Provision of digital information resources in Nigerian university libraries
Harriet U. Igbo, Ijeoma J. Ibegbulam, Brendan E. Asogwa, and Nwabuisi T. Imo
Introduction: This paper examines the provision of digital information resources in academic libraries with focus on university libraries in Nigeria.
Method: A descriptive survey design was used. The population of the study was 744 certified academic librarians working in the three tiers of universities (federal, state, and private) as contained in the list maintained by the Librarians’ Registration Council of Nigeria. A questionnaire was used for data collection.
Analysis: The data were analyzed quantitatively through the Statistical Package of the Social Sciences (SPSS), using percentages, mean scores, and standard deviation.
Results: Access to digital information resources in libraries is low due to non-implementation of real time provision of information resources to users, emanating from lack of library management software that would drive the process, professionals’ lack of skills in implementing digital information services, and lack of relevant formal institutional digital information provision policies.
Conclusion: Embracing real time digital library services is essential to ensure effective provision of access to information for users. The solution lies in subscription to library management software and developing the capacity of the librarians for its effective implementation.
The proliferation of information occasioned by advances in information technology has had a large impact on academic libraries (Mukred et al., 2019). The technological innovation in information production has in recent times acted as a panacea to the resourcing problems faced by the conventional libraries in acquisition of and subscription to relevant materials required for supporting scholarship in institutions of higher learning. The traditional library system has been found to be inadequate for storage, access, and retrieval of the massive volume of information being produced, as well as for coping with effective updating of information (Igun, 2010). Hence Ogunshola (2005) asserts that application of technology in information provision is a child of necessity arising from the need to use technologies to enhance the availability and accessibility of information from different electronic resources and databases for human survival and development. Diverse kinds of the traditional library resources are now in digital or electronic format and this, in the view of Omekwu (2012), has created a new frontier for unlimited access to diverse kinds of literature.
In addition, the deployment of information technology in the learning process, with the attendant change in the educational environment, has brought about changes in the nature of the information user. In the opinion of Meola (2022), the emerging trend of the Internet of Things has made university libraries focus on the provision of Internet-based information services. Digital services have become one of the efficient tools for delivering lectures in universities in this COVID pandemic era.
In the light of these changes, no library can expect to remain relevant should it continue to depend solely on the traditional mode of service provision characterised by physical interaction between the librarian and library user. The result is that, globally, libraries are responding by redefining their services to meet new expectations. Some of the responses by libraries include the addition of a ubiquitous and networked environment as an extension of traditional library services, changes in the collections to include digital formats, changes in the method of delivery of services (to include online modes) using social media platforms, e-mail, chat services, among others (Bigirimana et al., 2015; Malanga and Kamanga, 2018; Masenya and Ngulube, 2019; Wells and Scellenbach, 2015). Additional measures implemented by advanced countries include the formulation of digital information policies committed to adequate electronic resources, effective services management systems, staff training, and auditing of performance to show the best value and accountability in knowledge management (Hans and Goulding, 2003; Malanga and Kamanga, 2018). Knowledge management is relevant in a discussion about university libraries because the activities of the library, especially in respect of adoption of information technology innovations, dovetail with knowledge management. The views shared by Murugesan et al. (2019) show that the high increase in production of diverse kinds of information has prompted libraries to develop strategies of acquisition of resources, provision of access and sharing of resources from print to digital formats. Ensuring staff effectiveness and efficiency in technical application of the above functions is the function of knowledge management.
In Nigeria, the development of digital information provision in universities libraries started in the 1970s with the application of information and communication technologies in major library operations (Gani and Magi, 2014). Significant efforts to computerize university library services started in the early 1990s and resulted in the automation of many library operations and services (Abolaji, 2000). These efforts, Fabunmi (2009) noted, were highlighted and accelerated by the World Bank intervention loan that eventually led to the introduction and development of university electronic resources databases through the Nigerian Universities’ Management Information System (NUMIS), and the National Universities Commission’s Network (NUCnet) projects. While NUMIS strives to increase control, access and updating of information, production, and effectiveness in the management of decision making, NUCnet aimed at setting the pace and direction for networked computers and information resources in the universities through intra-campus, inter-university, and global electronic connectivity (Gani and Magi, 2014). In addition to the existence of a university wide area network, and a local area network, these projects helped establish Internet services in university libraries (Nok, 2006); and with the Internet, university libraries are able to provide digital infrastructures for the provision of digital information resources and services to the academic community.
