New Strategy Emerges to Expand Second Year of International Librarian Collaboration between Virginia Tech’s University Libraries and CPUT in South Africa

Inga Haugen, VT Life Science, Agriculture, and Scholarly Communication Librarian


We welcome Veliswa to America, Inga is heading for The Western Cape, and Angela, Keith, and Collin are working with South Africans online in a new virtual collaboration strategy. This brings total new research projects to 5 this year.

Virginia Tech’s University Libraries is widening its collaboration with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) Libraries through an innovation taking advantage of experience gained in identifying useful research projects. This is a result of the first year’s iteration of the exchange, and it represents an opportunity.

Kick starting research: an unforeseen opportunity flows out of our Librarian Exchange procedures

The VTUL’s International Outreach Committee had 4 South Africa strategic exchange project proposal applications this year, a modest amount but nevertheless double the first year’s number. They were all excellent, all built on solid needs at both academic libraries. This was in part due to the process we underwent: the project proposals are the result of several steps designed to identify “areas of strength” at each institution and match them with “areas of need” at its counterpart, as follows:

  1. Phase one: Directors and Department Heads submitted “Areas of strength,” descriptions of current departmental progress on advancing goals of modernization.
  2. Phase two: Janine and Paul reviewed the lists and consulted with the Deans and others with institutional knowledge, and published possible project areas in a CFP in a first attempt to focus on matches that would improve operations at both libraries.
  3. Phase three: Joanne and Robert, our first two exchange librarians, provided specific feedback addressing needs to match existing advances at counterparts after their return home. This was a topic they were asked to keep an eye out for during their stay.
  4. Phase four: International Outreach Committees and Deans/Directorates select their estimated most-useful collaborations for awarding funding for the second year of the program.

Vetted twice or more

The remaining 3 applications were all therefore also grounded in real experience, vetted twice or more. Because of the process, we discovered we had more good shots at improving mutual operations than we bargained for. Should we ignore the uncovering of good ideas, or put them off until next year’s cycle of applications? Some of the technology involved in the project proposals moves fast, so why shouldn’t we?

Why not “kickstart” it virtually, now while the idea is fresh?

High tech and traditional library service

This is an opportunity to start collaborative research on each and every one of the proposals. Director Chiware of CPUT and their Directorate reviewed them and accepted all 3. South African professionals have already been assigned to each VT librarian/staff member. Collin and Keith turned in high tech project ideas, and these young engineers’ proposals are guaranteed cutting edge in their fields. Angela’s proposal, a more traditional library one, is spot-on in an urgent need of ours here at VT, namely how to handle the needs of a highly diverse global community. We have a growing international student and faculty body, and it will be great to see this project also get traction and develop further. South Africa is writing the book on diversity, and we most certainly can learn from CPUT on serving a diverse clientele.

Future potential

For successful academic results to be achieved by these individuals, many of them collaborating for the first time, some specialized research guidance will be needed, but that’s what librarians do. We are awash in research expertise!

This amounts to an expansion on our collaboration that maximises our successes to date in the furtherance of international librarianism, as well as improving the nuts and bolts efficiency of library services. And who knows, if the projects result in useful research articles or presentations, it will be a good way to lay the foundations for “kicking” the collaborations “up a notch.” Proven projects may be chosen to cross the Atlantic physically in our own Librarian Exchange program next year, or our collaborating teams may find resources under the auspices of other funding agencies.

More details about the 5 research projects, 2 physical and 3 virtual, are forthcoming in future posts on this blog.