Monday, 25th September 2023

Universities and fledgling e-libraries

By Adelowo Adebumiti
06 June 2023   |   4:10 am
Attempts by many Nigerian universities to adopt e-libraries have remained at the foundation stage, hampered by poor funding and inadequate facilities.

Globally, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have impacted positively on how learners and educators make use of resources, particularly the e-library, but ADELOWO ADEBUMITI reports that inadequate funding and other factors have hampered attempts at developing e-libraries in Nigerian universities

Attempts by many Nigerian universities to adopt e-libraries have remained at the foundation stage, hampered by poor funding and inadequate facilities.

Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife; University of Ibadan; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; University of Lagos; Lagos State University; and the University of Benin are not left out.

So also are University of Abuja; Federal University of Technology, Minna; and Kwara State University make the list, among others.

The universities, which traditionally operated manual libraries, made efforts to embrace e-libraries and the hybrid library concept that combine a number of services.

But their efforts have remained at the preliminary stage, owing, primarily, to inadequate funding. Other factors are the lack of skilled staff, training and development programmes, and inadequate infrastructure such as stable electricity, fast Internet service, good computers and servers.

Findings by The Guardian also revealed that challenges militating against full integration of e-library for universities also include institutional and network restrictions, frequent power outage, lack of money to invest in technical infrastructure, lack of knowledge of some senior managers, inadequate ICT strategy, the consequent difficulty of remembering and managing passwords, and the reluctance of academic staff to embrace new ICT tools.

The challenges are many, as copyright issues and lack of regular update of software, make the list.

For universities to leverage ICT and key into the benefits of e-library, the Federal Executive Council, in 2002, approved Nigeria Virtual Library Project.  The project, spearheaded by the National Universities Commission (NUC), is tasked with building a National Virtual Library that will enhance access to locally-available resources and international library collections for sharing with university libraries across the country, using digital technology.

It is also to improve the quality of teaching and research in institutions of higher learning in Nigeria through the provision of current books, journals and other library resources; enhance access of academic libraries serving the education community in Nigeria to global library and information resources and boost scholarship, research and lifelong learning through the establishment of permanent access to shared digital archival collections.

The project, which was accessible only by state and federal universities, stopped in 2006 and since then, individual universities pay for access to these e-resources.

Findings show that subscriptions for e-resources for each course per year cost about N8 million and could cost a university a minimum of N50 million per year for several courses. This is aside from the cost of Internet subscription, fuel for generators and electricity billings.

E-library, in the last two decades, has emerged as a force in the education system to advance how people access, store and manage information on a greater scale. As the repository of knowledge, a library in an academic setting is at the heart of the university system. It plays indispensable roles in storage and preservation of books and periodicals and cements university place as pacesetters in innovation and research.

E-library, by its nature, is a library in which collections are stored in digital formats and accessed via computers. The electronic content may be stored locally, or accessed remotely via computer networks. E-library is a type of library, whose collection is stored in electronic format and accessible through the use of a computer network or information retrieval system. With computers, the concept centres on large bibliographic databases, online retrieval and public access systems.

Speaking on why e-libraries remain largely underutilised and not popular among library users, the Librarian, University of Ibadan (UI), Dr. Mercy Iroaganachi, stressed that electricity and availability of Internet are major factors militating against the effort.

She also cited funding challenge, unqualified and unskilled workforce, TETFund interference at implementation and leadership disposition, among others, as factors hindering the deployment and development of e-libraries in Nigeria.

Iroaganachi, who said UI has favourably embraced e-library by deploying a library software (UI Integrated Library Software) for routine library operations and seamless access to the library’s bibliographic records, added that the institution also subscribes to some databases and curates a number of open source resources.

“Kenneth Dike Library (KDL), UI central library, maintains an institutional repository that is constantly populated with rich content of the university documents. The institution is trying as much as possible to ensure that all the university’s theses, dissertations, rare materials and publications of faculty are digitised and uploaded into the IR. More so, KDL is planning to do a complete retrospective conversion of its analogue catalogue,” she said

According to her, to ensure full deployment of e-libraries in the country, the government and other stakeholders must provide adequate funding to libraries.

Mercy Iroaganachi said: “Qualified and skilled workforce must be employed for libraries in addition to training and workshops to upskill the workforce. Professionals should be allowed to handle implementation due to some technical/professional issues. It should be noted that the best academic libraries in the world are hybrid.”

