Impact of the Internet on reference services in higher education libraries in SA

Darries, Fatima Impact of the Internet on reference services in higher education libraries in SA., 2002 . In Cape Technikon Library Staff Seminar, Cape Technikon Library, December 2002. (Unpublished) [Presentation]


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English abstract

Internet access has become an indicator of a country’s socio-economic status in the Information Society. Libraries of higher education institutions support the parent institutions’ objective to produce graduates able to function in this society. Consequently, the Web, the most popular part of the Internet, has become ubiquitous in reference services. This study investigates the impact of the Internet on reference services by exploring the following areas: user Internet access and training in the library, use and integration of the Internet as an information tool in reference services and the Internet training and knowledge of reference librarians. An electronic survey was done using the Web and e-mail to distribute the questionnaire. The questionnaire was divided into six sections, and consisted of multi-choice answers with an open-ended question at the end of each section inviting further comments. The target population was the heads of reference services at large libraries and the directors at smaller libraries of the 36 higher education institutions in South Africa. Their e-mail addresses were obtained from the library or parent institutions’ Web sites. A total of 90 potential respondents were e-mailed and 26 responded, representing 19 institutions and yielding a low response rate of 29%. Low response rates are however, typical of electronic surveys. A total of eight reference librarians at two institutions in the Western Cape were interviewed, representing both a historically disadvantaged institution (HDI) and a historically advantaged institution (HAI), and a technikon and university library. The interviews were structured and consisted of mostly open-ended questions. The interviews lasted about an hour and were tape-recorded. The results showed that all responding libraries have Internet access and all but one provided access to their users. On average, users have had Internet access for three and a half years. User Internet training tended to be on a one-to-one basis at the point-of-use. On average, reference librarians have had Internet access for five years. The majority of librarians have attended formal Internet training programmes. However, the librarians interviewed considered these to be introductory and gained the skills and knowledge by actual use and from colleagues. Librarians reported that the reference process took longer, that user search behaviour had changed and expectations had increased. While the majority of libraries had Web sites, only a small number of librarians had individual pages that they updated and maintained. The majority of libraries provided electronic reference via e-mail and the library Web site, but these are characterised by low usage. Finally, libraries tended to offer both end-user and intermediary searching to online databases. The study concluded, amongst others: that libraries lacked adequate computer facilities and consequently cannot provide optimal Internet access to students, and that librarians have integrated the Internet as an information tool but that libraries have not yet taken full advantage of what the Internet offers. The study recommends: that the bandwidth and number of student computer facilities be increased in libraries and that this problem be addressed at national government level, that libraries develop electronic reference as a core service, and that librarians increase their Internet and online instruction efforts by using e-mail, Web tutorials and virtual classrooms to reach more students.

Item type: Presentation
Keywords: academic libraries, student access
Subjects: I. Information treatment for information services > IJ. Reference work.
L. Information technology and library technology > LC. Internet, including WWW.
H. Information sources, supports, channels. > HP. e-resources.
Depositing user: Fatima Darries
Date deposited: 15 Oct 2009
Last modified: 02 Oct 2014 12:15


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