Sunday, November 28, 2010

Using E – resources for research in university libraries

“It is regularly noted that, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, a lack of up-to-date journals is a major constraint on research. The advancing open access movement is regularly hailed as offering new opportunities for Africa and other southern researchers to gain access to better scientific knowledge, but what of the vast body of important work still published on ‘traditional’ subscription journals?” – Harle 2010
The information explosion has seen a proliferation of information sources on the internet. It has caused the information overload to a multitude of challenges to researchers who on a daily basis require information. However, the electronic resources available through the open access platform have provided a wide range of information sources for study. Meanwhile librarians have spearheaded the formation of conglomerates to augment the existence of open access.
Libraries world over have formed consortia’s to alleviate reading resources shortage and increase access to scholarly information in academic institutions. According to Vernagula and Kelkar, “A Consortium could be described as a group of organisations who come together to fulfill a combined objective that usefully requires co-operation and the sharing of resources.” The primary aim is to deliver “more than the sum of the individual parts”.  The premise of library Consortium formation states that they can be local, regional, state, national and inter institutional level. The library consortium has a number of advantages that are full utilisation of funds, opportunity to build up digital libraries, access to a wide range of electronic resources at substantially low costs and helpful to improve library services.

Electronic resources have improved the manner in which information is made available and shared in libraries and in numerous countries they are available through library consortiums. In Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Universities Library Consortium (ZULC) was formed to change the way university libraries in Zimbabwe operate. It is a formation of 11 local universities that is working toward improving access to information through the e – resources platform. The major activities of the consortium vary from conferences to workshops and training activities. The ZULC members participate in the workshops to enhance their projects in individual libraries. Several projects that were initiated by International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications  (INASP) include providing funds for training on building institutional repositories (IR), e – resources use training and making the electronic resources available to the consortium through Programme for the Enhancement of Research information (PERii).

The researching community of the consortium is benefiting from the full text journals that are available 24/7 outside the library environment. A major recognition of the programme is that current information is available in the library. Undergraduate and post graduate students are making use of e-resources in university libraries apparently the statistics in most libraries reveal that a number of users prefer e – journals to print resources. The proposal to make e – resources available in the libraries was at a larger extend stimulated by budget cuts that saw libraries failing to restock. In most cases the results were failure to satisfy user information need.

The open access (OA) movement also provides alternative information sources for library users. OA refers to “access to material (mainly scholarly publications) via the Internet in such a way that the material is free for all to read, and to use (or reuse) to various extents” (Wikipedia). According to the University of Zimbabwe library website, “Open Access (OA) is the free online availability of digital content. It is best-known and most feasible for peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly journal articles, which scholars publish without expectation of payment.” Many librarians have been vocal and active advocates of open access probably having envisioned the benefits to the library amid the budget cuts. These librarians believe that open access promises to remove both the price barriers and the permission barriers that undermine library efforts to provide access to the journal literature. Librarians also educate faculty, administrators, and others about the benefits of open access. Library users are comfortable using e – journals outside the library. The library has removed the limitations to access library resources for users that have seen a rise in the use of e-resources in a number of university libraries in Zimbabwe. Scientific information is critical in enhancing research in local universities through providing valuable information for literature review.

The significance of e – resources in libraries particularly in east and southern Africa has been prioritised in universities to allow access to a growing body of literature for academic purposes. Several initiatives are in place to avail   an impressive range of high-quality peer-reviewed materials. A study conducted in east and southern Africa in four universities studied had 79% of the top 20 journals across 15 subject areas in 2009. According to the findings whilst the availability of journals has improved significantly the usage amongst staff and students does not appear to be keeping pace. Despite the efforts propelled by librarians to devote funds for journal subscriptions, use of e – resources remains “stubbornly low” regardless of libraries having an excellent e – journal collections in wide disciplines that are comparable to those in Western university libraries. Under ZULC university libraries in Zimbabwe have access to INASP – PERii and UN sponsored schemes HINARI, AGORA, OARE (in health, agriculture and environment respectively) which offer high huge volumes of high-quality scientific information.

The bottom line for acceptance of e – resources in libraries is the currency of information that is critical for academic excellence to students and that keep the scholarly community abreast in their field of study. The subject of information currency in information and library practice is crucial and has been debate in numerous forums in a bid to emphasize the significance of up to date information sources for research and study. The currency of information is identified by the date of publication the more recent the date of publication the more up to date the information.

