Electronic-Databases (e-databases) have become an established component of many academic libraries' collection. These databases often contain journal articles, or references to such articles, e-books, reference sources, conference papers and reports among others. There are various types of these databases such as bibliographic, full-text, directory, numeric and multimedia.
E-databases are widely available and can be accessed from anywhere and by many users at the same time. It is therefore convenient to use. University libraries, therefore, spend large amounts of money on these resources to satisfy the teaching, learning and research needs of its faculty and students. As universities spend substantial amount of money on subscription of these databases, it is only appropriate and economical that these databases are optimally utilized to contribute to the academic achievement of students and faculty and also to get value for money.
In spite of the value of e-databases and ensuring that it is available for use by library clients, studies have shown that usage is not up to level expected or is simply underutilized. Reasons most often advanced for not using the databases include lack of awareness, preference for other sources like general search engines such as Google, lack of search skill, lack of adequate ICT infrastructure, bad downloading time, and at times sheer attitude of users. The manifestation of these reasons may differ from place to place or from situation to situation. Dukic (2013) and Ahmed, 2013b), for example, indicated that usage of e-databases in developed countries is more than in developing countries basically because of poor ICT infrastructure and huge cost of such resources Anaraki and Babalhavaeji (2013) also pointed out that where students are not aware of existence of e-databases they tend to use general search engines to meet their information needs.
Researchers and scholars in the academic sector in Ghana had had their turn of difficult times in accessing published research information in the form of journals, mainly because of budgetary constraints. But through the benevolent initiatives from institutions such as International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) and Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI) in the 1990s and early 2000s, Ghanaian researchers and scholars in academia have had access to or benefited from CD-ROM facilities and e-databases. In addition to the INASP and PERI initiatives, Ghanaian universities, both public and private, and research institutions have implemented a consortia purchasing of electronic databases in order to reduce the unit cost for these resources. This has offered access to a wide range of resources for a number of university libraries in Ghana. Users need not visit the library to benefit from the usage of these resources since they can access the resources from anywhere--home, office etc. This situation is also very beneficial to the large number of Distance Learners and Sandwich Students in Ghanaian universities.
The e-databases available in the University Ghana Library System (UGLS), consist of INASP initiative ones, consortia subscribed ones, University of Ghana's own subscribed ones, and open access ones. The number of subscribed databases at the moment amounts to about 54. They cover most subject areas in the humanities, social sciences, applied sciences, physical sciences, and engineering. These contain full text electronic journal articles, bibliographic information, abstracts, e-books, among others. The databases are renewed annually by subscription.
Infrastructure wise, the university has provided modest ICT facilities for its constituents to enable them access e-resources for teaching, learning and research. The University has established ICT Directorate to harness and manage ICT facilities on the campus. The Directorate has computer centres where students are given time slots in the semester to access information and also to have training. Wireless hot spots are available at selected points on the university campus. The Central library, (Balme Library) has Graduate and Faculty Research Commons, Knowledge Commons and Information Access Centre which are all equipped to cater for the teaching, learning and research needs of students and faculty. There is a 24-hour, seven days reading room with sitting capacity of about 200 with wireless facility. The bandwidth for the university is 310Mb. All these are to contribute to easy access to the e-resources provided.
In addition to the general infrastructure, at the beginning of every academic year, newly admitted students, both undergraduate and postgraduate undergo library orientation and library tour programme. The students are introduced to the resources that are available in the library system so that they would become aware and use them. The University of Ghana Library System (UGLS) operates subject librarianship programme where librarians are assigned to the various academic units to facilitate library-client relationship. Lecturers also benefit from the introduction of resources particularly the e-databases. The expectation is that when students and faculty are aware of these e-databases and facilities available they will be motivated to use them.
The level of usage of e-databases by students and the usefulness of such facilities are not known because there has not been any major study to that effect. As subject librarian assigned to the Department of Geography and Resource Development, and the Department of Information Studies, it is important to know how students are making use of the e-databases provided by the library system and to make suggestions for their effective and efficient use. Specifically, the study was undertaken to know the awareness and usage levels of databases in the UGLS by students and the result to guide how to improve the usage of these databases. The study was restricted to students who are pursuing master's degrees in these selected departments.
Many studies have been undertaken on electronic databases in the areas of awareness, usage, relevance, access, preference, orientations and training, and evaluation among others. It is found in the literature that there are sometimes a gap between awareness and usage of digital resources. Either users are aware of the resources and use them, users are aware and do not use them, or usersthey are unaware of them and therefore do not use them. Studies by Nisha and Ali, (2013), Chirra and Madhusudhan, (2009), and Atakan et al, (2008) all found that clients were aware of and used the e-databases available to them. For example, Chirra and Madhusudhan (2009) in a survey on use electronic journals by doctoral research scholars of Goa University, India, revealed that all (100%) the respondents were aware of the e-journals of the Consortium and accessed them. Studies by Okello-Obura (2010), Ercegovac (2009), Manda (2005), and Dadzie (2005) on the other hand found that respondents were not aware of most of the e-resources provided for them in their respective institutions and therefore affected their usage. Manda (2005) for example reported that PERI resources provided in academic and research institutions in Tanzania were underutilized because potential users were not aware of the resources due to lack of publicity.
A deduction from Anaraki and Babalhavaeji's (2013) study was that when students are not aware of the existence of e-resources in their library system they tend to use general search engines to meet their information needs. They found that only 16% of the medical students in Iran were well acquainted with the e-resources of the integrated digital library (IDL) portal provided for them. Ahmed (2013b) also found that postgraduate students from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) and undergraduate students from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology used free electronic resources more than university subscribed resources because of lack of awareness of subscribed ones.
Other studies by Asemi and Riyahiniya (2007), and Baro et al (2011) argued that though awareness may lead to usage of a database, this is not always the case. It could happen that users' awareness level may be higher than usage. They reported that awareness level of their respondents about online resources was more than usage. For example, Baro et al found that whilst 23.2% were aware of Medline database only 17% used it. Also whilst 60.8% were aware of HINARI, only 38.8% used it. Swain (2010) pointed out that awareness could be influenced by the interest and exposure that a user or a student has in the database. In his study of students' keenness on the use of e-resources in the Business School of Orissa, India, he found that 62.5% of students were aware of EBSCO, 52.6% aware of Emerald and below 40% were aware of other databases.
Libraries can have the greatest number of resources but if patrons are not using them they are worth nothing and a waste of resources. It is for this reason that usage of e-databases is...