COMPARATIVE STUDY OF REFERENCE AND INFORMATION SERVICES IN ACADEMIC LIBRARIES

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Background to the Study

          Information remains a vital aspect of human existence for without it, societal progress will be seriously impeded. Librarians have been the primary agents and providers of information and information materials.  There is no doubt that all humans are living in an information age, an age where the difference between success and failure is hinged on information.  That is why; it is globally acknowledged that, an uninformed person is basically deformed.  Knowledge is what one knows; whereas, information is what people know.  The fundamental distinction is that, knowledge is restricted to the individual who gains it while information is knowledge as is shared and communicated. If knowledge is recorded, then, it may be communicated at a distance in space and time.

          Edoka (2005), sees information as relevant data, fact or idea available for useful purpose. Information is a vital tool for economic, social, cultural, spiritual and political development.  Information plays important role in overall well being of any nation that desires to sustain its prominence in the global scene.  The freedom of information bill 2011 ACT in Nigeria is a vital tool for empowerment that allows meaningful contributions to the society. Judging from the above scenario, one with a good sense of analysis should know that the librarian has a vital role to play in seeing that information gets into the hands of end users. It is in this context that academic libraries are so important in any educational enterprise.

          Achebe (2005) notes that the study of ancient and medieval library leaves no one in doubt about the value of libraries in Education. She listed some protagonists of library services to include Edward of Edwards of Britain, Melvin Dewey of America and Antonio Pannizi of Italy who at various times in history of libraries worked tirelessly to establish libraries in their countries for the purpose of bringing education and knowledge to the doorsteps of their people thereby encouraging these people to read widely. Valid information is the key to knowledge which is a prerogative for any form of development.  This is the reason why the value of any institution whose major stock in trade is information dissemination is a sine quo non in any growing nation. These immense benefits only come to play when the right information is provided to the user at the appropriate time.  Problem solving requires information.  Timely and valid information is the key to basic knowledge which is the baseline for any form of development.

Akinade (2000) emphasized that “the expectation of users whenever they visit the library to seek and retrieve information is always high. Therefore, when such high hopes are not met, the disappointments and frustrations that occur can be so devastating and so traumatic, hence librarians are not only willing to give help to users but they consider the assistance given to users as their professional responsibility and justification for their training.

          Academic libraries in their generic term refer to all the libraries that exist in the institutions of higher learning. These are libraries that are located in universities, colleges of education, polytechnics, etc. there seems to be as many definitions of the term academic libraries as there are authors. For instance Reitz (2004) considers academic libraries as an integral part of a college, university or other institutions of post secondary education administered to meet information and research needs of her students and staff. Academic libraries exist and play significant roles to meet the teaching, learning, scholarly research and other needs of their faculties, students and affiliates in the institutions they are resident. Their mission is to create and maintain large self-sufficient collections for their users.  All over the world, academic libraries play strategic role in human capital formation. It is a place where students are equipped with cutting-edge information in the ever-evolving globalized world.

          Edoka (2000) writing in the same vein, defined academic library as a library that exists in institutions of higher education such as university, college of education, college of technology and polytechnic. These are largely tertiary educational institutions. Academic libraries and librarians are clearing ports and co-players in scholarly-communication. The over-ridding aim of the academic library is to support the objectives of academic institution which is to promote teaching, learning and research. The academic libraries are meant to serve the undergraduates, postgraduates, lecturers and other members of the communities.  How this information gets into the hands of the end users at the time they need it and the way they need it is the hallmark of librarianship.  Academic library has to make information resources accessible to patrons. By so doing, the library fulfils its role of supporting the parent institution in achieving the basic objectives of teaching, learning and research. To provide effective access, the library grapples with the challenges of acquiring, processing and making available up-to-date and relevant resources that should satisfy users’ information needs.

          Reference service is one of the basic services provided in the library and information centres and here lies the core of librarianship. Personal attention is at the very heart of reference services. Serving users is the core mission of reference tasks and departments. It is also viewed as the most interesting and exciting of library services, the very life-wire of library and information profession, because it involves the interaction in various queries between library users and the reference librarian. Reference services are variously defined or referred to as “mediators between the user and the information; and navigators of information Superhighway, Schement, 2002, Lessick, 2000, Chowdury, 2002, Lankes, 2000. The term reference services or reference and information services can be defined as personal assistance provided by trained personnel to library users seeking information Bunge and Bopp (2001).

