Academic libraries traditionally support universities in their teaching, learning, and research activities. Their support roles can be broadly defined in terms of the organization and storage of knowledge, as well as its distribution and access. This makes them important role players in South Africa’s broader library and information services ecosystem. As a result, academic libraries do not operate in a vacuum. As part of the broader society the targeting of academic libraries during student protest action represents a unique type of social conflict. This unique type of social conflict is not fully understood and this study investigated Tshwane University of Technology’s libraries using the idea of a knowledge system as a theoretical framework.
The main argument of the study is that academic libraries have a historical relationship with research libraries, and have an important connection with society’s knowledge system. The oversight of the functions of academic libraries problematizes their role and response to social conflict. The study used a focused literature review and documentary evidence, and data was collected from a purposive sample using an electronic survey questionnaire, focus groups and interviews.
The study found that TUT’s libraries passive response to the 2015 and 2016 student disruptions stems from a poor understanding of the theoretical context of their support roles and functions. The main value of the study is to call attention to the idea of a knowledge system and to enable TUT’s libraries to respond adequately to social conflict.