The Constitution of our Institute states that the Institute must identify, represent and promote the interest and needs of its members. Like the industry in which we all work, these needs and interests change continuously.
The pace of change is accelerating as you are well aware. In Southern Africa the regional expansion of the last ten years is amazing. Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are becoming global players. Mineral diversification in Namibia and Botswana is moving the industry into minerals other than diamonds. A big shift in South Africa is the replacement of deep underground gold with platinum as the dominant mining category. In addition, a change to the laws governing mineral extraction and a change in mineral rights ownership has occurred. During this period, the macroeconomic environment has brought an unprecedented boom in mineral demand due to the strong growth of eastern economies, most notably China and India. This has been accelerated by the globalization of trade and better educated labour. In 2009 the vulnerability of an integrated world to global forces led to a deep recession, only to be followed by a second period of strong demand for commodities.
In light of this turbulence we need to ask: have the needs of our members changed as a result and, in particular, how have the needs of students and young members of our Institute changed? The latter group is after all the topic of this edition of the Journal.
The journal of any learned Institution is a repository of information for its members. The Journal of the SAIMM is no exception, but the way that information is imparted to our members, particularly the younger computer savvy students, is altering at almost the speed of light. As the futurist Thomas Fray* puts it:
We have transitioned from a time where information was scarce and precious to today where information is vast and readily available, and in many cases, free. People, who in the past visited libraries to find specific pieces of information, are now able to find that information online. The vast majority of people with specific information need no longer visit libraries.
Therefore, today’s students access knowledge far less through printed media and much more through search engines provided by digital media. Post graduation, the dispersion to far-flung places puts a premium on modern communications. So the ability to access the SAIMM website from distant parts is a boon.
The SAIMM as a result is giving much more attention to its website. The website address is www.saimm.co.za and I am happy to report the following positive trends for the last twelve months:
The number of hits has increased by 24%.
➤ The number of files accessed has increased by 12%.
➤ The number of pages accessed has increased by 30%.
➤ The number of visits has increased by 97%.
➤ The volume of traffic has increased by 235%.
This trend has motivated the accelerated digitization of the Institute’s journals, conferences and symposia. There are now more than 2600 journal papers that are available at the SAIMM website, going back as far as 1969. The Conference Series contains an additional 1000 papers and is growing rapidly. I invite the membership to go to the website and experience the facility first-hand. This initiative is a journey and the ambition is to offer an ever increasing wealth of information that should provide a most productive search experience for our members. The area covered is the minerals industry in general but more specifically representing the application of knowledge of the science of mining and metallurgy in Africa. As mentioned, this knowledge base is available from any place on our planet, is easily transportable, and is accessible at any time and at very low costs.
For our members to stay in contact with the application of the mining science outside of Africa, the SAIMM is a participant in OneMine.org. The SAIMM donated about 4000 documents for this collective database now containing about 65 000 documents. Other participants in OneMine.org are the AIME, UCA/SME, NIOSH, RMCMI, TMS, USBM,
DOI, IMMS and the EPA. The SAIMM negotiated access for its membership base for a collective annual fee and is now providing this benefit to SAIMM members free of charge. A recent test revealed that more than 57 000 OneMine.org site visits took place since its inception in South Africa. SAIMM documents are the second most popular on OneMine.org, as calculated by dividing the total number of downloads by the number of documents on the site. Our rate is 2.76 compared to the SME’s 3.43.
A second consequence of the change in member needs is the importance of branch activities. Branch activities supply an opportunity for members to interact. It is an activity of intersection – of young and old, less and more senior, inexperienced and experienced, streetwise or learning the ropes. I see the role of branches as the builder of the fraternity, providing a forum for interaction and debate.
The true value of creating access to knowledge lies not in the mere fact of absorbing it, but in using it to create a new understanding and skill. If the SAIMM can continue to find ways to be an effective and attractive disseminator of knowledge, its members will not only retrieve knowledge but will contribute their own experience and thus develop a virtuous spiral of increasing knowledge.
*FutureSpeaker.com/2006/11/the future of Libraries
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