Reference service offered in academic libraries according to Everest (2008), take different forms, but central to them is the provision of assistance to individuals seeking information. He further said that ‘singular role which underlines the various forms have remained stable over the years. The success of implementing reference forms has remained stable over the years. The success of implementing reference service requires the ingenuity of the librarian, who is now made a cyorg, he/she is everything to the user…a councilor, an adviser, a teacher and a specialist.   

Ifidon (2002) defined reference service as “the personal assistance given by librarians to individual readers who are in pursuit of information. This involves not only locating the materials where the required information can be found but also locating the information and sorting out what information is relevant from the mass of information. Lawal (2000) maintained that the reference service serves as link between the library and its immediate clientele be they public, community or groups of specialist users. The main aim is to provide a wide range of services and facilities which will enhance exploitative use of the literature through the concepts of assistance and self direction.

          Adeyemi (2005) saw reference service as that part of library system which is charged with the responsibility of aiding readers in the use of resources and books within the library wall as distinguished from the withdrawal of books and other materials for use at home. The service is provided by professionals whose primary task is to identify exactly what the reader wants and provide same using one or a combination of reference books or tools.

          Nwegbu (2005) stressed that provision of reference services goes beyond the actual use of reference books and the daily routine of responding to user’s queries. It covers anything/everything necessary to help the reader in his/her quest for information, education, and knowledge. She further, itemized the scope of reference service to include: the selection of an adequate and suitable collection of reference materials, the arrangement and maintenance of the collection for easy and convenient use., suggestion as to the materials to be used for special purposes, instructions to individual or groups in the use of reference books and reference methods, constant work in answering individual questions and helping individual readers to find some elusive facts, or in correcting some wrong method of research in the part of an inexperienced reader, promoting the library within the community, marketing library services that come there. Certain distinctive features of reference service have been identified which make reference service unique to some extent, they include the following: the willingness and ability of the librarians to provide reference aid, staff devotion exclusively to reference work, reference collections stored on open shelves in rooms planned as reference quarters, and ready guides to library resources such as dictionary catalogue, precise scheme of classification Kaplan 1964, Olanlokun 2003, Kumar (2006), citing  Ranganathan, (1961) stressed that only lately have librarians learnt that their duties are not only and merely in storing and cataloguing information and literature that their most important, successes are to be achieved by an active policy of bringing information and literature to the notice of those in need of them.

Ifidon (1997) noted that understanding rationales for reference service in both academic and public libraries to be the need to instruct users of the library collections. Another reason for emergence of reference service is the ever increasing notice of the function of libraries as an active participation in the process of education. Reference service is important in introducing and guiding the users into the world of books and retrieval of information through reference service, the essence of academic library will be justified to the public who sponsors it.

          Katz (1992) believes that reference services in libraries are essential and have mounted with the years because according to him, there is now greater need for the academic library to serve as the knowledge centre. Any time the news media do not issue the complete fact, the academic library can be relied upon for true and detailed information. He is also of the opinion that reference service is very much needed in the libraries due to the size of scientific literature. The chief reason for the increasing dependence of researchers upon libraries is of course an outstanding proliferation of scientific literature since the second world war. All of us have seen the fearsome statistics that prove this point, and it is now quite evident that the volume of patent in any single field, except possibly in most narrow specializations, has outstripped the capacity of the individual research man to cope with it without assistance.

          Aboyede (1983) noted that intensive use of books and other library resources is vital to any program of development either at the personal level, or at different social or national level. She also acknowledged the need for reference when she stated that no matter how reputable a library’s collection is, if it is not used intensively, it might as well be regarded as mere decorations or frozen assets. Reference service ushers users into their needed information. Aboyede is also of the opinion that reference service is indeed the culmination of all library activities aimed at facilitating the use of the library and its resources. She goes further to say that the performance in reference service can lift or bring down the image of the library as a whole. 

