Institutional Repositories in South Africa: An Examination of Representation in the Rainbow Nation’s Universities

As someone who has worked in multiple archives, I am always interested in learning more about how other archives or similar institutions are organized and operate. Needless to say, our topic for week 10 (institutional repositories and scholarly publishing) piqued my curiosity. I knew very little about them before that week. In fact, I do not recall coming across the term “institutional repository” prior to this course. Institutional repositories are not synonymous with archives. According to Crow (2002), institutional repositories (IRs) are “digital collections capturing and preserving the intellectual output of a single or multi-university community.” In general, archives are not limited solely to digital collections of materials produced exclusively by university professors and faculty. That being said, the central mission of both is fundamentally the same: collect, organize, and preserve information.

As I started researching for sources to inform this blog post, I came across Bangani’s 2018 article entitled, “The History, Deployment, and Future of Institutional Repositories in Public Universities in South Africa.” I was struck by the fact that there is a work out there that discusses institutional repositories in a developing country. Regardless of discipline, scholarship has far too often been Eurocentric in focus. I welcomed the fact that there is an article about the state of institutional repositories in a non-western country by a non-western author. Bangani’s article proved to be very informative. Since 2000, a total of 22 universities have established institutional repositories in South Africa. Here is a chronology of these repositories by university and date:

  1. University of Pretoria (2000)
  2. University of Cape Town (2001)
  3. University of Johannesburg (2003)
  4. University of the Western Cape (2004)
  5. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (2005)
  6. Stellenbosch University (2006)
  7. Rhodes University (2006)
  8. Durban University of Technology (2006)
  9. North-West University (2006)
  10. Witwatersrand University (2006)
  11. University of the Free State (2007)
  12. University of Zululand (2008)
  13. University of Fort Hare (2008)
  14. University of South Africa (2008)
  15. University of Kwazulu-Natal (2009)
  16. Cape Peninsula University of Technology (2009)
  17. Vaal University of Technology (2010)
  18. Tshwane University of Technology (2013)
  19. Central University of Technology (2013)
  20. University of Limpopo (unknown)
  21. University of Venda (unknown)
  22. Walter Sisulu University (2017)

Bangani, a librarian at North-West University, made several observations worth noting. 59% of these universities have signed the Budapest Open Access Initiative and 64% have signed the Berlin Declaration. According to Bangani, “South Africa is one of the most prolific countries in the developing world in terms of deployment of IRs.” All of these institutional repositories are at various stages of development. In terms of content, South Africa’s institutional repositories hold a diverse range of information. Coming in at number one are electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs). All public university institutional repositories in South Africa have ETDs. Other major content types include journal articles, archival materials, and journal volumes and issues. Certain repositories also hold library publications, inaugural lectures, conference papers and proceedings, books and chapters, and photographic material. Electronic theses and dissertations are expected to be surpassed by journal articles as the most prevalent content type in South Africa’s institutional repositories in the near future.

Bangani also analyzed the language of the content available in these repositories. Non-African languages dominate with English coming in first. Afrikaans comes in second. German, French, and Russian enjoy more representation in various repositories than most official South African languages. Of South Africa’s official languages, English and Afrikaans enjoy far more representation than the others. English is represented in all 22 university repositories and Afrikaans is found at 15. IsiZulu trails third place with representation at seven repositories. IsiXhosa and TshiVenda are each represented at five institutions. The remaining six languages are found at three or less institutional repositories. While noting that efforts are being made at several universities to make their institutional repositories more robust in terms of quality and content type, Bangani laments that there appears to be no effort to collect and preserve more African languages content.

