Wednesday, October 3, 2012

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 literary 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 Dhil students. The University Library Acting Director has taken every opportunity available to acquaint Dhil 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.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->1.        <!--[endif]-->Growing knowledge: access to research in east and southern Africa.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2.        <!--[endif]-->Harle, J. (2010) “The Availability of scientific journals in eastern and southern Africa: misunderstanding the problem?” Bulletin. No. 170 May.
Open accessing.

October is International School Library Month

October is International School Library Month (ISLM) celebrated across the world to celebrate the significance of the school library and school librarians in the learning environment.
The theme for this year is School libraries: a key to the past, present and future which reveal a very strong connection between the school library and the cultural, social and educational environments of society.
The school libraries are instrumental in fostering intellectual growth amongst the students and further prepare the students to be independent researchers through imparting information literacy skills to allow students to study and seek information effectively in the information age. Thus the benefit to the students is competences to utilise information effectively and be able to participant in the education system as an informed student.

The Zimbabwe Library Association (ZimLA) branches in Manicaland, Mashonaland, Matebeleland, Midlands and Masvingo are to commemorate the month in different activities that honour the school librarians for their resilience in working towards achieving the Unesco/IFLA School library Manifesto that states that, “The School library is essential to every long-term strategy for literacy, education, information provision and economic, social and cultural development.”
It is envisioned that training activities are to be part of the events to equip the school librarians with skills that make them relevant in the environment were electronic gadgets are becoming popular with students. Further activities may include a School Library Open Day to create awareness about the school library and its purpose in the learning environment to parents and the community in general.

The functions of the School Library as expressed by the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) are as follows:-
Informational - to provide for reliable information, rapid access, retrieval and transfer of information; the school library should be part of regional and national information networks.

Educational - to provide continuous lifelong education through provision of the facilities and atmosphere for learning: guidance in location, selection and use of material and training in information skills, through integration with classroom teaching; promotion of intellectual freedom.

Cultural - to improve the quality of life through the presentation and support of the aesthetic experience, guidance in appreciation of arts, encouragement of creativity, and development of positive human relations.

Recreational - to support and enhance a balanced and enriched life and encourage meaningful use of leisure time through provision of recreational information, materials and programs of recreational value, and guidance in the use of leisure time.

The role of the school library is to “facilitate the planning and implementation of learning programmes that will equip students with the skills necessary to succeed in a constantly changing social and economic environment.” Through resource-based programs, students acquire skills to collect, critically analyse and organise information, problem-solve and communicate their understandings reported IASL.
The school library system in Zimbabwe is facing a myriad of challenges from lack of funding to lack of space. Above that school libraries do not seem to be a top priority for the Ministry of Education and School Administrators despite the advantages and the instrumental role of the school libraries in the learning environment. A general assessment of the situation shows that a school library may be a classroom block with boxes and is always closed and if opened it is under stocked. Further assessment reveal that the position of a school librarian in Zimbabwe is not supported by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and Salary Services Bureau (SSB), human resource department of the government. This leaves the position of librarian being sponsored by the School Development Association offering poor remuneration and working conditions that give the position a bad image.

At the 46th ZimLA Conference in Kadoma in June librarians moved a motion to the Ministry representative that the position of the school librarian should be absorbed in to the PSC and SSB structures. It is the hope of ZimLA that a positive resolution would materialise from the Ministry.
As the School library month progress in the month of October let’s see the events that promote the school library as an engagement place that help to define the students in the quest of information and impart information literacy skills essential for independent learning.