Since then, institutions of higher learning in Nigeria have adopted digital collections and online information services through the establishment of Websites as a way of participating in the global transformation. Several efforts, geared towards harnessing the digital resources and interconnectivity of university libraries to facilitate resource sharing for more effective digital information services to users, have been made by the National Universities Commission (NUC) through the Virtual Library Project and the more recent Nigerian Research and Educational Network (NgREN) Initiative (Asogwa et al., 2015). These efforts require academic libraries and library professionals to assume newer roles and greater responsibilities, such as building, facilitating, and providing access to electronic information resources to users. However, the findings of earlier studies by Ossai-Ugbah (2010), Asogwa et al, (2015) and Asogwa et al. (2016) suggest that although a majority of Nigerian university libraries have Websites and associated resources, users cannot maximize the use of electronic resources in these libraries because of intermittent power supply, weak and sluggish Internet service, shortage of information technology personnel, poor funding of academic libraries, and constant changes in computer hardware and software, among other factors.
This is rather worrisome as situation was corroborated by pre-research observation made by the researchers which revealed that indeed many university libraries in Nigeria have Websites while some others have online databases, Web-OPACs, institutional repositories, subject portals, and links to electronic resources like e-books, e-journals, e-theses and dissertations. With all these in place, the expectation is that academic libraries and librarians will be able to provide users with remote or real time access to digital information services through e-mails, Ask services, chats, instant messaging, FAQs, and other related digital platforms as prescribed by Singh (2012) to guarantee immediacy in information access provision for user satisfaction. Given that the studies by Ossai-Ugbah (2010) and Asogwa et al. (2015) are somewhat dated, it is imperative to explore the current state of provision of digital information services for access to information resources in Nigerian university libraries.
In Nigeria, ever since the beginning of the networking project of the National Universities Commission (NUC) in 2007, libraries have adopted digital information resources and services which are becoming the preference for the majority of users. We need to find out how Nigerian libraries are managing digital resources in relation to: services to assist users to access digital information; the availability of digital information infrastructures and platforms; the efficiency of the library professionals in assisting users; and the extent of support services rendered to meet user expectations. Related studies of Ani and Ahiauzu (2008), Asogwa et al., 2015, Ebijuwa and Mabawonku (2019) and Fasae et al., 2021, among others have dwelt on development and management of electronic resources in libraries (even in pandemic situation as reported by Fasae et al.). These studies focused essentially on providing users with access to library Websites and other resources through the Internet from which they can consult the electronic resources within the limits of the skills they possess. There is need to investigate the status of digital information resources provision with emphasis on the use of digital platforms by library professionals to provide real time and interactive information services to users which has not been addressed by any of the studies.
Significance of the study
This study is therefore very significant in promoting the process of e-readership among library users in academic libraries in developing countries. Findings from this study would reveal the extent to which the digital transformation in the libraries is making the expected impact in enhancing access to information. It will equally enable academic library management to be aware of existing gaps, risks, and opportunities in the quality of information services provided to users and thereby determine the strategies for enhancing quality e-services. In addition, it will serve as a wake-up call for libraries to establish and prioritize digital information management for remote access for library users especially in a pandemic situation.
The objectives of the study are:
- Ascertain the availability of platforms and resources for the provision of digital information in university libraries in Nigeria.
- Examine library professionals’ perception about the extent to which they can apply skills in digital information services for provision of information resources in the libraries.
- Find out the extent of provision of digital information services for access to information resources in the libraries.
- Identify the hindrances to provision of digital information resources in the libraries.