          With respect to this study, reference service is defined as the ability of a reference librarian to strive within and outside available resources to provide answers to reference queries.  Reference service is sine-qua non to educational support services that promote academic excellence.  In order to appreciate reference service provision in libraries, one must as a matter of necessity, first of all, have a basic knowledge of the library system as a whole.  It is with this mindset that, the researcher deems it necessary for the purpose of this study to define the subject.

          Reference and information services provided in academic libraries include: abstracting services, indexing services, photocopying services, information services, selective disseminations of information (SDI) and user instruction services provision. The resources for these references and information services provision may include; dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories, manuals, handbooks, maps, bibliographies, biographies yearbooks, almanacs and online resources. 

However, the methods employed in rendering these services in academic libraries are: answering of query, telephone, fax, e-mail, internet, readers advisory services, verification, referral services, inter-library loans, selective dissemination of information (SDI).  Database searches and library user education programme.  The concept of information services according to Kumar (2005) is the provision of information on demand which indicates that, a user who makes a specific request will be provided answer to his query on demand.  It is also, the provision of information in anticipation, which hopes to keep the user well informed and up-to-date in his or her field of specialization and in related subjects.  He further clarified that “the information aspects of the library is not that of propaganda but that of generating, collecting, synthesizing and disseminating up-to-date accurate and relevant information available in variety of formats, which can be stored and retrieved whenever, needed. The role of reference and information librarian is extremely important.  A librarian’s competency is determined by his ability to relate properly with information at any stage of its degree.  The reference department which is the focus of this investigation is one of readers’ services divisions of any academic library. The work in this department embraces a variety of activities which bring the librarian directly into contact with users of the library.  It ranges from having ready answers for specific questions on any matter whatsoever to in-depth investigation and follow up of endless clues to lighten up the burden of those desiring information in serious studies. A good reference and information librarian is bound to encourage the use of libraries by acting as intermediary between users and information and being able to bring efficient flow of resources and the seeker of information together, without waste of time. The academic library is to provide reference and information services to users, such as students, lecturers and researchers who rely solely on the librarians advise for their desire and needed information in advancing knowledge.  In view of the foregoing, the reference librarian is expected to possess wide range of intellectual skills and desire to assist users, flair for organizing documents, ability to search literature, ability to communicate fluently and adequate knowledge of library resources. Grogan (1992) stated that “library users if helped by the reference librarian will be able to get better value from a library collection than they could on their own volitions” the nature of reference and information services vary from one type of library to another. The nature differs due to the kind of clientele to be served and the objectives of the library to be fulfilled.

          Philosophically, libraries of the present day-digital arena reflect wider variations in content, scope and character of assistance they render to those in search of information.  Reference service makes the librarian to be informed, articulate and studious so as to be versatile in all subjects and in all areas in the library.

          The reference librarian is not only expected by users to be familiar with the resources of the library but should anticipate future user needs.  He should often look beyond his library in search of possible sources of required information even when the required information is not yet in recorded form, he is expected to know of human link who could offer the information he requires for the library users. A reference librarian should professionally have a wide range of intellectual interests beyond strictly his professional domain and a genuine desire to help library users utilize fully, information resources in his library and beyond.

          In academic libraries, reference and information services are attached great importance to institutions in the use of the library. A whole lot of assistance is required in the provision of information to students, lecturers and researchers who constitute the bulk of academic library users.

          Despite the overwhelming roles being played by reference and information services provision in academic libraries, academic libraries are confronted with hindrances such as; poor funding, inadequate trained personnel, inadequate and outdated reading materials, poor handling of users, lack of technology application in reference and information provision. These hindrances have no doubt constituted a great challenge to academic libraries in achieving their objectives.  However, Olanloku (2003) Utor (2004) Igbo (2006) Madu (2008) observed the following strategies for enhancing effective reference and information services provision in academic, libraries.

          There are indications that reference and information services provision vary in terms of service and practices among academic libraries in Ebonyi State. This is noticed on varied levels of personnel’s and infrastructures among, Ebonyi State university libraries, college of education Ikwo library and Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic Uwana libraries.

          It is in view of the above that, the researcher is carrying out an investigation on reference and information services provision in the academic libraries in Ebonyi State with a view to comparing the status of these services.

Statement of the Problem

COMPARATIVE STUDY OF REFERENCE AND INFORMATION SERVICES IN ACADEMIC LIBRARIES