Information needs and computer self efficacy as factors influencing use of electronic reference services by undergraduates in a Nigerian University.

Author:Oyewole, Olawale


Universities are the birth place of life changing ideas and philosophies that drive development in societies (Apotiade, Oyewole and Beleu 2015). Undergraduate students constitute a significant percentage within the university environment. These individuals acquire knowledge through the process of learning and research within the university environment. Before degrees can be conferred on the undergraduates, they must have engaged in quite a number of academic activities and excelled in them. In order to assist the undergraduate students and indeed other categories of individuals make success of their academic endeavors, university libraries are established. The university library provides access to myriads of information resources in print, audio-visual, electronic and other formats in support of the teaching, learning and research that go on in the university. In order to effectively carry out this function, library services are carried out.

One of the services that are offered in the university library is the reference service. Reference service is of one of the strongholds of library services. This is because it links information users with the required information that they desire. Kumar (2009) quoted Ranganathan who described reference service as the process of establishing the right contact. This right contact means contact between the right reader and the right book at the right time and in the right personal way. Utor (2008) also defined reference services as a direct personal assistance to readers seeking information. Some of the activities that make up reference service include answering of users' queries, user education, compilation of reading lists, indexing and abstracting, referral service, compilation of bibliographies, current awareness services and selective dissemination of information. Libraries before now have been rendering reference service traditionally in which the reference librarian and the information seeker have to meet personally and engage in the reference process.

However, due to the influence of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), electronic reference services (also called digital reference services) are gradually replacing the traditional reference services in some libraries, including university libraries. Digital reference service may be defined as "the provision of reference services involving collaboration between library user and librarian, in a computer based medium. Geronimo (2009) stated that digital reference service refers to a library service that uses a librarian's knowledge to provide onsite and or remote clients with relevant information based on a request that was initiated electronically. A more formal definition refers to of electronic reference as "a network of expertise, intermediation and resources placed at the disposal of someone seeking answers in an online environment (Singh, 2004).

A digital reference service generally comprises of the following elements: the user of the service, the interface (e-mail, web form, chat, videoconference, etc.), the information professional, and electronic resources (including electronic or CD-based resources, web resources, local digitized material etc.), as well as print resources (Berube, 2003). Digital reference services can take many forms, but they can be divided into two broad categories. These are asynchronous digital reference and synchronous digital reference. Asynchronous digital reference is such that there is a time delay between the question being posed and the answer being given. This implies that it allows a user to submit a question and the reference librarian provides response which may not be immediate. Examples of asynchronous digital reference include the use of email, web forms and ask-a-services.

On the other hand, synchronous digital reference creates an opportunity whereby the user and the librarian communicate in real time. This implies that this form of reference service is with an almost immediate response to a query or a request. Synchronous digital reference generally takes the form of chat reference, video-conferencing or web-camera services and digital reference robots. Digital reference service can also be collaborative in nature where two or more libraries team up to offer reference services using any of the above formats. Electronic reference service presents some advantages to library patrons. For example, it provides simplicity of information access to users who cannot physically contact the library due to geographical or physical constraints. In addition, it alleviates constraints like non communication, accountability on the part of patrons and anonymity not possible with in-person reference service for the patrons who are too shy or too proud to ask for help in person. (Ossai-Ugbah, 2012).

Due to the fact that the development of electronic reference service was facilitated as a result of the advancement witnessed in the area of computer technology, a factor that could influence its use by undergraduate students is computer self efficacy. The precursor to the concept of computer self efficacy, is self efficacy. Bandura (1986) postulated the concept of self-efficacy as peoples' judgment of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances. Kinzie, Delcourt and Powers (1994) submitted that self-efficacy has to do with a person's belief of his or her capabilities to successfully accomplish a particular task. It is an individual expression of what he is capable of doing.

Based on this premise, computer self efficacy can be defined as the belief of one's capability to use the computer (Compeau and Higgins, 1995). Computer self efficacy is not only concerned with the skills that an individual possesses, but also with judgments and confidence reflected in what can be done through the use of computers. Computer self efficacy is a significant determinant of performance which operates partially, independent of the level of skills possessed. It also involves a generative capability in which an individual must organize cognitive, social and behavioral sub-skills into integrated courses of action. As such, an undergraduate students who possesses a high level of computer self efficacy might use the electronic reference services the more.

Another variable apart from computer self efficacy that could influence the use of electronic reference service by the undergraduate students is their information needs. Ehikhamenor (1990) opined that information need could be referred to as the extent to which information is required to solve problems, as well as the degree of expressed satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the information. Kuhlhau (1993) observed that information need is often understood in information science as evolving from a vague awareness of something missing and as culminating in locating information that contributes to understanding and meaning. Fiankor and Adams (2004) viewed information need as the amount of positive information an individual or group of people need to have for their work, recreation for their satisfaction. This implies that lack of information needed into accomplish tasks results in information need. Their concept of information need also means that for information to exist there must be a gap in person's knowledge.

Undergraduate students during the course of their academic sojourn could need information for completion of a project, writing of series of examination, assignment completion, continuous assessment preparation and the likes. In order to address the gap in knowledge that these academic activities may bring forward, undergraduate students might out of the other options available to them, consult the university library and utilize the electronic reference service. It is also possible for undergraduate students to have personal needs that relate to their individual development that could also be addressed by using electronic reference service. This implies that the extent of their information needs could influence the use of electronic reference service. It is based on this background, that this study is set to empirically examine information needs and computer self efficacy as factors influencing the use of electronic reference service by undergraduate students in a university in Nigeria.

Statement of the problem

Despite the benefits associated with the use of electronic reference service by the undergraduate students, observations have shown that in some of the universities that provide this service in Nigeria, it seems underutilized. Interactions with some undergraduate students revealed that they lacked confidence in using any computerized device to access information. Thus, they could have issues with their computer self efficacy and this could affect their use of electronic reference service. In addition, the fact that undergraduates could access information from different search engines to address their information needs shows that they might not use the electronic reference service. Literature search has also revealed that very few studies have been conducted on issues associated with the use of electronic reference service in Nigeria. Therefore, this study titled information needs and computer self efficacy as factors influencing the use of electronic reference service by undergraduate students in a Nigerian university becomes imperative.

Research questions

The following research questions will guide the study:

  1. What are the information needs of the undergraduates?

  2. What is the level of computer self efficacy of undergraduates?

  3. What are the electronic reference services available to the undergraduates?

  4. What is the frequency of use of electronic reference service by the undergraduates?

  5. What are the challenges faced by undergraduates in the use of electronic reference services?

    Research hypotheses

    The following null hypotheses will be tested at...

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