The theoretical orientation of this study is basically anchored on Ranganathan’s (1946) Five laws of librarianship. According to Ranganathan’s Laws, the aim of the library is to enable users to make the most effective use of resources and services of libraries. The theory presents five principles: books are for use, every reader his/her book, every book its reader, save the time of the reader, and the library is a growing organism. These outline the principles of adequate service provision that ensures easy access to information resources by users. A holistic view of the five laws shows that Ranganathan was particularly interested in efficient service delivery that will ensure that the library meets the information needs of library patrons within the shortest possible time. Ranganathan’s Laws, though outdated, still serve as a good foundation for assessing the library’s roles in providing access to information especially in a hybrid environment. The theory shows that satisfying the information needs of users is the hub of overall library service delivery both traditionally and digitally.
Provision of digital information resources in libraries
Provision of digital information resources as a concept, is described by Okongo (2014) as functions through which librarians and other information professionals assist information seekers to have access to information using electronic infrastructures. This implies a paradigm shift in a library’s traditional mode of operations with emphasis on online provision of access. The aim is to enhance easy access to information without the restrictions of time and location (Chandwani, 2006).
Numerous benefits abound in the provision of digital information resources in libraries. Without doubts, students are offered the opportunity of being better exposed to academic materials which invariably enhances their academic performance (Uwaifo and Azonobi, 2014). Today, most students use the Internet to source their information and the perception of the library as a physical place has changed to include virtual space due to the opportunities offered by the digital information landscape. To the library as a system, such benefits include: cost-effectiveness, minimizing of space and reduction in user-traffic, multiple and simultaneous remote access to digital information, reduction in physical deterioration of library books and journals, enhancing distant learning programmes and promoting resource sharing (Khan et al., 2016; Woody et al., 2010). In addition, the possibility of digitally accessing information supports elimination of the digital divide, increased use of information, improved communication and timely access to information, improved information exchange facilities, and search and information manipulation (Anasi, 2012). Hence, provision of digital information is essential as part of the improvement of quality of service of today’s libraries because such information can be shared, accessed, utilized, and exchanged faster and made available to numerous individuals at the same time irrespective of location.
Access to digital information resources requires the platforms and services through which they are provided. Bhattacharya et al., as cited in Igbo (2017) identifies Web-based OPACs, Web-based databases, electronic document delivery, virtual library tours, library Websites, library portals, Web-based user education programmes, FAQs, Web forms, electronic bulletin boards, discussion forums, electronic mailing lists (e.g., listservs) and library calendars. Similarly Singh (2012) identifies e-mail, Ask services (such as Ask a Librarian, Ask an expert, Ask a question and AskERIC), simple chat reference (exchange of brief text messages between the user and the librarian), instant messaging, chatterbots (communication with an interaction database that contains a range of pre-prepared information), video conferencing or Web-cam services, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), Web forms, Web contact centres, collaborative networks for reference, bulletin board services, and real time Web reference. Studies from libraries in different countries have shown some variations in the application of the above identified information resources and services. For example, Wan Dollah and Singh (2010) in a study that examined digital reference service in Malaysian academic libraries found that e-mail and Web forms were the only digital information services offered by the libraries. In a survey of seventy academic libraries in the United States, Tenopir (2001, as cited by Bakar, 2009) revealed that 99% of the libraries were offering asynchronous virtual information service through appointment and e-mail. Similarly in a study on chat and reference transactions in ten academic libraries in West African countries, Sekyere (2010) found that less than 40% offered digital reference services only through phone, e-mail and chat. The foregoing shows that e-mail services are a popular channel of information service in most libraries. This is confirmed by Bakar (2009), whose survey of virtual reference service in selected Muslim countries showed an absence of real time reference services in all the countries studied; they also noted that public libraries in Western countries are often not able to maintain real time reference services due to cost implications. Even though e-mail may be adequate in ensuring users get a response to their demands, it does not ensure an interactive and real time access to information. The implication is that answers to users’ demands are not immediate; rather, they are delayed to a convenient time when the librarian can attend to their queries.