Bangani’s article is a valuable work that sheds light on the development and the current state of a non-Western nation’s institutional repositories. His analysis of the marginalization of African languages in South Africa’s IRs is particularly noteworthy. After all, this marginalization hardly reflects the diversity of the Rainbow Nation. If the institutional repositories of an African nation where whites are a small minority is dominated by non-African languages, then institutional repositories in the United States need to take a long hard look at their own holdings. If this is a problem in a nation like South Africa, it is most certainly an issue for most American institutional repositories as well. Are IRs at universities in southern border states or in Florida representing Latinos with Spanish content holdings? Do IRs in communities with large Asian populations have any content that reflect the diversity of their local demographics? If not, this needs to change.



Bangani, B. (2018). The history, deployment, and future of institutional repositories in public universities in South Africa. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(1), 39-51. doi: 10.1016/j.acalib.2017.12.003  

Crow, R. (2002). The case for institutional repositories: A SPARC position paper. Retrieved from


Ask Jeeves and User Experience: The Rise and Fall of an Internet Icon

                                          The original Ask Jeeves launch page                                          Source:


One of the most important aspects of website navigation is “user experience.” According to Norman and Nielsen, user experience, “encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” The average user undoubtedly takes this for granted as they glide effortlessly from one webpage to the next until they stumble upon a website that is poorly designed, aesthetically unappealing, or difficult to navigate. This extends to web search interfaces as well. Confronted by the sheer diversity of users from all walks of life, web search interface designers have had to maintain a simple model to minimize the chance of confusion for their diverse users. As Hearst astutely observes, the design and arrangement of search result listings have undergone very little change over time. The example of the juxtaposed images of Infoseek listings from 1997 to those of a 2007 Google query demonstrates this assertion. In comparing the latter to today’s search interface, it is apparent that little has changed over the course of the last decade as well. 

While search user interfaces have changed little from that original simple format, the search engine industry has evolved drastically. While user experience may have prevented any major transformation of search user interfaces, that same factor has been a catalyst for change among competing search engines. Several companies rose and fell as a response to users’ perception and experience with their search engines over the course of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The early turbulent career of the classic Ask Jeeves website provides an insightful study into the power and influence of user experience.   

The Early history of Ask Jeeves

Ask Jeeves was a search engine launched in 1996/97. The website was personified through a middle aged, balding butler named Jeeves. Though the search engine’s founder Garrett Gruener denies any connection, it is widely accepted that cyber Jeeves was inspired by the valet who appears in several books written by British author P. G. Wodehouse. Over the next few years, the website enjoyed a meteoric rise. When the company went public, stock prices started at $14 a share. That price soared to $190.50 per share. The company capitalized on its icon by using Jeeves to raise awareness about their information service. This included featuring the affable butler as a float in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and producing a variety of promotional products with his congenial expression. The search engine soon became one of the top 25 most trafficked sites in 2000.


                                    Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float                                       Source:

Despite its initial success, Ask Jeeves was not destined to dominate the internet in the 21st century. For starters, the Wodehouse estate argued that the website’s icon infringed on copyright law. Both parties reached a non-disclosed settlement in 2000. By the end of the year, however, Ask Jeeves was in serious trouble. There are multiple theories about the website’s rapid decline. TheStreet staff reported that the company was a victim of the search engine wars of the early 2000’s. Rossen, however, asserts that the company was one of many that took a hit when the dot-com bubble bust in 2001. In the end, the company was spared the indignity of going under. A new CEO was named, drastic cuts were made, and the company reported a profit in 2003. In 2005, InterActive Corp (IAC) purchased the company/website and rebranded their new investment as

There seems to be merit in both of these theories that help explain the roller coaster ride of success and failure for the company. Yet, examining the rise and fall of Ask Jeeves through the lens of user experience will help bring the fate of Ask Jeeves into clearer focus. We can better understand the company’s tumultuous start through the website’s use of natural language, the personification of the website through its icon, and its overall effectiveness as a search engine.

The User Experience Factor

First, it is important to understand that Ask Jeeves was not always a general search engine. The company began as a question answering service. Prior to the launch of the website, Gruener and his team prepared a library of answers to questions they believed would be the most frequently asked. The website was designed for users to employ “natural language” in the form of asking questions (e.g. “How to get rid of skunk smell?”) in order to obtain answers to the information they sought. In 2018, users still overwhelmingly use Google by asking the service a question in natural language. Gruener’s natural language format may very well help explain why Ask Jeeves had a million searches a day by 1999.

