University of South Africa: Unisa Library celebrates women’s academic achievements

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Unisa Library and Information Services hosted a Women’s Month seminar on 16 August, to shine the spotlight on the academic journeys and achievements of women in the library. The event was graced by three speakers, Janice de Wee, Manager for Research, Planning and Quality; Afaneli Gloria Mashavhanduna, a security officer; and Mokgadi Senyolo, a branch librarian.

Janice de Wee is currently working on her PhD, which deals with developing a risk-focused social media governance framework for African academic libraries. She is currently on research and development leave to focus on her exciting study, which looks at how social media functions as a strategic resource for libraries and “how we can get ultimate value from it”. Asked why she went back to pursue her PhD studies, De Wee stated that she always wanted to do her PhD but “I was 8 months pregnant when I graduated with my MA, so I wanted to focus on raising my baby before I started on my PhD”.

Mokgadi Senyolo has been involved in various projects both at Unisa Library and the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA). She holds a Master’s in Information Science from the University of South Africa, a BInf (Hons) from the University of Johannesburg and a BBIBL from the University of Limpopo. Senyolo is a gifted leader who navigates a busy schedule between her various leadership roles in her community and in the library and information science field.

The three colleagues shared strategies for their work-family-study life. Their stories inspired colleagues at the seminar, especially those who want to pursue their academic studies while maintaining a balanced life. Among the important ingredients for success, they highlighted time management, self-care and support from loved ones, both at home and at work. “Take time to soak in the sun with your cup of coffee, and learn to say ‘NO’,” said De Wee.

Afaneli Gloria Mashavhanduna, affectionately known as Makhadzi, quickly became the star of the moment when she started to share her life’s journey from humble beginnings. Raised in the naturally and culturally rich village of Tshakhuma in Venda, she said that opportunities for education and access to books were unfortunately rare, so her dream to become a librarian was delayed. When she started working as a security officer in the Department of Protection Services stationed in the library, she was elated to be surrounded by so many books. “I was encouraged by seeing people reading and studying all the time,” says Gloria. She became even more curious about the world of library and information science. “I often wondered how people were able to find what they were looking for with such ease among a sea of books,” she says. “I gained so much respect for the librarians at Unisa for managing so much information and I also wanted to learn how to help people access knowledge.” Mashavhanduna’s dream was now within reach, but it would require hard work and determination. At 38, she registered for a degree in Information Science and although she faced financial challenges and a lack of time, she pressed on and in 2020, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Information Science. “My job was demanding, with strenuously long hours, but that could not stop my determination to get a degree.” Mashavhanduna is an inspiration in her village, where young people now know that you are never too far away or too disadvantaged or too old to reach your goals. Colleagues commended Mashavhanduna for her focus in education against all odds. To demonstrate her drive and passion for library and information studies, Mashavhanduna is getting ready to pursue her honours degree. She also welcomes every opportunity to learn from library staff, hoping to join the library and information workforce when an opportunity arises.

In her response to the speakers, Library Acting Executive Director, Dr Khomotso Maruma, commended the three women’s efforts and achievements. She thanked them for encouraging all the seminar attendees with their drive. Marumo reminded the audience that the work that women do daily in support of their families often goes unnoticed. “Yet they still emerge in extraordinary ways to shine their light in their homes and places of employment,” she said. Marumo spoke with passion to all in attendance about the world of meaning that all women everywhere create around them. The Unisa Library and Information Services also presented a month-long exhibition in honour of the 1956 stalwarts and other iconic South African women.

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