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06 June 2024 | Story Jacky Tshokwe | Photo Supplied
Charlie Maphuntshane Molepo
Charlie Maphuntshane Molepo

In an age where information is power, few individuals have dedicated their lives to ensuring access to knowledge as enthusiastically as Charlie Maphuntshane Molepo. As the newly elected President of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA), Molepo’s career is a testament to the profound impact that dedicated professionals can have on society.

Charlie Maphuntshane Molepo’s journey into the world of library science was serendipitous. Born with a natural inclination towards education, he pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree followed by a Postgraduate Higher Diploma in Education (HDE). However, it was a position as Library Assistant at Vista University in 1993 that set the trajectory for his career. Initially a teacher, Molepo transitioned to the library sector, rapidly advancing due to his exceptional skills and dedication. At Vista University, he quickly rose to Head of Circulation Services at both the Distance Education Campus (VUDEC) and the East Rand Campuses. His capabilities caught the attention of many, leading to his appointment as the Head of the Killie Campbell Africana Library at the University of Natal.

His professional journey saw him taking on diverse roles, including as User Empowerment Librarian at the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU). In 2005, Molepo ventured into the private sector, climbing the ranks from Liaison Officer to Sales and Marketing Executive. By 2009, he was back in academia, this time at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) as the Head of Technical Services. Before joining the University of the Free State (UFS), he also held the prestigious position of International Account Director for Africa at Dawson Books, a subsidiary of Bertram Books (UK). Throughout his career, Molepo has been a steadfast advocate for the professional development of library staff and the advancement of the library science field. As a designer and facilitator/trainer in the European Union-Department of Higher Education Libraries Programme, he played a pivotal role in shaping the future of library services in South Africa.

Molepo’s leadership skills were further recognised through his service as a Council member representing non-academic staff at Vista University, and his three-term presidency of the National Tertiary University Staff Union (NTESU). He also served as a board member for the Education Training Development Practices SETA (ETDPSETA) and held various executive roles within LIASA. During his time at the University of the Free State (UFS), he also served on the UFS Council from 2020 to 2023.

Notably, Molepo was awarded the Gauteng Librarian of the Year (LoY) award and was a national finalist, underscoring his significant contributions to the field.

As the new President of LIASA, Molepo’s vision for the future is both ambitious and transformative. At a crucial time for the association – now a SAQA-registered professional body – Molepo aims to implement a new structure compliant with SAQA requirements. His primary goal is to increase the number of professionals obtaining the professional librarian designation and to introduce more designations that reflect the diverse roles within the library and information sector.

One of Molepo’s key initiatives is to integrate related professions from the heritage sector to advocate for the Copyright Amendment Bill (CAB). This effort aims to address issues related to access to information and support the role of libraries in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). During his presidency, Molepo plans to collate and report on activities by South African libraries and librarians to international bodies such as SCECSAL and IFLA.

As the chairperson of the LIASA Board, Molepo will lead a diverse group of library professionals from various sectors. His extensive experience in governance will be invaluable as LIASA transitions from a voluntary association to a King IV-compliant organisation. One of the significant challenges that Molepo plans to address is the appointment of unqualified staff to library positions. By advocating for the professionalisation of the public sector, he aims to ensure that libraries are managed and staffed by qualified librarians. Additionally, his role on the National Council for Library and Information Services (NCLIS) will provide opportunities to collaborate with the Ministries of Education, Arts, and Culture to enhance literacy levels in South Africa.

Molepo’s journey is punctuated by personal anecdotes that highlight his dedication and passion for the field. Reflecting on his early days as a library assistant, Molepo recalls how he initially disliked shelving books. However, his commitment to helping users find the information they need led to his rapid professional growth. Encouraged by his library manager to pursue further studies in Library Science, Molepo took a leap of faith, which he has never regretted.

Outside his professional life, Molepo is an avid reader and enjoys community service. His journey from a reluctant library assistant to the President of LIASA is a testament to the power of mentorship, perseverance, and a lifelong commitment to education and information access. As he takes on his new role, the library and information services sector in South Africa can look forward to a future marked by professional excellence, innovation, and a steadfast commitment to serving the community. In the words of Molepo, "In the journey of leadership, it's not about how far you go, but how many you inspire to follow."

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