The nature of today’s information user demands a system that will ensure real time access to information. In Nigeria, the study by Baro et al. (2014) revealed that apart from SMS messaging and interactions through library Facebook pages, no form of real-life digital information service was provided by librarians, irrespective of the fact that infrastructures such as Internet connectivity and Websites are available. The foregoing shows that most libraries are experiencing the challenge of full implementation of digital information services, which, Bakar (2009) attributed to the reason for promotion of consortium formation for global sharing of digital information.
It can be seen that most libraries find it difficult to engage in consortium arrangement which in the opinion of Igbo and Imo (2017) is due to issues around lack of institutional policies and standards, and technology infrastructure and facilities. Research has shown the inability of African nations and institutions to initiate and sustain policy initiatives as a significant problem for development projects (Diso, 2009; Kujenga and De-Vries, 2011; Ubogu and Pickover, 2011). These have shown that project development and implementation grapple with the challenge of policy guidelines on which they run. These have invariably led to what is popularly referred to as system-induced inefficiency, which emanates where organizations cannot provide the required enabling environment for employees to function to capacity. This is evident in the poor levels of provision of infrastructural facilities and other organizational enablers for optimum performance. These inabilities have led to institutions of higher learning adopting ad-hoc solutions as a means of digital library developments (Cook et al., 2019).
Human support for provision of digital information resources in libraries
The availability of Websites and other resources alone cannot ensure access to digital information without the human ability to manipulate the technology and educate users on how to apply it effectively. Human support services are one of the most vital and visible expression of the library’s purpose and mission and the key to the roles of the library as a centre for information, formal education, research, and independent learning. To that extent, librarians’ abilities to provide digital information services are critical in the performance of any library in the 21st century.
However, provision of digital information resources is often marred by human resources challenges. Today, many people have developed interest in acquiring skills in online information search due to the availability of online databases, electronic books, electronic journals, CD-ROMs, etc in libraries. This has been particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic when many libraries closed their doors to avoid the spread of the disease among users. Ming (2020) and Connell et al. (2021) observed that the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns have consequently highlighted the gap in information resources provision between ‘well-technology resourced’ and ‘technology-starved’ university libraries. The pandemic has also compelled human intermediaries in Nigerian university libraries to strive towards updating their digital services skills to provide interpersonal, interactive, and real time services to users using digital platforms.
The availability of electronic resources alone cannot ensure access to digital information without the human ability to manipulate the technology and educate users on how to apply it effectively. A study by Asogwa et al. (2014) found that academic librarians in Nigeria, traditionally, were doing well in traditional education, professional development and research roles, but were not effective in the provision of digital information resources in the cyberspace due to lack of skills in digital literacy, internet surfing, online chat reference, online education, etc. The paper suggested professional librarians needed to be multi-skilled to meet the needs of 21st century libraries.
Other studies have been conducted on engagement in digital information services which identified some hindrances impacting skills of librarians. For example, studies by Wan Dollah (2006) in Malaysia, Ramos and Abrigo (2011) in the Philippines, and Uutomi (2014) in Namibia showed that the potential of digital information services is not maximized in developing countries because librarians lack the requisite skills. In the view of Uutomi, librarians lack the ability to implement the digital reference model in assisting academic library users to have access to information because of inadequate preparation and training.
Challenges of provision of digital information resources in libraries
Studies have identified factors that pose challenges to effective implementation of digital information services in libraries and which affect users’ access to information resources. First and foremost is the challenge of poor infrastructural facilities. Different views shared by Ossai-Ugbah (2010), Echezona and Ugwuanyi (2012), Fezaa (2013) Ajayi et al. (2014), Okongo (2014), Uutomi (2014), Echezona et al. (2015), and Ekwelem et al. (2018) identified poor information technology infrastructure such as cutting edge technology like optical fibre network with required number of work stations, low Internet connectivity and bandwidth and server instability, frequent interruption of electricity, and frequent machine breakdowns.