Availability of information 24/7/365 days out of the library environment is a major strength for e – resources against other sources of information. Information utilisation outside the library environment provides freedom and flexibility to users giving a platform for constructive debates. The major setback probably maybe the restrictions of passwords usage outside a specified IP address but however arrangements can be done by the librarians, publishers and e – resources providers to make the passwords access from any IP. Information in universities is a critical component that at a regular basis scholars require access to and its availability outside the library building becomes an eminent priority. Today’s information collectors are interested in promoting access rather than holdings. The concept of access is the major objective of libraries but due to a wide range of challenges associated with book resources and accountability, collection of resources for holdings is slowly losing its grip in promoting access as compared to e – resources that are accessed outside the library as long connection to internet is available.

Due the nature of e - resources a possibility to search numerous database using different search terms give them strength over print resources. Researchers require accessing a number of literatures in their field of study to have conclusive information for discussion and relate to in class. The possibilities of multiple searches give the researcher opportunity to select from a wide range of information that strengthens their findings. Several other factors that librarians has considered for recommending  e – resources has been faster and easier access to information that are provided by the nature of internet.

The Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) like other members of the ZULC has taken a major step of promoting awareness to e – resources within its community to promote access to information. A number of awareness programmes has been launched to make sure that the academic and student population make use of the e – resources for research and scholarship. A number of training workshops has been conducted with the objective of creating awareness, acquaint and demonstrate on the step-by-step procedure for accessing the e – journals. Harle (2010) has noted that researchers are simply not aware of their own holdings. ZOU has defied the notion and commerce training workshops to create awareness of the virtual library holdings.  The training programmes largely targeted the academic population and are continuing to cascade to students starting with DPhil students. The University Library Acting Director has taken every opportunity available to acquaint DPhil students on the existence of e – resources and an influx of the students to the library for personalised information literacy skills training. Information literacy skills are offered by the senior library assistants who also have gone through an intensive e – resources use training sponsored by INSAP as a mandate to their PERii programme. Through ZULC, ZOU has access to a wide range of e – journal databases that have helped to minimize reading material challenges in thee university for various programmes. Among the databases are jstor, EBSCOhost (which host a number of databases namely Eric, Business Premier, among others), Emerald, Agora, HINARI, OARE, and Cambridge journals among others. According to Harle (2010) the availability problem has been solved – not entirely of course, but to the point that attention can now be refocused elsewhere. Perhaps what may need to be done is to include the e – journals in the library catalogues to make them more accessible. He further noted that the initiatives have hugely successful in (virtually) restocking libraries across the higher education and research sector.

The valuable resources are critical in academic work as they are published by authoritative publishers and bodies that contribute immensely to the world research literature. Through these initiatives it is hoped that academic communities in Africa shall also contribute immensely to the ever growing research literature body.

1.        Growing knowledge: access to research in east and southern Africa.
2.        Harle, J. (2010) “The Availability of scientific journals in eastern and southern Africa: misunderstanding the problem?” Bulletin. No. 170 May.
3.        Open accessing.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Library jobs in Zimbabwe

Library jobs have been advertised since time immemorial. Libraries require trained personnel to mann them for effective service delivery. Library jobs in Zimbabwe are frequently advertised in the local newspapers particularly in The Sunday Mail, The Herald and The Financial Gazette.

A good number of library jobs are advertised by universities requiring to fill post in the university library structure. Several other library jobs require to be filled in the public service and the Government chief recruiting office - Public Service Commission (PSC) work towards the recuitment process. The PSC recruit for Government departments and agencies. Recruitment for colleges and polytechnics is also done through the PSC. The other sector that has library jobs is non-governmental organisation (NGO). However NGOs are more of specialised information centres that provide services to a minority clientele. Public libraries also provide jobs for librarians and their remuneration is well above what most government agencies are paying.  The university library structure absorb more personnel as compared to other institutions due to the wide range of services they offer to the diverse university clientele. Public libraries also require library personnel who are encyclopedic in nature because of the community they serve which is diverse.

