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Library spaces in higher education: exploring academics' understanding.

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During the last decade, technology, globalisation, and competition have caused the ground to shift in higher education worldwide. As an integral part of the campus, the academic library will be profoundly affected by changes in the university itself and in higher education generally. The role of libraries in higher education is dependent on the educational objectives of the university, namely Teaching, Learning and Research and in all three objectives the library plays a central role, especially in Research productivity. The role of the library as a place in the academics’ working lives is becoming very different, however, from what it has traditionally been. The traditional academic library had been predominantly a place for collecting and preserving text-based scholarly literature, but with the changes in information technology, there are now different ways of organising, finding, and publishing (in the broad sense of making public) scholarly literature, both old and new. These collections have experienced intense expansion of scope and depth through access to a wealth of databases and electronic resources. As a result the traditional library is coming under great pressure. This study aims to understand how academics use the library space. In particular, what effect the digital technology and change in pedagogy has had on their lived experiences as academics. The theoretical foundation for the study was Henri Lefebvre’s theory on the ontology of space which described three important concepts of space or the triads as being: “Spatial Practice (perceived space), Representations of Space (conceived space), and Spaces of Representation (lived space)”. This conceptual trial was used as an analytical tool to explore the relationship between academics and library spaces. Library spaces are social spaces that are produced and experienced, and they are also being produced through the experience of their users. This study was carried out at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, School of Education and relied on academics’ voices to reflect on emergent research and library behaviour. The research design was a case study with an online survey of all academics in the School of Education at the Edgewood campus, UKZN, conducted to generate a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data on the understanding of research behaviour in library spaces The second phase involved semi- vi structured interviews with a purposive sample of seven selected academics. This study employed a mixed methods design whereby qualitative and quantitative data were collected and document analysis undertaken. The study offers a spatial model of the understanding of library spaces by academics which responds to the final critical question on how academic users theorise their understanding of the library space, which suggests that there are four aspects to be considered: a convergence of the academic library user identity with that of the general library identity, a fusion of the physical and virtual space, a merging of the perceived and conceived spaces, and academics’ vision for the future of the library spaces. In their understanding, these academics do not see themselves as distinctive library users or having a library identity. They have shifted the spaces around in such a way that they are now using their offices and homes as research centres and their library visits are minimal as indicated by the data. A lot has been written about this shift of physical and virtual space and, it was found in this study that although academics do not have a library identity, they are busy shifting in their understanding of the library spaces. The significance of the study is that academics and their relationship with the library can now be located in a shifting space.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Edgewood.