Other factors include lack of proper planning of information resources required for developing digital resources, frequent rate of technology obsolescence, and the challenges of copyright and intellectual property. The study by Asogwa et al. (2015) which evaluated infrastructure and the quality of electronic resource provision in academic libraries in Nigeria revealed that available facilities were poorly utilized. Studies by Park et al. (2009), Wan Dollah and Singh (2010), American Library Association (2013), Baro et al. (2014) and Ekwelem, et al. (2018) identify a lack of top management support (evident in non-existence of supportive formal policies), insufficient skilled and experienced staff, a lack of subject area expertise, insufficient trained technical experts (leading to difficulties in managing technical issues), a lack of information technology skills and low levels of computer literacy, and limited opportunities for training of library professionals as inhibiting factors to effective implementation of digital information services in Nigerian university libraries.
Corroborating the argument, about management support, Imo (2017), in a study of the influence of organizational variables in on standard indexing practices in Nigeria, identified weak administrative leadership and its impact on quality control as the bane of project implementation in Nigeria university libraries. A survey of students’ perception of access to digital information resources by Igbo and Imo (2020) identified unsatisfactory library support services, lack of librarians trained in digital information services, frequent break down of computer systems and delay in effecting repair of broken-down systems as some of the challenges of students’ access to digital information. These challenges are indicative of an institutional lack of a consistent approach to solving problems.
The issues raised in this section of our paper suggest that the challenges of providing digital information services to library users are both technological and human in nature, both of which are related to management procedures. Suggestions for improving library service delivery have been advanced by Umar (2011) who prescribed provision of quality information resources and services, recruitment of competent and qualified librarians, provision of adequate and comfortable information technology infrastructures and facilities; provision of accurate information services and a regular evaluation of users’ satisfaction. The above prescriptions are good in themselves, but one should not lose sight of the strategic role of acquisitions and subscription to chat and video conferencing software for providing real time digital reference and information services.
Scope of the study
The study investigated the provision of digital information resources in Nigerian university libraries covering all the three levels: federal, state, and private universities. It sought to ascertain the extent of availability and application of digital platforms and resources providing access to digital information resources; the extent to which information professionals possess skills in digital service delivery; the extent to which digital resources are provided to users; and challenges to provision of digital information resources in libraries.
Design of the study
The design of this study was descriptive survey using a questionnaire. A descriptive survey is appropriate for a systematic collection and analysis of data as they exist without the researcher having control or manipulating the variables of the research. The present study fits into the above description.
Population and sample
The population was made up of academic librarians working in the three tiers of universities (federal, state and private) in Nigeria. From the list of 744 certified librarians published by the Librarian Registration Council of Nigeria, the questionnaire was sent to the active e-mails of 400 academic librarians. Of this number, 232 responses, which represented 58%, of the total number of the questionnaire sent were received and used for data analysis.
Instrument for data collection
A fifty-two item structured questionnaire was the main instrument for data collection. This was divided into two parts. Part A asked for the demographic information of the respondents with five items. Part B was made up of five sections that covered the objectives of the study: the availability of infrastructures for digital information service (seven items), the availability of platforms and resources that drive digital information service (ten items), librarians’ professional skills in providing digital information services (fourteen items), the extent to which digital information services are provided to users, and, the challenges of providing digital information service to users by the library professionals (nine items).
Method of data collection
The data for the study were collected through using e-mail which was sent to the respondents starting from May 2020. Reminders were sent to the participants up to November 2020 when the last response was received. This gave the researchers ample time to ensure that the participants responded as much as possible.
Data analysis and analytical benchmark
Data were analysed using the version 20 of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), descriptive statistics of frequency counts, simple percentages, mean value, and standard deviation. The analytical benchmark for this study was developed by the researchers as shown in Table 1 to guide decisions.
|Mean||Percentage value||Status decision|
The criterion of judgment was that any status indicator or item of the research instrument with mean value of 2.50+ (50% and over) was rated high status. Any indicator or item with mean value below 2.50 (49% and below) was rejected or rated low status.