The remuneration of librarians is still a challenge for a number of institutions since the change to multi-currency system that was effected around 2009 by the government of Zimbabwe. The major contributing to that effect has been the failure to realise the significance of the librarian in information management function. Several other factors has influenced the poor salary scales of librarians over the past years in Zimbabwe among them the economic downturn, operational costs of libraries and a lack of association that accredit qualifying librarians and set standards of operation. The Zimbabwe library Association (ZimLA) way back did pave way to put measures and  lobby for librarians recognition. However the association could not stand the economic situation that bedeviled the nation and died a sad death. As the librarians work towards resuscitation of the association the issue of salaries and remuneration is on the top of the agenda. NGOs and embassies are among the top paying institutions for librarians and recognise the importance of the librarian.

University librarians are well paid too; however, as the structure decent to low level jobs, remuneration tend to dwindle due to the technicality of the positions. The structures tend to fail to recognise technical responsibilities of the librarian. Jobs in universities cover a wide range of activities that are departmentalised to effectively meet the mission of the library. Library jobs cover positions such as Sub-librarian, Cataloguer, Classifier, Reference librarian, Systems librarian, Acquisitions librarian, Senior Library Assistant and Library assistants among other posts. A reveal of the website for library jobs in Zimbabwe yield 13 positions, a number of them available for university libraries. The majority of the positions required degrees in library and information science and post graduate diplomas in library studies for senior positions. Low ranking positions of library assistants require National certificate in library and information science.

The work experience requirements differ with positions as more senior positions require more post experience on similar positions. Sub-librarian post require up to five years working experience and the assistant librarian jobs require at least 3 years working experience. The technical jobs of senior library assistant require at least two years of working experience. The library jobs extend to personal assistant to librarians, library IT support and library door guard as well as data capture clerk. New trends of library jobs now require information technology education to incorporate ICT strategies in information handling.

All the jobs found at the website were also simultaneously published in the local newspapers – The Sunday Mail and The Herald. Online announcement are prevalent in the developed world such that in third world countries the majority will fail to access the vacancies.

Libraries for economic development

Certainly, it is indisputable how information plays a critical role in improving economies of nations. Information by its nature is a commodity relevant in the knowledge economy. The significance of information in helping decision makers in mapping strategies for the survival of economies is imperative.

In view of the above it become important for economies to support libraries and continue oversees their survival in times of hardships. History has revealed that support awarded to libraries has been dwindling over time due to a number of reasons, among them poorly performing economies, lack of funds and issues relating to priorities as determined by mother body. Budget cuts for libraries, especially national and public libraries have detrimental reparations to the services offered by the library. The information role played by libraries need to be supported at every level. That is the library functions should be espoused by the funding body be it a government agency, department or private company. The effectiveness of a library in an economy is determined by the collection it house, thus more efforts should be done to evaluate the library collection and the user requirements to enable the information function to be played effectively. Probably the emerging of open access would improve the role of information in improving the economic standpoint of a country.

The library is an interactive institution that, besides holding a collection, should offer conference and training facilities to provide a platform for discussions and further researching areas that require critical attention such as policy implementation and industry productivity. At national level economies may fail to perform to expectations because the industrialists lack information - information on standards, information on processes, information on specifications and information on human capital management. The knowledge economy survives depends on the availability of current information to allow decisive decision making. In knowledge economy organisations are encouraged to have libraries that facilitate information collection handling, collection, management and dissemination as well as archiving. This practice is known as knowledge management.

The consumers of information in organisation are the human capital that performs functions that changes the company’s fortunes through their input in production. If the human capital is starved of information the productivity of the company is likely to be drastically affected. Generally the collection of information is the mandate of the librarian in consultation with the management and through that exercise plans are changed into information and later into production after consumption. The collection development function played by the librarian is more of transforming the company expectations into information so that the employees would read and improve performance in their roles. Economic development is achieved with information. One in many times corporations has failed to achieve economic development because they lack information.

The most current information is available in journals that provide research information in a wide range of discipline. Information to be useful for national-economic development should be current and research based. Libraries are critical for economic development as they play an information function. Information is easily transformed to action and that is when the benefit is realised. The support given to libraries should be enough to play the information role effectively if libraries are to remain critical in economic growth. Libraries are relevant in economic growth and the community should start to recognise their role in information dissemination. Due to the fact that libraries have circulation functions that allow equal access to the collection, human capital should make optimum use of the collection to foster economic growth.

The role played by libraries in economic development is a crucial one. The information economy or knowledge economic thrives on the availability of information to prosper and achieve economic targets.