Librarian, Lagos State University (LASU), Dr. Emmanuel Layi Adebayo, said finance tops the list of challenges facing deployment and development of e-libraries in many institutions.

“Databases can be very costly, as much as N10 million each, and several have to be acquired since each addresses different course disciplines. Other challenges include hardware procurement as computers and ICT accessories are very costly. The facility requires provision of 24/7 Internet signal to enable global visibility of resources and 24/7 electricity supply to power the gadgets, “he said.

Adebayo noted that as some of the requirements for e-library, a university must have at least 500 units of computers and pay millions of naira for Internet subscription. He added that before a university can have a meaningful e-library centre, it would need at least N200 million.

Adebayo, who noted that LASU has set up e-library centres, with Internet facilities and WiFi across the campuses for easy access, revealed that the institution also facilitated donation of WiFi facilities by Nigerians. He said LASU subscribed to scores of databases, both proprietary and open access and engaged skilled staff, who mans certain spaces to enable use.

Adebayo stated that the government at the federal level has been supportive, especially through the TETFund grants to tertiary institutions, but can improve upon the effort by providing aid to universities in specific areas such as Internet provision.

“Electricity situation is a major hindrance. Some institutions that struggled to procure databases to the tune of millions of naira can have the products not accessed as a result of power. Government can subsidise procurement of these databases to make it affordable for institutions.

“VAT charges of educational resources should be removed and e-libraries should be introduced from the lower educational levels, nursery, primary and secondary, not only in tertiary institutions. This will make children familiar with it at tender age,” he advised.

Adebayo stressed that to ensure utilisation of the centre, lecturers too must begin to give students assignments that will make them use library resources, while the teachers also make meaningful research and not recycle old lecture notes

Librarian, Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Dr. Kabiru Dahiru Abbas, said it has become a tradition for all universities to have e-library as part of requirements to pass accreditation.

According to him, for Nigerian university libraries to embrace e-library, the stakeholders in education, particularly government, must deploy trained and skilled personnel, allocate space, provide hardware and software, communication pathway/network and digitised/born digital e-resources such as e-books and e-journals.

Abbas said that to have functional e-library in Nigeria academic institutions, the Federal Government must, as a matter of urgency, improve the basic National Information Infrastructure, particularly electricity and telecommunication, and ensure full implementation of the National Information Technology Policy.

According to him, e-library initiatives must include librarians and information professionals, who will be involved in selection and acquisition of electronic resources for the library.

Abbas said: “Librarians and information professionals involved in building the electronic library should be trained in information and web technologies skills. With the dynamic nature of digital technology, they must constantly be trained and retrained in information and web development technologies through conferences and workshops. Academic libraries should provide access to electronic resources, free web based resources, locally-digitised resources and open access resources. To address cost of electronic resources and proprietary software, government should encourage the use of open source software and open access electronic resources.

“Academic libraries should seek more grants and other sources of funding to establish and upgrade necessary information infrastructure.

“Government through the ministry of education and academic institutions, must make deliberate effort to provide funds for policy implementation, necessary technology, training for librarians, and develop National Information Infrastructure (NII). The enabling technology infrastructure for building a virtual library must include stable electricity and upgrading or installing a high speed Internet connection to support a variety of servers, such as web servers, proxy servers for remote access, FTP servers for uploading and downloading large files, with appropriate digital library software in each higher institution. Perhaps most importantly, systems/digital librarians with the required skills to manage and maintain this technology infrastructure need to be trained or employed.”

There are, however, universities that are just embarking on the establishment e-libraries. For them, surmounting the challenge of procurement of adequate ICT equipment and database is the first step.

In his contribution, Assistant Librarian, Federal University, Kalgo, Kebbi State, Mr. Aminu Saidu Yakubu, confirmed that e-library at the institution is at the preliminary stage, the university needs more support to fully have its own e-library.

He urged government to fund and upgrade university libraries from physical to digital to meet continental standards.

On factors militating against development of e-library, the Librarian, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Ademola Deborah Ipadeola, identified ability to use the computer and electronic devices, financial constraints, poor power supply, problems  with internet access and speed, limited computers, and lack of collaboration among university libraries.

Ipadeola stressed that automation of libraries has become the foundation that can guarantee the transition to a completely electronic library.
She said to do that government and university management must find creative and innovative ways to help raise funds to support e-library services.

The librarian stated that the government and other stakeholders must provide training opportunities for information professionals, ensure steady power supply, increased bandwidth for Internet services, and promote collaboration in the development of indigenous knowledge, while obtaining consortium partnerships on licensing.