Personifying the website through the iconic Jeeves was another user experience factor that contributed to the company’s early success. It is important to remember that in the late 90’s, surfing the internet and using search engines were very new and foreign concepts to most people. Adding the dutiful, eager butler provided a very human element to the face of a search engine. Allowing people the opportunity to “ask” a question to a welcoming, friendly face was more appealing than typing a specialized string of words into one of the other impersonal search engines of the time.

As Gothard best states, “It was in that late 1990’s period when suddenly everybody had discovered the power of the internet and found the whole idea of putting direct questions to a friendly P. G. Wodehouse butler a more human experience.” Indeed, many of us millennials still remember the butler with nostalgia (the 90’s were a golden age!). One reddit user reminisced that, “Ask Jeeves was one of the first interactions I had with a computer. I remember me [sic.] sister telling me that I could talk to a magic Butler who could answer any questions I had.”

Despite the natural feel of using Ask Jeeves, however, the website was far from perfect. Though Rossen may be correct in stating that the website had devoted users, it also had no shortage of critics as well. In recounting the company’s history, the New York Times described the early quality of its search results as “uneven” prior to adopting an algorithm model like Google had. Yet commentary on reveals that the quality of Ask Jeeves’ service was still wanting after the turn of the 21st century. For the entry “Ask Jeeves,” the top four definitions (of a total of six) are unfavorable of the website. All four definitions were posted in 2004.*

“Kung-Fu Jesus” suggested that the search engine did a poor job of providing relevant information at the top of its results list. He elaborated that, “Jeeves has an annoying tendency to hide the most popular and information-filled results several pages back while giving you fanboy websites and advertisements that merely mention the subject first.” “GirlSkater” suggested that users, “can’t get a straight answer from [J]eeves.” “Cloud” declared Ask Jeeves the “lamest Search Engine Ever.” Both “Cloud” and “The All Knowing Amy” argued that Ask Jeeves was not as efficient as Google. The fact that these four contributors have received a combined total of over 1,100 votes in favor of their definitions demonstrates that Ask Jeeves had more than a few critics. For all of the his charm, the internet’s favorite butler frequently failed to deliver to his users.  

It is clear that Ask Jeeves took a beating from the dot-com bubble collapse. Ask Jeeves reported a staggering loss of $425 million in 2001. In 2002, company shares were a mere 86 cents. The dot-com crisis alone, however, does not explain Ask Jeeves’ fall because the company was on the rebound by 2003. The key to understanding the website’s transition from being one of the internet’s most trafficked websites to one of its more relatively obscure search engines is recognizing the fallout from the search engine war.

In 2012, the company’s CEO threw in the towel and declared Google the victor. The search engine war was lost, at least in part, because of Google’s superior user experience. As illuminating as the Urban Dictionary entries are, statistical evidence reinforces this theory. In 2003, Google dominated the search engine market with 32%. Ask Jeeves had a meager 3%. By 2012, the gap had widen even further. In September of that year, Google controlled 66.7% of the market compared to’s 3.5%. Over time, more and more people chose Google over Ask Jeeves because the former had a superior user experience.

*Reader discretion is advised when perusing this page as there is a liberal use of profanity and sexual innuendos.

Gone but Not Forgotten

Ask(tm), who killed Jeeves?!?


In 2005, InterActive Corp (IAC) bought the Ask Jeeves website for $1.85 billion. Under this new management, the website’s name was changed to Despite this leadership change and rebranding, failed to regain its former glory. With the writing on the wall, announced in 2010 that it would abandon its quest to dominate the search engine industry and return to its roots as a question answering service.

