Book availability and performance measure in an academic library: the case of the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) Library, Mthatha Campus.

Author:Alabi, Gbade A.


Today's academic libraries according to Simmonds and Andaleeb (1998) are confronted with challenges on several fronts, on-line information providers, multi-media products, document delivery services and other competitive sources of information as well as the evolving technological innovations which are apparently threatening their role and even their very survival. Academic libraries may have to adopt a more strategic orientation in which the creation and delivery of service satisfactions for their users play an important role. In assessing what role academic libraries should be playing, the need to improve and deliver better services based on user needs is emerging as an important theme. At the same time, providing access to information is being advocated as a more desirable measure of the quality of academic libraries. Similarly, academic library users also need to know how to use a library; such as the provision of an introduced Information Literacy or orientation programme. The instructional methods are as varied as the users, ranging from detailed teaching sessions to simple signage. Despite all manners of instruction, there is a nagging sense that a number of patrons still have difficulty using the library.

Services rendered by libraries according to Carvart (1994), are often dictated by the social and political environments in which libraries operate and these help in shaping the services provided. Most of these studies by themselves do not provide solutions but they do however provide background information and a basis for rational decision and policy formulation for better library performance. Availability is often considered as a measure of library effectiveness or overall performance. The user doesn't care that a library owns a million books if he cannot get the one he wants (Saracevic, 1984)

One important indicator of determining the effectiveness of a library system is the extent of the availability of materials sought by its users and one method of measuring this availability is the method known as branching method which was initially used by Kantor(1976) and has been utilised for a number of studies in developed and developing country libraries. These studies include those of Kantor (1984), De Jagers (1991), Revil (1990), Saracevic (1977), Saracevic and Shaw (1977), Lancaster (1990), Chaudhry and Ashoor (1994), Schwartz (1983), Zondi (1996), Goldberg (1998), Nisonger (2007) as well as the one by Steynberg and Rossouw (1993) for the University of Cape Town Medical Library.

For example, Buckland's study at the University of Lancaster (1970) reported that circulation was the major barrier to book availability, and recommended variable loan periods and purchase of duplicate copies to increase availability. To date, the branching method developed by Kantor (1976)during the 1970s has been acclaimed as one of the best known availability techniques and one of the most frequently employed in research.

The fact that Kantor's branching method has been implemented in the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Australia testifies to its wide international acceptance (Nisonger, 2007). It was argued that the branching analysis for the combination of effects and the particular measures derived are universally applicable for studying these aspects of library performance (Saracevic et al). This model of studying library effectiveness, according to Saracevic et al is similar to those found in Operations Research, Systems Engineering, and related fields.

One of the advantages of the approach is that it allows longitudinal comparison of performance measures in libraries and at the same time allows bottlenecks to be identified and policy changes or appropriate corrective actions made. On performance measure, most libraries that have carried out similar studies found that about 90% of materials sought by users were acquired by the Libraries. It was against this background that previous studies have attempted to find out what could be the causes of frustration among the 40% to 50% of users (or in the case of WSU's 67%) who cannot obtain the relevant materials out of 90 percent found to be acquired. In doing this, it is expected that Library administrators will be able to find means by which they can eliminate the frustration among library users.


This study is a follow up of that conducted at the University of Zululand by Zondi (1996) which in itself was similar to the one by De Jager (1991). In effect, this study is based on the measurement of the performance of the major areas of the Walter Sisulu University Library, in other words the qualitative aspect of service derivable from the quantitative measurements generated for the study.

In determining the effectiveness of an information service, certain factors were taken into consideration. These factors are largely quantitative and qualitative in nature. The quantitative aspect, the Total Contact Time is probably the best single measure of service rendered in the specific field of book circulation and in-library use.

This study, which analyses the quantitative aspect of the services of the Walter Sisulu University Library services, took the following factors into consideration:

* accessibility which can be determined through the catalogue and other various bibliographic tools produced by the library;

* the availability of...

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