Accessing Academic Library Services by Distance Learners.

Author:Owusu-Ansah, Samuel

1.1 Background to the Study

The technological revolution brought about by the internet permeates most tertiary institutions and propels the concept of online education in developed and developing countries (Grandi, 2003). Education plays a significant role in shaping developing nations. One of the most essential support systems influencing the quality of education offered is the provision of library and information services and resources. Watson (2003) reports that, "DE has revolutionized and democratized the delivery and accessibility of education and has also changed how critical support services, such as library and information service are provided by libraries".

There is the need to put in place learning support services to aid significantly the distance educational curricula. Among the many learning support services, Cox (2004) underscored that library services always played a major role in expanding distance learning programs in higher learning institutions. Just as library systems provide services to regular students; it is the task of the university libraries to equally make available equal services to distance learners. Significantly, students from main stream benefit from library services such as borrowing library documentary, locate materials using OPAC, search information using research and knowledge commons facilities. Other services include photocopying services, reference services and bibliographic searches (Cann, 2009; Association of College and Research Libraries --ACRL, 2008).

Taking a cue from the above, the ACRL (2008) identifies that "every student, faculty member, administrator, staff member or any other member, or any other member of an institution of higher education, is entitled to the library services and resources of that institution, including direct communication with the appropriate library personnel, regardless of where enrolled or where located in affiliation with the institution. Academic libraries must, therefore, meet the information and research needs of all these constituents, wherever they may be. This principle of access entitlement, as applied to individuals at a distance, is the undergirding and uncompromising conviction of the Standards for Distance Learning Library Services".

In Europe and Africa, DE has had an effect not only on the discipline of education, but has fundamentally affected library services that support it (Watson, 2006). Mabawonku (2004) posits that an academic library is the centre of operations of any higher learning institution at the same time as promoting the skill of reading/research, inquiry and independent thinking through the provision of resources to support teaching and learning activities. It mostly houses information equipment in a variety of formats such as electronic information sources like CD-ROM, the internet, etc. Library services are essential support services to DE students. Caspers et al. (2001) concurs that distance learning are in agreement that library support is a key element.

Niemi, Ehrhard and Neeley (2008) posit that the library requirements of distant learners are not exceptional; they have similar library and information needs as regular students, but in contrast Rowland and Rubbert (2001) reported that the university libraries did not provide for the specific information needs of distance students. Apart from the manner in which library services are accessed, requested and delivered, the same library resources are required, the same questions are asked, and the same quality of service is expected (Rodrigues, 1996); and they expect the same level of library service as that provided to their peers on campus (Riggs, 1997). Though successful direct access is regarded as by flexibility, reliability, availability, user-friendly, portability, efficiency and service ability (Sacchanand, 2002), effective and appropriate services to distance learning communities may differ from, but must be equivalent to those services offered on a traditional campus (ACRL, 1998). This paper explores the promotion of equal access to library materials such as books to distance learners in the higher learning institution, with specific reference to the University of Ghana, Legon.

1.2 Objectives of the Study

i. To evaluate the level of awareness of library services offered to distance learners.

ii. To investigate the library services and programmes offered to distance learners.

iii. To ascertain whether the information needs of distance learners are adequately provided for.

1.3 Hypothesis

[H.sub.0]: There is no significant relationship between the level of awareness and accessibility of those library services offered to distance learners.

[H.sub.1]: There is a significant relationship between the level of awareness and accessibility of those library services offered to distance learners

1.4 Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework adopted for this study is the Standards for Distance Learning Library Service developed by ACRL (2008). The framework is a concept which postulates that every higher learning institution must have a library for students, faculty members, staff and administrators of that institution. Students should be able to have the right to use resources and services of the library irrespective of their location.

The framework aligns most closely with the purpose of this study as compared to theories in DE. The constructs identified in the Philosophy of the Standards for the framework are as follows: Access, Support and Information literacy and these are relevant to the context of this study.

1.4.1 Access for achievement of superior academic skills

Effective and appropriate library services and resources must be made available to students of the distance learning community. ACRL (2008), defines distance learning community as all individuals (students, staff, faculty, researchers, administrators and institution) directly involved with academic courses and programs offered further than the main campus or in the absence of traditional campus. Library services provided to distance learning student should be practically the same as those available for students in traditional campus settings regardless of their location.

This implies that distance learning student of University of Ghana should be able to have access to library materials, library electronic resources and other database such as Emerald, JSTOR, and Science Direct among others. These would be essential for the attainment of higher academic skills in the university (ACRL, 2008)

1.4.2 Mandate support

According to ACRL (2008), institutions must make available funds and appropriately meet up the information needs of its distance learning programs in order to support teaching, learning and research. This support must provide ready and corresponding library services and resources to distance learners. Tertiary institutions libraries and the librarian- administrator should conduct information need assessment on distance student to be able to know their information needs. This will help the library to provide adequate and appropriate information resource to satisfy their information need of distance learning students.

1.4.3 Information literacy

Libraries must provide information literacy programs such as user education and IT skills to the user learning community as stated by ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. According to information literacy standard for high education (2000), information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information. Boylston (2015), restate that Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning. This implies that distance learners of the UG should be given adequate information literacy skills in order to be able to locate, evaluate and use information effectively. Fig. 1, explains the above conceptual framework for this study.

2.0 Literature Review

This section reviews literature on the concept of distance learning, library services in distance learning, characteristics of library support services and challenges in accessing library/formation resources.

2.1 Distance Learning

With the tremendous growth of online distance education programs, it is easily forgotten that the concept of learning "anytime anywhere" is not a new one. Distance learning, in form of correspondence or home study, reaches back over 250 years (Schmetzke, 2001). 'Distance education or distance learning, is a mode of delivering education and instruction, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional setting such as a classroom' (Sekyi, 2013). Distance learning has gone through massive changes since the advent of the personal...

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