Students in Medical Sciences today need current and evidence-based information applicable to their problem-based learning (PBL) and clinical problems. Effective information searching and access to the most nascent and relevant information are critical for healthcare professionals. These problems were tried to be solved by implementing the latest technologies on sources and services of medical libraries. Electronic databases, as one of the significant scientific information resources, have provided access to the qualitative and quantitative information more precisely and more quickly (Nemati Anaraki and Babalhavaeji 2013).
E-Databases containing journal articles, e-books, reference sources and conference papers, among others, have become an established component of many academic libraries' collection. Access to resources is now considered more important than mere collection building. These e-resources are convenient to use, available at an affordable cost and can be accessed from anywhere and by many users simultaneously (Baro, Endouware, and Ubogu 2011). Academic libraries in all countries spend huge amounts of money on these resources to satisfy the teaching, learning and research needs of its clientele. It is therefore imperative from the part of the university to ensure that these databases are optimally utilized to contribute to the academic excellence and achievement of its user community.
However, in spite of the value and importance of e-databases, it is widely held view that these resources are not fully utilized. Reasons for this inability to effectively exploit these resources are generally attributed to lack of competence (Gruppen 1990, Zondi 1992), awareness (Adams and Bonk 1995, Majid and Mansor 1996, Roberts 1995), and adequate ICT infrastructure (Dukic 2013, Zabed Ahmed 2013), among others. The manifestation of these reasons may differ from place to place or from situation to situation. The failure of health professionals in making effective use of electronic resources has been a cause of concern to librarians worldwide. It is against this background that we have attempted to investigate the awareness and use of available e-resources by the students of Faculty of Medical Sciences in Al-Jouf University.
In order to find and use the current best information in any discipline, the literature must be searched, selected and appraised. The literature search in this study indicates that many studies have so far been done on electronic databases with regard to awareness, usage, access, relevance, orientations and training, preference and evaluation among others. It is observed that sometimes there is a gap between awareness and usage of electronic resources. Users are either aware of the resources and use them, or aware, but do not use them, or sometimes they are unaware and therefore do not use them. Studies, such as Atakan et al. (2008), Chirra and Madhusudhan (2009), Dee and Stanley (2005), Eskola (2005), Haines (2010) all found that users were aware of the digital information resources and used them. For example, Haines (2010) in a survey on the use of electronic resources by undergraduate and post-graduate students of basic sciences at the University of Vermont, United States, revealed that all the respondents (100%) were aware of the digital information resources of the university and accessed them. However, studies like Dadzie (2005), Ercegovac (2009), Manda (2005), Okello-Obura (2010) reported that users were not aware of most of the resources available to them by their respective institutions and therefore affected their usage. Manda (2005) for example, revealed that electronic resources available through the Program for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI) at the research institutions in Tanzania were underutilized as the potential users were not aware due to lack of publicity.
Nemati Anaraki and Babalhavaeji (2013) in their survey result of three Iranian universities pinpointed that when students were not aware of the availability of e-resources in their institutions, they tend to use general search engines in order to fulfill their information needs. The respondents admitted that their lack of awareness about the resources was their most significant problem as only 16% of them reported to be well acquainted with the available resources. In a survey conducted in two specialized public universities in Bangladesh, Zabed Ahmed (2013) also found that the respondents were using free electronic resources more than the university's subscribed resources due to lack of awareness.
Some research studies such as Asemi and Riyahiniya (2007), Baro, Endouware, and Ubogu (2011) argued that it is not always the case that awareness may lead to usage of a database. It could happen that respondents' awareness level may be higher than usage. They reported that awareness level of their respondents was much more than usage. For example, Baro, Endouware, and Ubogu (2011) pointed out that while 23.2% users reported to be aware of the Medline database, only 17% found actually using it. Similarly, while 60.8% were aware of HINARI, only 38.8% used it. Swain (2010) highlighted that awareness could be influenced by the interest and exposure that a user has in the database. In his study of students' keenness on the use of e-resources in the business schools of Orissa (India), he found that over 62.5% and 52.6% users were aware of EBSCO and Emerald respectively while below the 40 % reported to be aware of other databases.
Various research studies have been carried out focusing on the factors influencing the optimal usage of e-databases. Familiarity, convenience, exposure, infrastructure, relevance, search skills and training have been cited as major influencing factors. In a study on how graduate students perceive, use and manage digital information resources at the National University of Taiwan, Wu and Chen (2012) found that the pattern of usage varied according to the subject background of the respondents. He concluded that humanities students found the e-resources less important than the students of other disciplines. Talja and Maula (2003) and Atakan et al. (2008) made the similar assertions that disciplinary differences can actually influence the usage of databases. Hong Sinh and Thi Hong Nhung (2012) argued that users' behavior like, purpose of usage, preferred types of materials, search techniques, ways to learn the search, and expectations and difficulties in using the e-resource can also influence the usage. In their survey at Central Vietnam National University, they found that 87.5% users requested for full-text articles as compared to12.5% who requested for abstracts. Examining the usage statistics of the library, Coombs (2005) discovered similar findings that users were found accessing particular types of resources. Okello-Obura (2010) and Ndinoshiho (2010) pointed out that students tend to use familiar databases more than others. For example, in his study of nursing students in the University of Namibia, Ndinoshiho (2010) revealed that 86.4% users did not use the available databases because they were unfamiliar to them. Some studies, like Cothran (2011), He et al. (2012) argued that students prefer to use convenient and user friendly databases more than others. In his study of graduate students, Cothran (2011) claimed that academic search engines such as Google scholar and CiteSeers were used more as compared to subscribed databases because the users found them easy to learn, navigate and use. According to Nisha and Ali (2012), relevancy, currency and rich content also influence the use of a particular database.
With regard to the satisfaction derived from the usage of e-resources, Zabed Ahmed (2013) in his study found that respondents were not satisfied with the subscribed e-resources because of the poor IT infrastructure, slow download speed, difficulty in finding relevant information and inability to access from home. Mbabu, Bertram, and Varnum (2013) in their study at the University of Michigan also arrived at similar findings. Kai-Wah Chu and Law (2005) presumed that knowledge, search expertise and usage of databases by students increase as they progress in their studies. They argued that with the help of instruction, training and usage, the familiarity of students with different databases developed. Dudley (2013) and Nemati Anaraki and Babalhavaeji (2013) in their study suggested for faculty-librarian collaborative efforts in organizing orientation and training programs at regular intervals in order to make the users aware and thereby enhance the usage of electronic databases.
NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
The Medical Sciences Library (MSL) of Al-Jouf University, Al-Jouf, Saudi Arabia, has made significant investments in e-resources and accompanying computer-based technology to ensure their access to its clientele. However, the resources appeared to be underutilized by the students of medical sciences. 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. This study is intended to investigate students' awareness and use of electronic resources provided by the MSL and the areas of training needed by students to utilize the available e-resources effectively and efficiently. In addition, it is intended to recommend how the library could achieve the identified needs and what strategies the library could take to improve service as well as what areas the library could research further? With limited availability of published literature in the field pertaining to usage of eresources by the students of Saudi universities, the present study hopes to add to the body of literature about the use of electronic resources in Saudi Arabia and encourages further studies of this nature for different user groups.
Faculty of Medical Sciences at Al-Jouf University