspects such as needs and challenges, structure and
growth, governance, funding and an implementation strategy. The massification of
higher education and the creation of a single co-ordinated system with a view to
globalisation is seen as necessary for the future trends in the transformation of higher
Feeding into the transformation of higher education, was the contributions made by the
Working Group on Libraries and Information Technology (WGLIT,1996). This report is
based on a survey of libraries and computing services which forward proposals on policy,
planning and co-operation and smart solutions for information provision. Significant to
note is the fact that libraries and computing services are grouped together. This process
of bringing together stakeholders from the libraries and computer services is a further
development from an earlier meeting at the Conference on Information Technology in
Tertiary Education (CITTE) held in Cape Town in 1996. The underlying principle in both
cases is optimising IT in enhancing higher education. The WGLIT (1996) report makes
useful reading as it brings to the fore issues of redress and related IT issues. The most
significant issue being convergence.
Paragraph 5.2 reads as follows, "A number of the functions of the library and IT
departments seems to be converging as the expanding use of these integrated
technologies in libraries changes their environment and nature. There is increasing
evidence in the UK and the USA that management restructuring has led in many cases
to organisational and operational convergence of these two departments".
The recommendation provided by the committee calls for integration of the library and
IT departments into the central academic enterprise, where, "the locating of all
information functions within a single management structure... In order to achieve co-
ordination and the integrated management of all information technology and services
the portfolio of information resource management should be assigned to an executive
officer" (WGLIT,1996:5.2). The report of course acknowledges that dialogue should be
created to see its relevance for the South African situation.
So, is convergence the way forward for information services in a transformed South
African higher education system? An overview has been presented where the process of
convergence has been highlighted. Looking at the classification of Historically Black and
White Institutions, can convergence be used as a redress mechanism? Historically Black
Institutions (HBI) have a tradition of poor financial and human resources in libraries and
computing services, there were also no properly defined information and IT strategies.
Will convergence address their problems or needs? Again it has been noted that such a
venture will depend on the individual institution and circumstances. However the
advantages and disadvantages of such a concept needs to be presented so as to make
informed decisions. Historically White Institutions (HWI) on the other hand, it is noted
from the empirical study by the WGLIT (1996:4.5), have fairly "adequate" information
technologies. Their libraries are "richer" and the computing services are well established.
Adding another dimension to the discussion is the process of collaboration as discussed
by Creth (1993:114-115) who notes that convergence has been more of an
administrative merger with emphasis on structure and control where competition and
individual power struggles are characteristic. This she remarks is not very useful as at
the end of the day, it is the functioning that is important. She therefore notes that the
benefit of pooling resources and knowledge in creating a combined expertise as a
productive team in "activities such as strategic planning, developing campus information
policy, offering educational programmes, designing knowledge management systems,
and providing greater support to faculty for curriculum development. Now that
administrative mergers seems to be no longer of primary concern, the field is clear for
professionals to give attention to what is really needed: developing a commitment to
creating a truly collaborative culture in which librarians and computer professionals work
together to develop mutually beneficial projects and a support structure to achieve a
flexible and innovative response to the integration of information technology into all
aspects of university life" (Creth, 1993: 114-115).
An alternative is the possibility of outsourcing. Bidolic (1994:87) focuses on outsourcing
and consultancy in big companies. Institutions are adopting a corporate culture many
processes are being outsourced, the information services is not being overlooked. An
open global market system and the availability of international products seems very
inviting for libraries which have undergone their first decade of automation. The factors
such as user support and the high costs of upgrading equipment can possibly be
addressed in such a venture. In this way, the company will address the institution's total
information needs offering a total information service.
South African Higher education institutions should caution against international models
as our needs are different. However we should also not be myopic. Therefore, there
needs to be a thorough IT audit. One should not only develop strategic information plans
and policies, but one should also ensure that strategies are implemented with clearly
defined cost objectives. A detailed SWOT analysis will bring to the fore the need for a
plan of action: to converge or not to converge!. No doubt, the IT divide will get deeper if
the process is not carefully managed. In many cases the information rich get richer and
the poor get poorer. Convergence can fail in organisations due to factors such as poor
strategic thinking, resistance to change, attitudes, lack of vision, internal politics and
lack of finances and resources to support the venture. Convergence is not means to
rationalise on spending. Thus South African higher education institutions need to take a
proactive stance in defining the way they vision their information service. Institutions
are managed by individuals and the human personality is a very complex one, which
very often determines relationships. Personal differences must not come in the way
when working with others. The institution's mission and purpose must be prioritised and
take precedence. Deciding to converge, should be an institutional grassroots driven
process. Convergence is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. Whether it is
organisational or operational, to converge or not to converge depends on individual
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Web Site Visited
Conference on Information Technology in Tertiary Education in South Africa. (CITTE).
Biography - Suzette Oosthuizen graduated from the University of Fort Hare with
B.Bibl (Hons) in 1985. She has since been employed as subject librarian at various
academic universities and is currently back at Fort Hare in this capacity.