Universities are critical to the development of societies, as social and economic transformations are engineered within these ivory towers. Universities are the birth place of life changing ideas and innovations which are further concretised to benefit the rest of humanity. They are the chief agents for progress in the society; progressive nations are those with flourishing universities. Universities help in the development of nations by providing the high as well as middle level manpower needed for social, economic and political advancement. This is done through the programs of teaching, learning, research and community services (Okiy 2010). This places university education at the apex in the ranking of educational system, as it is designed to accommodate knowledge acquisition and production (Anunobi & Nwogwugwu 2013).
Universities will not be able to acquire and produce knowledge without research. Anenene, Alegbeleye and Oyewole (2017, p.1) asserted that "a university that falters in the production of brillant researches that can be applied in moving the society forward socioeconomically and technologically has lost its relevance". Fawole et al (2006) noted that research is a form of inquiry that involves a systematic process for recognising a need for information, acquiring and validating that information and deriving conclusions from it. Faculty and students are actively involved in research activities in the universities. These activities lead to useful research outputs that will increase the academic status of the universities in the public domain. Faculty members write empirical and researched articles which are published in scientific journals and they also present papers in seminars and conferences. Students also need to write their projects, dissertations and theses. All these throw up a large volume of research activities within the university set up.
A very critical infrastructure within the university that ensures that the university fulfils its research function is the intellectual pillar of the university, the university library. Oyewole and Adetimirin (2015) noted that the university library is an integral part of a university established to meet the information and research needs of its students, faculty and staff. These needs are diverse in line with the subject areas offered in the universities. That is why the objectives of university libraries can therefore be as diverse as the institutions themselves (Onuoha, Ikonne & Madukoma 2013). Thus, the university library is one created to serve a university. Thus, university library is regarded as a repository of knowledge and information gateway where information materials are stored (Emwanta & Nwalo, 2013). Faculty members and students will find it very difficult to engage in meaningful research without the contributions of the university library.
The university library supports the research activities in the universities through the provision of information resources that are made accessible to the patrons. Aina (2004) noted that information resources appear in a variety of formats, print and electronic, which are very useful to the users of the library. These information carriers can be broadly categorised as print media, manuscripts, cartographic materials, graphic media, audio recordings, audio-visual media, microforms and the digital media (Aina 2004). Under the broad categories of the information carriers are specific information resources like books, pamphlets, serials, maps, atlases, globes, photographs, drawings, charts, postcards, filmstrips, slides, and transparencies. Others include sound disc, video recordings, computer files and electronic resources.
University libraries also acquire and provide access to reference sources. These information carriers are very essential and critical to research activities. Nwalo (2000) stated that reference sources are information resources in any form or location which can provide answers to the information needs of library users expressed as queries. Reference sources do not only exist in print form, they are also on compact discs and in electronic format available on the internet. Aina (2004) affirmed that reference sources can be categorised mainly into three. These are primary sources, secondary sources and tertiary sources. The primary sources include journal articles, technical reports, dissertations and theses. Indexes, abstracts and bibliographies are examples of the secondary sources, while dictionaries, encyclopedias, biographies, yearbooks, handbooks, fact books, almanacs are examples of the tertiary sources.
Reference sources are essentially utilised whenever there are needs for such because of their content and features. Fayose (2000) expressed that reference resources are not meant to be read from cover to cover like study books, users only look up specific items of information in them whenever there is a need. These resources are also revised on a regular basis to keep them current; they are multi-disciplinary in nature, provided with detailed indexes and cross references and are organised for quick and easy usage. These characteristics make them valuable tools for research. The era whereby reference sources in the university library were the only information resources consulted whenever an information need for research arose appears to have gone. Presently, computers and communication technologies form an integral part of the research process in general (Moahi, 2002).
Antherjanam (2008) posited that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have revolutionalised the field of information services. ICT has developed to such a stage that it has given access to information at fingertips. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is a broad term that conveys wide range of technologies. It is the convergence of computer communication and microelectronic based techniques. Since the emergence of ICT, the information landscape has changed dramatically due to the benefits that ICT provides. Islam and Islam (2006) expressed that ICT provides; speedy and easy access to information, remote access to users, round the clock access to users, access to unlimited information from different sources and information flexibility to be used by any individual according to his/her requirement. This is facilitated by the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW).
The Internet is vast and diverse, while the web resources due to their enormous number are extremely difficult to keep track on. Moahi (2002) posited that there are thousands of web pages on the web, made available through the Internet that are not organised or catalogued in some way unlike the information resources in the library. However, there are resources on the web that can be used to retrieve information on the World Wide Web. These resources are search tools otherwise called search engines.
There are various definitions of search engines. Tarakeswar and Kavitha (2011) described search engines as programs that search databases on the web with the use of specified keywords. The keywords are returned and collated into the user information. Search engines are essentially massive databases that cover wide swaths of the Internet. They mostly consist of the parts of at least one program called spider, or crawler or bot, which craws through the Internet gathering information; a database which stores the gathered information and a search tool with which users search through the database by typing a keyword describing the information desired.
Tarakeswar and Kavitha (2011) expressed that search engines are of different types based on their components and capabilities. There are crawler based search engines with Google, live search and Ask as examples. Others are Meta search engines like metacrawler and MSN search that fetch results from other search engines. Users seeking information for research have the opportunity to use these search engines to retrieve the information they seek instantly from different web pages all over the world on the World Wide Web through the Internet. This opportunity afforded by the search engines has no doubt proved to be a threat to the university libraries, as library users now have the choice of selecting which ever medium to use to get the desired information.
University libraries also recognise this threat and in response to that, reference librarians are now mastering the art of using Information and Communication Technologies with all the associated devices to deliver reference service to users within the university community. The fact that most reference resources are also available in electronic format has made this possible. There are electronic databases for abstracts and indexes available on the web, databases also exist for journals. Examples include Agora, Jstor, Doaj, Hinari, ProQuest and Bionne. University libraries subscribe to all these electronic databases in order to provide scholarly resources for research activities.
ICT has also enhanced reference service in university libraries with the provision of different services that can be rendered online, making it possible for libraries to manage websites. Ganaie (2013) stated that through the virtual reference, queries of users can be sent online and a reference interview can be conducted through the use of a phone or through chat room via the social networking sites. Some libraries websites include the icon ask-a-librarian through which users can send their formatted enquiry to the reference librarian. The librarian provides an answer, links the user with useful electronic reference resources or links the user with a subject expert.
All these symbolise that the reference sources in university libraries are not just the traditional print resources and those on CD-ROM, online reference sources have also found their way in, coupled with online reference services. Users of the university libraries can also access...