Education plays a significant role in social life of humans. It is one of the basic criteria of an advanced society. Today, technology-based training methods are considered as one of essential needs of people, especially among specialized parts of society. (Saeedi, 2004). Information technologies have taken root in all aspects of life; and higher education is no exception. Significantly, such technologies have facilitated the virtual delivery of academic programs. These advances in Information Communication and Technology (ICT) have demolished the barriers of physical distance and other drawbacks associated with distance education.
Importance of ICT development is so much that after the first decade of the 21st century, we find few educational and research activities without the use of Internet and computer communications. If in the past, the education was teacheroriented and the book was as a main source of information, nowadays, educational centers use novel communication and technological tools for training. The emergence and development of local, regional, and international information networks (such as Internet, multimedia, communication technologies, etc.) have provided new tools and methods for designers, managers, and policy-makers of education.
Provision of library and information services is one of the essential support systems involved in any distance education program. "The library plays a significant role in enhancing the quality of distance education programs and is one key indicator in quality assurance (Sacchanand, 2002)" and "as universities establish higher education centers in communities around the country, it is important that their students be supplied with the research tools necessary to ensure them the potential for success"(Bibb, 2003).
"Most of the e-learning institutions in Iran do not provide sufficient support for distance-learning students to pursue their courses successfully" (Khasseh et. al. 2009). Therefore, the distinct information needs of distance learners are often not recognized by universities and program tutors.
Given the above, this survey examines the familiarity of students of Virtual University of Shiraz (VUS)1, as a first virtual institution in Iran, with digital libraries.
Research in the field of distance education is extensive, but "much of the literature on distance education does not address the issue of library services to distance learners" (Moyo & Cahoy, 2003). Kavulya (2004) opined that access to adequate library resources is essential to the attainment of superior academic skills. He believes that distance learning students need to use reference services and book reserves, benefit from inter-library loan services and have access to electronic databases. Indeed, some of the students usually have had little or no exposure to library use before the distance learning programs. Training in library use could be part of the educational program.
Results of a survey titled "distance education libraries in the US ..." conducted by Yang (2005) indicated that many of members of American Library Association (ALA) offer information services to distance learners and majority of them provide free services such as interlibrary loan and document delivery. The study of Khasseh et. al. (2009) on the information needs and priorities of distance education...