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The premise of the study is that, in a country where less than 20% of schools have functional libraries (South Africa. Department of Education, 1999; Bot, 2005) and where there is a new curriculum that, according to widespread consensus, emphasises resource-based enquiry learning, public libraries might well have to take on a more active role in information literacy education than they might be expected to in countries with better developed school library structures. My earlier research, which involved interviews in one week with over 800 pupils in two public library branches in a disadvantaged township in Cape Town, found most of them to be in the library to “do a project”, with 78% claiming never to use any other library and only 3% reporting access to a school library in the course of their current project (Hart, 2003).
This paper makes no attempt to provide a rigorous account of the research project – hopefully the completed dissertation will do that. Its purpose is to provide a glimpse of the study and to take the opportunity to share some of my findings. The focus in the first part is on public librarians’ conceptions of their role in information literacy education; it then moves to the second phase of the study with a focus on educators’ conceptions of the educational role of the public library. The suggestion is that, paradoxically, shared conceptions contribute to a gulf between the two sectors, which needs to be bridged if the needs of school learners are to be met.