The pros and cons of library automation in a resource challenged environment: a case study of KNUST library.

Author:Boateng, Henry
Position:Case study
 
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Introduction

The evolution of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) has course a paradigm shift in every facet of life. Most organizations both public and private have adopted ICT in their operations. Libraries have also embraced the technology to manage, and deliver prompt information to their clients. According to Mohammed (2006), the inadequacy of traditional library services and tools in coping with the detailed requirements of identifying information pertinent to a given problem has forced libraries to automate their functional service areas. Against this background, Raiz (1992) observes that heavy influx of document added new dimension to users' need. It is ICT which can ensure improved and quick service. For example, the manual work of housekeeping such as acquisition, cataloguing, circulation, serial control, etc. can be done with greater speed and efficiency with no arrears or backlog kept pending (Raiz 1992). He argues that various factors have contributed to bringing change from conventional to automate library operations. Broadly speaking, the main reasons behind this change are: growth of document and new dimension of user's needs. Suku and Mini (2005) observe that the factors necessitating automation of university libraries as explosion of knowledge resulting in numerous specializations and flow of almost non-stop information; inability of users to explore unlimited literature; wastage of enormous precious time in handling routine and repetitive library operations; even the largest of the libraries cannot acquire and make available the entire published materials; and to facilitate easy, fast, and reliable sharing of resources between libraries, cutting across space and time. Rajput and Jain, (2006) argue that the justification for library automation must be logical and convincing. Notwithstanding, automated libraries faces a lot of challenges which may range from inadequate experts to power fluctuations. These challenges must be identified and address accordingly. However, the issue has received very little attention from scholars. Thus there is paucity of literature on the subject especially in the developing world like Ghana (Amekuedee, 2005; Manuh and Budu, 2007; Ahenkorah-Marfo, and Borteye, 2010). Elsewhere studies have been conducted (eg. Adogbeji and Adomi, 2005; Nok, 2006; Neelakandan et al., 2010; Mutala, 2012). Most of these studies have adopted a quantitative approach. It will be prudent therefore to study the issue from a qualitative approach in order to have a detailed insight into the benefits and challenges of automation and how they can be addressed. It is in this regard that this study seeks to build on the extant literature by identifying the challenges of library automation at KNUST and provide recommendation as to how these challenges can be addressed. The rest of the study is divided into four sections. Section one reviews pertinent literature on the subject while section two focuses on the methodology employed. Section three presents the findings and discussions and the last section provides some recommendations.

AUTOMATION AND AUTOMATION PRIORITIES IN LIBRARIES

Library automation may be defined as the application of ICT in the day to day operations of the library. Jayaprakash and Balasubramani, (2011) note that most of the libraries, in initial stage of their computerization, assign priorities on library house-keeping activities, as these activities are most rudimentary to make the foundation of automation stronger and the success of other advanced services depends heavily upon these activities. Rao (1995) states that depending on the type of library, all or some of these library housekeeping operations may be computerized according to their priority. Circulation control may be given first priority in a public library while serials control may be given a top priority in a special library. Similarly, acquisition may be computerized first in a university library. However, cataloguing is important for any library and its computerization must be one of the ultimate aims of the automation programme. In contrast, Amekuedee (2005) argues that the cataloguing operation is the first library housekeeping operations to be automated when a library decides to automate. Saffady (1989) on the other hand claims that the circulation control is one of the most widely automated library housekeeping operations, and it is often the first and simplest activity to be automated in a given library, possibly because circulation control systems bear an obvious resemblance to inventory management, retail charge card operations, and other transaction processing activities which have been successfully automated in general business applications. Sahu, et al. (2005) point out that those library operations should be automated in order of priority. However, in prioritizing the library housekeeping operations, processes that are repetitive, occupy large amounts of staff time, require retrieving information from large, unwieldy files, or are high-profile functions should be prime in automation for example public catalogue. Mutala (2012) states that cataloguing and acquisition are the two modules which are labour intensive. In addition, cataloguing forms the foundation of any bibliographic record, while acquisitions require highly accurate records for purchasing purposes. As a result, the two must be prioritized when automating a library. Given these diverse opinions librarians should be cognizant and plain with their priority concerns and reasons for automating, as this would help them opt for or design a system that supports their priority operations and make an effective use of frequently scarce funding.

Automation in Housekeeping Operations

Library services are divided into two categories: library housekeeping routines and information retrieval. Housekeeping routines include acquisition, cataloguing, circulation and serials control (Ayub and Ghazanfa, 1994; Raiz 1991). All housekeeping operations such as; acquisition, cataloguing, circulation, and serial control of the library can be automated (Khalid, 1991; Raiz, 1991; Bhanja and Barik, 2009). Automation can be applied profitably in the following library housekeeping operations; acquisition, classification, cataloguing, stock-taking, serial control and circulation (Rajput and Gautam 2010). However Rao (1995) and Neelakandan et al., (2010) observe that the most commonly known housekeeping operations which can be automated are acquisition, serials management, cataloguing and circulation. In order to improve efficiency of library housekeeping operations Veer, et al., (2010) note that library should be automated in the following manner; automated acquisition system, automated cataloguing system, automated circulation system and automated serial control system. Acquisition of library materials is an essential library task which can be computerized. Khalid (1991) states that selection of material, bibliographic verification, ordering, budgeting and file management in the acquisition process can be computerized. The primary objectives of automating the acquisition process according to Rao (1995) are likely to be towards cost containment, speeding up of the receipt of materials, improving fund control and developing single function systems into integrated systems. Manual acquisitions operations are labour and paper--intensive, slow, and usually produce only a limited amount of management information. Devi and Haritha, (2010) recognize this position with the assertion that 'the primary motive to automated acquisitions, therefore, appear to be the hope of realizing cost containment, materials receipt monitoring, improving budget control, and expanding function systems into integrated system'. Kochar and sudarshan (2007) share this in asserting that most automated library acquisition systems are designed to handle the considerable amount of paper work involved in buying books. Peyala (2011) asserts that the computerization of acquisition unit enhances funds control, quick checking of approved books devoid of duplication and manages labour intensiveness...

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