The iconic Jeeves evolved with the company he symbolized as it responded to changing circumstances. In 2004, the butler was removed from the website temporarily for a “world tour” and reappeared with a slender figure. On April 1, 2005, the butler made his debut as the Jeeves 9000 robot. Did these redesigns perhaps reflect the company’s optimistic hopes for the future? Did slender Jeeves symbolize a leaner company poised to recover its momentum after emerging from its earlier setbacks? The obvious light-hearted April Fools Day shenanigans aside, was Jeeves 9000 a wishful vision of the company’s future as an innovative search engine industry leader in the new millennium? We can only surmise.

With ownership of Ask Jeeves transferred to IAC, speculation arose concerning the butler’s job security. When asked about the future of the icon in August 2005, CEO Steve Berlowitz stated that Jeeves was “safe for the moment.” IAC’s Barry Diller, however, had other plans. The following month, he announced that the website’s icon would “retire.” Why? To rebrand and improve the website for user experience. The new owners of the company believed that Jeeves was a throwback to the 90’s that was no longer an effective marketing tool. In his own words, Diller teased that he didn’t “see many tears on the floor” over this decision. After spending nearly a decade serving internet users, the aging butler disappeared from the website in 2006.

Branding consultant Rob Frankel described Jeeves as a relic of the “playful, early days of the Internet.” This is an intriguing observation because it shows how an icon’s appeal to users can change over time. When Jeeves first appeared, he provided a welcome, “familiar face” for users who were new to the internet and search engines. This human element that the icon brought to the world of search engines, however, could not make up for the imperfect service provided by Ask Jeeves. This unreliability resulted in negative user experience, which in turn ultimately drove many into the arms of faceless search engine competitor Google.

Yet Jeeves’ departure was not welcomed by all. Many bid the butler a fond farewell on discussion boards. Jeeves has since become a symbol of nostalgia. As the aforementioned quote by the reddit user suggests, Jeeves now represents a memory of a simpler time to those who are old enough to remember using the internet in its frontier days. In terms of user experience, we associate Jeeves with a time of safer internet exploration prior to the rampant spread of malicious software programs such as ransomware and computer viruses. He has become a symbol of the quaintness of early user experience.

Aside from some brief reappearances since 2006, Jeeves remains retired. We wish our former internet butler well on his well-earned rest.


Berr, J. (2005, September 21). Diller sacks the butler [Website article]. Retrieved from

Cloud. (2004, November 27). Ask Jeeves [Def. 4]. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from

GirlSkater. (2004, February 3). Ask Jeeves [Def. 2]. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved October 27, 2018, from

Gothard, P. (2016, June 8). 7 search engines lost to history: Where are they now? [Website article]. Retrieved from

Hearst, M. A. (2009). The design of search user interfaces. In Search user interfaces (1-28). New York: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from /book/sui_ch1_design.html

Kopytoff, V. G. (2010, November 9). to return to old service. New York Times. Retrieved from

Kung-Fu Jesus. (2004, May 9). Ask Jeeves [Def. 1]. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved October 27, 2018, from

Norman, D., & Nielsen, J. (n.d.). The definition of user experience (UX). [Website article]. Retrieved from

nuckingfuts73. (2017). Ask Jeeves! [Msg 1]. Message posted to r/nostalgia/comments/679gry/ask_jeeves/

Rossen, J. (2017). Why everyone stopped asking Jeeves [Website article]. Retrieved from

Ryan, K. (2010). The long, sad story of [Website article]. Retrieved from

Sherman, C. (2003). Happy birthday, Ask Jeeves! [Website article]. Retrieved from  

Sherman, C. (2006). Jeeves Retires [Website article]. Retrieved from

Sterling, G. (2012). Ask CEO Doug Leeds proclaims search wars ‘over,’ says Yahoo can be great again [Website article]. Retrieved from

Sterling, G. (2012). September search share: Yahoo continues downward slide [Website article]. Retrieved from

The All Knowing Amy. (2004, May 7). Ask Jeeves [Def. 3]. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from

TheStreet staff (2018, October 23). Famous brands that have disappeared [Website article]. Retrieved from

Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc.: Are LIS Professionals Any Better Off?