Findings and discussion
Availability of digital platforms and resources for provision of access to information resources in libraries
To ascertain the availability of digital platforms and resources for provision of access to digital information in university libraries in Nigeria, respondents were asked to identify the available platforms through which digital information resources are provided Table 2 presents their responses.
|Digital resources and platforms||Available||Not available||Status of availability|
|1||Library Websites||227||97.8||5||2.2||Very high extent|
|2||Online databases||175||75.4||57||24.6||Very high extent|
|3||Links to e-resources||157||67.7||75||32.3||High extent|
|4||Institutional repositories||140||60.3||92||39.7||High extent|
|5||Web public access catalogue||129||55.6||103||44.4||High extent|
|6||Virtual library tour||111||47.8||121||52.2||Low extent|
|7||Subject portal, subject gateways||88||37.9||144||62.1||Very low extent|
|8||Electronic document delivery||65||28.0||167||72.0||Very low extent|
|9||Collaboration with national and international networks||46||19.8||186||80.2||Very low extent|
|10||Online reference services platform||26||11.2||206||88.8||Very low extent|
|* F - Frequency|
Table 2 shows that only two platforms are available to a very high extent across the university libraries: library Websites (n=227, 97.8%) and online databases (n=175, 75.4), while links to e-resources (n=157, 67.7%), institutional repositories (n=140, 60.3%) and Web public access catalogue (n=129, 55.6%) are available to a high extent. Virtual library tour was rated low extent and the rest were ranked very low extent with online reference services platform as the lowest. The very low availability of online reference service platforms is an indication that provisions for digital information resources are inadequate. We note that an online reference services platform is key to providing digital information resources and real time information service delivery. The absence of these platforms is an indication that most university libraries in Nigeria, irrespective of whether they have Internet connectivity, Websites and other e-resources, cannot offer quality digital information services. While majority of the libraries have Websites and online databases, observations and informal discussions with colleagues during professional meetings indicate that efforts by library management towards collaborative networks, electronic document delivery, subject portals and gateways, and virtual library tours to bridge the gap between these platforms and the users, are not successful. The finding supports Asogwa et al. (2015) who found poor availability of digital resources and facilities to drive electronic resource provision.
Library professional skills in providing digital information services in libraries
The respondents’ opinions were sought to find out the level at which they can apply skills in the application of identified digital information services. Table 3 shows the responses.
|Professional skills for digital information services||Extent of application of skills||Mean||Status|
|Very high||High||Low||Very low|
|E-mail services skills||23||100||94||15||2.56||High|
|SMS referencing skills||10||19||112||91||1.78||Low|
|Frequently asked questions skills||0||3||152||77||1.68||Low|
|Chat reference services skills||5||0||138||89||1.66||Low|
|Bulletin board skills||5||0||136||91||1.65||Low|
|Instant messaging skills||0||19||112||101||1.65||Low|
|Video conferencing skills||0||0||126||101||1.61||Low|
|Collaborative reference service skills||0||5||130||97||1.60||Low|
|Web-based user education skills||0||0||132||100||1.57||Low|
|Web form skills||0||0||121||111||1.52||Low|
Data in Table 4 show that none of the identified digital information services had a high status, which indicates that digital information resources are not adequately provided to users. The finding corroborates earlier studies in other countries by Wan Dollah (2006), Watts and Ibegbulam (2006), Ramos and Abrigo (2011) and Baro et al. (2014), which reported that Web-based information services were not offered to library patrons. Though this is so, it is evident from the result that e-mail services are more highly provided than others. This shows that e-mail is popularly used in libraries for provision of information resources or services to users.
