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SU’s library chief Ellen Tise honoured with prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing (Hannelie Booyens)
Published: 03/11/2023

​​Stellenbosch University's (SU) Senior Director: Library and Information Service, Ellen Tise, has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to the library profession and her unwavering commitment to serving communities. The South African Library and Information Trust (SALI Trust) and the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) jointly presented Tise with the Lifetime Achievement Award during the LIASA Conference dinner held in Somerset West recently.

The SALI Trust and LIASA Lifetime Achievement Award is a prestigious honour bestowed upon individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the library profession and the communities they serve. In presenting the award alongside LIASA President Nazeem Hardy, Segametsi Molawa from the SALI Trust highlighted Tise's remarkable four-decade career, marked by leadership roles and significant achievements.

In her acceptance speech, Tise said she was fortunate to grow up in a house where she was exposed to books from a young age and reading was encouraged. “I got my first library card when I was in Grade 1 in the town of Hanover in the Northern Cape. The library was across the street from our home, so I could see when the bus arrived from Cape Town with new books."

Tise dedicated the award to her mother who passed away in 2019. “She would have been very proud. My mother was a teacher and an avid reader. I learned a love for reading from her."

Tise's journey in the library profession began as a library assistant at the University of the Orange Free State. Over the years, she ascended through the ranks, holding senior positions at various universities, including Deputy University Librarian at the University of the Witwatersrand and University Librarian at the University of the Western Cape. Since 2006, she has served as the Senior Director of Library and Information Service at SU. Her academic journey culminated in an MPhil degree in Science and Technology Studies from SU.

In addition to her institutional work at SU, Tise has been a prominent figure in the library and information profession, both nationally and internationally. She is a founding trustee of the SALI Trust, served as a director on the Sabinet Online Board, and was a member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Access to Learning Award Advisory Committee, among various other roles. Her impact extends globally, including serving as the President of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) from 2009 to 2011.

Throughout her career, Tise received numerous accolades and honours, including honorary membership in esteemed organisations such as the Golden Key International Honour Society, IFLA and LIASA. In 2010, she received a Special Recognition Award from the Association of College and Research Libraries for her leadership and contributions to international librarianship. Additionally, she received multiple SU Rector's Awards and a Chancellor's Award in 2020.

Tise's dedication to the library profession and her community service was highlighted by the SALI-Trust Committee. She currently serves as the Chairperson of the South African National Library and Information Consortium and holds positions on various advisory committees within IFLA, further demonstrating her unwavering commitment to advancing the field.

Reflecting on what the Lifetime Achievement Award means to her, Tise acknowledged her family, mentors and colleagues who have supported her throughout her career. “I have visited over 75 countries and on each occasion, I have always been warmly welcomed, courteously received, and encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment that pervades our profession. While we toil under different conditions and in contrasting circumstances, in no instance did I perceive that librarianship was not the best profession to be in and the level of dedication was nothing but superb."

She emphasised the importance of libraries and librarians in providing equitable access to information, promoting democratic values, and democratising the search for knowledge.

“My career has been exciting, challenging and fulfilling – not only for me but also for the profession as a whole. I feel very blessed to have been able to make some contribution towards advancing our profession and that of the institutions we serve. Equitable access for all pivots on the fundamental belief that all people are equal, all are free. The unalienable right of access to information and knowledge is the only way to ensure the development of all. I truly believe that one of the most important ways of achieving this human right is for libraries and librarians to become fully engaged in their communities and societies," Tise said.

She attributed the success of the SU Library to a proactive approach and valuable partnerships, especially in terms of new technology. “We've always been at the forefront of technological innovation. We're aligned with international trends and our partnerships with libraries all over the world means that we can leverage top expertise. We're constantly reviewing and, in a sense, reinventing our services to provide the best possible facilities for research."

In future, librarianship will remain as crucial as it has always been, Tise concluded. “While our approach may be different, our strategies to achieve our aims may be new, our services will be extended and there will be new products within our practice, providing information remains our core business. Indeed, librarianship can be appropriately described as putting old wine into new bottles. Being here in one of South Africa's top wine producing areas, this is a very appropriate metaphor."