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PROJECT TOPIC- EXPLORATORY STUDY OF ONLINE REFRENCE SERVICES OF LIBRARIES IN NIGERIA

PROJECT TOPIC- EXPLORATORY STUDY OF ONLINE REFRENCE SERVICES OF LIBRARIES IN NIGERIA

ABSTRACT

The study reports an experiment that examines the availability of online reference services in libraries in Nigeria. 500 questionnaires were randomly distributed among Nigerian Library Association(NLA) conference attendees. The respondents were drawn from different types of libraries. A total of 311
questionnaires were usable, resulting in a 62 percent response rate. Data’s were analyzed using percentage cross tabulation. The majority of the participants in Nigeria indicated that they are not aware of the existence of Online Reference Services (ORS), yet the project has been in existence for years .The present study was conducted to address five research questions. First, what is the level of awareness of ORS in your library? Second, how do librarians rate the usefulness of the ORS? Third, what are the infrastructures available in your library for the purpose of ORS? Fourth, what are the obstacles faced by libraries in establishing and utilizing ORS? and Fifth, what are the strategies to enhance the establishment of ORS?. The result shed light on the availability, usefulness, infrastructural availability, obstacles faced, and strategies to enhance the establishments of ORS, and recommendations were given.

INTRODUCTION

Research into the benefits of Online Reference Services (ORS) also called Virtual Reference Services (VRS) or Digital reference Services (DRS) and their potentials for enhancing information access electronically has a brief history in Nigeria due mostly to their relative infancy. ORS can be described as the electronic mediation between librarian and a user needing an answer to a query. No doubt, the incorporation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) into the reference services has affected its functioning at various levels: New ICT-based services has explored and adopted on ever growing number of innovations for providing information content and delivery.Similary, reference librarians have found many ways to take advantages of technology in extending service beyond library environment.
The benefits drives by the provision of ORS are increasingly changing the way we access and use information in library and, reference services in particular. It is becoming one of the mega-topics in the information age as it is assumed that accessing information in traditional reference settings are not sufficient for the users to compete on the globalized level. There is growing concern that traditional reference services fail to live up to expected,
overall it appears that ORS is more useful since the reference librarian continuously monitor the progress which the clientele put to the given information. This is made possible because he is asked to provide an e-mail address.

In this changing environment, reference desk by librarians who meet face-to-face or by phone with users in a defined physical space are increasingly supplemented by e-mail, virtual reference, instant messaging services, and web logs (Reinhardt and Harder, 2005) similarly, references in virtual environment afford clienteles who are shy in approaching reference librarian to submit there reference questions online. Beyond this, a good deal has been written about ORS and its implications for education and research without discrimination.

One striking example is Stacy-Bates cited by Shachaf and Horowitz (2oo1) who observed that “Certain user groups do not come to the library due to physical disabilities, scheduling constraints or geographical distance. These users too might find virtual reference to be more accessible to their needs, as it provides services to users any time, any place.indeed, most users of online library services expect a wide range of information resources preferably in full-text, and ability to contact someone (usually by telephone or e-mail) when they require help using those resources (Dee and Allen, 2005).

PROJECT TOPIC- EXPLORATORY STUDY OF ONLINE REFRENCE SERVICES OF LIBRARIES IN NIGERIA

The ongoing expansion of technology is providing unprecedented opportunities for people to communicate and exchange information with others around the world. At the same time, “libraries are moving away from structures built up over decades(even centuries)around the print collection,on-campus classroom, and manageable growth rates in published information and, instead, are moving toward structures derived from digital
communication, distributed learning, and an overwhelming surge in the creation and distribution of knowledge in multiple formats” (Fergusion,2000)
No doubt, the emergence of the ORS over the last decade has had an undeniable effect on the ways the users seek information, as well as on the ways that users think about reference services.

The impetus for addressing the issue of ORS in libraries in Nigeria becomes increasingly urgent when you consider the numerous benefits In this paper I reported on a research which aimed at knowing the perceptions of librarians on the new ICT driven reference services. In completing the research project i gained various insights into the challenges of including ORS in our libraries. The study was
guided by the following research questions; 

• What is the level of awareness of ORS items in your library?
• What is the usefulness of ORS as perceived by the librarians?
• What are the infrastructures available in your library for the purpose of ORS?
• What are the obstacles faced by libraries in establishing and utilizing ORS?
• What are the strategies to enhance the establishment of ORS?

STATEMENT OF PROBLEM

Reference services establish a contact between the librarian and the user, and this is a well established and standard feature of any library regardless of the size of its collections or the type of clientele. Recently, there has been a paradigm shift from the traditional way of offering services, to electronic way. But this modern way of offering such services tend to be plagued by multiple of problem. At the heart of the problem lie the key challenges inherent in infrastructure provision, particularly the provision of bandwidth. The study pointed bandwidth for particular attention because of its importance to ICT planning and implementation. The greater the capacity, the more likely it is that downloads will be faster.
Very often, however bandwidth numbers represent theoretical or peak performance; bottlenecks which slow down data transfer can occur as a result of network overload. Most libraries in Nigeria don’t have sufficient bandwidth. It is expensive and in general bandwidth rates are at least ten times higher in Africa than they are in North America and can be up to 100 times more costly for broadband connections. (Partnership for Higher Education in
Africa, 2004) Developing countries lag far behind other nations with internet access and usage. On the average, only 1 in 130 people in Africa has a computer (while in North America and Europe, 1 in every 2 people have access to the internet.

90% of students in Africa have never used the internet. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/computer-technology-for-developing-areas). According to Ogunsola (2004): “It must be realized that many Nigerian libraries, especially in the universities, face various problems in their library operations. These problems are not really of the library’s making but it is the usual problem confronting most of the computer installations all over the country today. The shortage of man power and lack of spare parts coupled with this is the problem of constant computer breakdowns and low level of electricity supply. This problem has really slowed the activities of Nigerian university libraries in utilizing the global information and technological innovations for the services of their clientele.
Perhaps of even great concern, however, is the quality of human resources output from Nigeria higher education institutions, given their lack of adequate teaching laboratories and the level of facilities deterioration in general (including the libraries). These factors combined with a failure to revise technical curricula to take into consideration recent ICT developments, has trapped and frozen course offerings and computer centers in the era of mainframe and data-crunching equipment.

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PROJECT TOPIC- EXPLORATORY STUDY OF ONLINE REFRENCE SERVICES OF LIBRARIES IN NIGERIA

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