Since the early 2000s, internet juggernaut Google has been on a mission to digitize all the books held in five major American libraries, which includes a combined total of 20 million. Though the most notable, Google is not alone in its quest. Microsoft is another big player in the mass digitization game. It began a project to digitize 100,000 books from the British Library. Microsoft has also partnered with Yahoo to establish the Open Content Alliance (OCA).

It’s important to understand what mass digitization is and what it is not. Mass digitization is not simply a “large-scale project.” Coyle aptly describes it as “the conversion of materials on and industrial scale. That is, conversion of whole libraries without making a selection of individual materials.” In other words, Google and other companies are attempting to digitize everything without discrimination. This contrasts sharply with a non-mass digitization project like Project Guttenberg. The most obvious difference is the sluggish pace that Guttenberg has maintained since 1971 compared to Google’s astonishing rate. However, another important distinction is that Project Guttenberg (as well as the Open Content Alliance) only digitize works that are in the public domain. Google, on the other hand, decided to digitize works in the public domain and copyrighted books.

There are a lot of unique challenges that come with a mass digitization project of this magnitude. Books of unusual sizes or include folded maps are not included in the project (which is problematic for a project that’s aim is to digitize virtually everything). Yet the greatest challenge to Google’s efforts to digitize the world’s books came from a lawsuit. Not long after the ambitious project began, the Authors Guild and numerous writers filed a lawsuit against Google in 2005.

At the heart of this case was whether or not Google’s mass digitization project could be classified as “fair use.” Fair Use allows unlicensed use of copyrighted works in special situations. Unlike the works in the public domain, Google was not making entire copyrighted works available to the public for free. By using Google Books, one could search a work and peruse brief excerpts of this book. The Authors Guild argued that this was an infringement on the creator’s copyright and allowed individuals to use the digitized book without buying a copy. Google countered that this was not an infringement because only select parts were available for viewing. Furthermore, Google argued that its digitization efforts would actually increase book sales as text queries could lead an interested user to a book that they might not have otherwise located without Google Books.

The courts ultimately sided with Google and declared that their mass digitization was not an infringement of copyright law. The Authors Guild appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which turned down the case. As Hahn aptly suggests, “We should be grateful to Google for sticking out its neck—for pushing the envelope on technological innovations, copyright, and other important aspects of digitization.” With its deep pockets, Google could afford to fight the Authors Guild in the courts for over a decade.

The real question for us as LIS professionals is what impact does this case really have on our digitization efforts? Most librarians and archivists are not interested in digitizing copyrighted books, but there are so many other types of materials that we do wish to make digitally available to the public. Are we emboldened by Google’s victory to digitize more materials and stick by our decision to make those copies available for free on the web? Judging by my conversation with others in the field, it sounds like practitioners are still hesitant to make those digitized copies available. In the cases where they do upload a digitized copy and a complaint is made, they virtually always remove the object from the digital library. Librarians and archivists do not have the luxury of Google’s budget. We are still scared of lawsuits. So how much of a victory was Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc. for LIS professionals, really? While it was a great victory for Google, I would argue that nothing has really changed for digital librarians and archivists. The question we must now ask ourselves is what can we do to ensure greater legal protection for our own digitization projects?


Alter, A. (2015, October 16). Google’s digital library wins court of appeals ruling. New York Times. Retrieved from

Coyle, K. (2006). Mass digitization of books. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(6), 641-45. Retrieved from

Hahn, T. B. (2008). Mass digitization: Implications for preserving the scholarly record. Library Resources and Technical Services, 52(1), 18-26. Retrieved from

Liptak, A., & Alter, A. (2016, April 18). Challenges to Google Books is declined by Supreme Court. New York Times. Retrieved from technology/google-books-case.html