Over the past 25 years, Yusuf Ras' career path led him from music to agriscience and eventually to medicine.
As librarian at Stellenbosch University (SU), he directed many a student to the appropriate research path over the years. Simultaneously, he found enough time during evenings and over weekends to pay attention to his own studies.
Equipped with an honours degree in Library Science and a post-graduate management diploma, Ras (44) commenced as head of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences' library on the Tygerberg campus on February 1. His arrival coincides with a renewal project of his "office", that should be completed by the end of the year. It consists of a departure from the traditional library concept, since it will no longer merely serve as an information resource, but also as a live space where students can exchange information.
Ras and his wife Charmeez were born and bred in Stellenbosch. His association with SU started in 1993, when he was appointed as an assistant in the music library on the main campus after he had matriculated at the Cloetesville High School.
Thanks to financial assistance from SU, he managed to further his studies extramurally. Initially, he obtained a library diploma from the then Technicon SA. However, after this technicon merged with Unisa, the diploma was phased out and he was forced to follow it up with a BA degree.
His study path was long and it was not always easy to keep all the balls in the air, especially after becoming a dad to Nehan (now 11). According to Ras, who later also completed his honours degree, "one should just keep on focussing on the bigger picture".
His first big career move was in 2009, when he was appointed as junior librarian. In 2010 he was appointed as faculty librarian at AgriSciences and was transferred to the JS Gericke main library. Suddenly he had to deal with nine departments instead of one.
In 2012 the opportunity presented itself to visit libraries in America over several months. Since then he has also completed a postgraduate diploma at the SU Business School.
"The needs of the modern student have changed since 20 years ago," Ras emphasises. The focus is on electronic sources, with information available 24/7 and fewer printed books and journals.
The flip side is that modern education and learning require that students work much closer together. Therefore quiet library areas are currently supplemented by technologically advanced and stimulating learning centres such as seminar rooms, where students can exchange information in groups.
Another focus point is research support. "SU has altered its strategic direction and thinking and is currently an intensive research institute. From the library side we are looking at ways to support the university in terms of increased research outputs," Ras explains. "It is important for researchers to obtain the correct information, but we must also assist them to publish in influential journals. That will result in a higher status and increased government subsidies."
Naturally, research data has to be managed. "Due to technological advancement masses of data is generated. The library plays a specific role by storing data safely, but simultaneously making it accessible to future researchers to build upon. The wheel should not be reinvented," says Ras, who is currently enrolled in a masters' degree in socio-informatics, studying the impact of technology on the modern community.
Caption: Yusuf Ras is the new head of the Medicine and Health Sciences Library.