Challenges of providing digital information services in university libraries
Librarians were given a list of possible drawbacks to quality digital information services in libraries and asked to use strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree as options to indicate the status in their libraries. Table 5 below is the results of their responses.
|Challenges for providing digital information services||Strongly|
|Lack of formal policy on digital information service.||202||30||0||0||3.87||Strongly agree|
|Lack of platforms for online reference services.||200||32||0||0||3.85||Strongly agree|
|Poor staff skills in application of digital resources and services.||189||43||0||0||3.83||Strongly agree|
|Poor funding of university libraries||186||41||5||0||3.80||Strongly agree|
|Frequent interruption of electricity supply.||140||92||0||0||3.60||Strongly agree|
|Users’ lack of skills in the use of online resources.||122||110||0||0||3.53||Strongly agree|
|Low Internet bandwidth.||11||122||0||0||3.47||Agree|
|Lack of opportunities for proper staff training.||102||130||0||0||3.44||Agree|
|Out-datedness of computer operating systems.||99||128||5||0||3.41||Agree|
|Lack of proper maintenance culture.||98||129||5||0||3.40||Agree|
|Inadequate number of personal computers.||99||118||15||0||3.36||Agree|
|Overall mean||3.54||Strongly agree|
Table 5 shows that all the factors constitute hindrance to provision of quality digital information services in Nigerian university libraries as indicated by the agreement of the librarians. Most of respondents strongly agree that there is a lack of formal policy to support the establishment of digital information services (M=3.87), lack of platform for online reference service (M=3.85), poor staff skills in the application of digital resources and services (M=3.83), poor funding of university libraries (M=3.80) and frequent interruption of electricity supply (M = 3.60) and users’ lack of skills in the use of online resources (3.53). Fewer respondents reported that other items pose challenges.
The findings imply that the challenges are to a high extent management-induced because there is a lack of appropriate policy. This supports Park et al. (2009), Wan Dollah and Singh (2010), American Library Association (2013), and Baro et al. (2014) who identified a lack of management support as the major challenge of digital information services. Specifically, they identified the absence of supportive formal policies as the most serious challenge that negatively impacts provision of digital information service in libraries. This also corroborates the findings of Imo (2017), Igbo and Imo (2020), Bossaller and Atiso (2015) and Hu (2020) which have identified lack of formal policies and inadequate management support services as challenges to public institutional performance in developing countries. Undoubtedly, the whole issue of strengthening digital information services lies in the provision of strong institutional support through policies that would support online information services and ensure capacity development of library professionals to position them for effective service delivery.
On the capacity development of professionals, it is a well-known fact that information professionals have a critical role to play in promoting access to information. A situation where the user finds it difficult to manipulate the system, either because of the complexity of the technology or because of lack of digital skills, requires the intervention of a professional who is knowledgeable and skillful in digital information service to bridge the gap. A support service is one of the most vital and visible expressions of the library’s purpose and mission and is the key to the roles of the library as a centre for information, formal education, research, and independent learning. Chowdhury (2001) states that the absence of human intermediaries who should play a major role in online search services is a major problem of information search and access in a digital environment. The American Library Association (2013) identified lack of sufficient staff and staff skill, lack of subject area or technical expertise, and training among the challenges faced by digital libraries in ensuring information access.
It is not enough to engage in huge economic spending to establish a digital library system; there must also be librarians who are skillful in efficient service delivery and ensure the system is sustainable. Other identified challenges are related to poor technological infrastructure: slow Internet access, limited Internet connectivity and frequent interruption of electricity supply, non-accessibility of computer technology, delay in effecting repair of systems' breakdown, and poor information and communication technology facilities. Poor technological infrastructure has been identified in other studies as the major challenge of providing digital information resources (Ajayi et al., 2014; Echezona et al. 2015; Echezona and Ugwuanyi, 2012; Ekwelem et al., 2018; Fezaa, 2013; Okongo, 2014, Ossai-Ugbah, 2010; Uutomi, 2014). The problem of poor technological infrastructure is prevalent in developing countries; this has continued to widen the digital gap between the developed and the developing world in information access and use.
Conclusion and recommendations
The study has attempted to determine the status of the provision of digital information resources in Nigerian university libraries. The study achieved this through examining the availability of digital infrastructures, platform and resources, the level of librarians’ skills in providing digital information services, the extent of provision of digital information services, and hindrances to the provision of digital information services.
