Library director shares her IT expertise internationally

A new generation of fact-fascinated consumers and fast-paced technological developments, especially in the artificial intelligence (AI) realm, has made it paramount for libraries to collaborate in order to ensure survival.

Collaboration between libraries locally and internationally, and also between various disciplines such as information technology (IT) and engineering, will equip libraries to tackle the challenges of a new world.

A champion of this kind of collaboration is the director for Shared Services of the Library Services at the North-West University (NWU), Neli Tshabalala, who believes IT is key for all libraries as they prepare for the future.

Neli was recently appointed as a committee member of the IT section of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). She says her appointment is in recognition of her skills and the contributions she has made to library systems, not only at the NWU but also at the other academic institutions where she previously worked.

Robots and other innovations put the NWU first

Neli has been the trailblazer for various initiatives to develop e-services and enhance the sharing and discoverability of information. Through her initiative – and in collaboration with the NWU’s IT department and the School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering – the NWU’s Library Services will soon have four cost-effective robots roaming its libraries to assist students and staff to find information.

“We are proud to be the first university in South Africa to develop our own robot. I realised that, as AI was trending as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and now also of the Fifth, it offered a great opportunity to improve services for students and staff.”

She has also played an important role in introducing cloud-based library systems at the institution, empowering users to engage with resources remotely and supporting the hybrid work culture by enabling staff to perform tasks effectively outside the office.

“In the end, it is all about making information easily accessible for local and international communities. This will not only have an impact on teaching and learning and research, but will also promote the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals through access to information, quality education, innovation and building partnerships.”

Taking expertise to a worldwide platform

Neli Tshabalala’s first term in the IFLA’s IT section will end in 2027. Her duties include initiating and leading projects, chairing and attending meetings, and assisting with the annual AI symposium. This event was held in Potchefstroom last year, is scheduled to be hosted in Chile in 2024, and at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2025.

Among the attributes that Neli believes make her well suited to the position is her AI knowledge and Robotics knowledge (for which the IFLA’s IT section awarded her two badges in 2023). Her close working relationship with the NWU’s IT department is another attribute.

“I want to emphasise that the relationship with the IT department in any library system is very important to provide integrated library systems and enhanced library experiences. Very few other

institutions can pride themselves on having such a good working relationship between library services and IT as we do.”

More about the IFLA’s IT section

The IFLA says Neli contributes valuable expertise in project management and has a proven track record of fostering innovative ideas and delivering practical solutions that advance the library sector's objectives.

“In addition, she is recognised for her ability to collaborate effectively with a diverse group of colleagues, for her commitment to dedicating time and energy to the position, and for her readiness to actively participate and contribute to unit committee meetings.”

The IT section includes various subcommittees that focus on IT-related topics such as AI and big data special interest groups. They advocate for best practices in computing technology and applications for the library and information services sectors.


Neli Tshabalala, the NWU’s Library Services director for Shared Services.

Submitted on Thu, 02/22/2024 - 09:26