Lack of formal policy on digital information provision was the greatest challenge facing the Nigerian university libraries. Essentially, the existence of such policy provides a strong footing for the necessary modalities such as funding, choice of software, training of staff, and other logistics that would enable libraries to implement effective digital information service delivery. Hence, the National Universities Commission should direct universities and their libraries to develop official policy that would drive digital information service of a global standard.
No doubt, embracing real time digital library services is essential in ensuring effective provision of access to information by libraries. However, the study has revealed that none of the libraries have digital software and platform that are essential in driving digital information services irrespective of the fact that most have computers, Internet connectivity, Websites and other relevant infrastructures and resources. The absence of this software is a clear indication that Nigerian university libraries are not presently well prepared to offer online information services. The findings also show that the information professionals are not very skilled in offering digital information services to users. This could be linked to lack of institutional framework for implementing interactive digital information through the provision of relevant digital platforms, staff training and subscription to library management software to drive the process.
In their personal capacity, library professionals may be able to engage in online activities like e-mail messaging, chatting, etc, but cannot engage in these activities officially without an official institutional support that would ensure the availability of online information service application software and platforms and training on how to implement the software for effective service delivery. It is not just enough for universities and their libraries to have well established computer laboratories, Websites, library portals, Web databases and other resources without putting in place the mechanisms for assisting patrons to have access to information through these resources. Based on the foregoing, the following recommendations are therefore made:
- The National Universities Commission should formulate a nation-wide institutional policy that would support digital information services of global standard in Nigerian universities.
- The library management should engage in advocacy with the university management to acquire software and platforms that would drive digital information services.
- The administration of the universities should encourage the library professionals in skills development through sponsorship to professional development programmes.
Therefore, it is not enough for universities and their libraries to build magnificent buildings, well equipped computer laboratories, Websites, portals, and databases without putting in place adequate mechanism for assisting the patrons to have speedy and uninterrupted access to information in the libraries.
Suggestion for further study
The current study was carried out in university libraries; future research could be carried out in other tertiary institutions such as colleges of education and polytechnics in order to have an overall impression of the status of digital information services in all the different types of academic institution libraries in Nigeria. Also, a comparative study could be carried out to find out the discrepancies between government-owned public university and private university libraries in the application of digital technology to information access provision. This would be a means of assessing the performance of the two types of university in enhancing access to information for promoting scholarship based on their funding agencies.
Limitation of the study
The study was limited to the extent that it is based on the self report of respondents which is prone to bias. The inherent problem of self-reporting associated with the descriptive survey and use of questionnaire as an instrument of data collection lies in the issue of confidentiality, in which participants are often not willing to provide answers they feel that might undermine them.
About the authors
Harriet U. Igbo (CLN) is a Principal Librarian at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Library, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She received her PhD in Library and Information Science of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She is a certified librarian of the Librarian Registration Council of Nigeria. Her research interests are in the areas of digital libraries and access to information, information literacy, library management and user information behavior studies. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ijeoma J. Ibegbulam (CLN) is a Deputy University Librarian at the Medical Library, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Ituku/Ozalla and a certified librarian of the Librarian Registration Council of Nigeria. She holds a PhD in Library and Information Science of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Her research interests are in medical libraries, academic libraries, library management, information behavior studies, information technology and libraries and information literacy. She can be contacted at Ijeoma.email@example.com
Brendan E. Asogwa (CLN) is a Deputy University Librarian at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Library, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and a certified librarian of the Librarian Registration Council of Nigeria. He received his PhD in Library and Information Science of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka His research interests are archives and records management, electronic government, library management and service quality in libraries. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nwabuisi T. Imo (CLN) (Corresponding author) is a Deputy University Librarian at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Library, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and a certified librarian of the Librarian Registration Council of Nigeria. Dr. Imo holds a PhD in library and Information Science of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His research interests include cataloguing, classification and indexing and IT in Libraries. His contact is email@example.com
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