Libraries in educational institutions provide relevant information resources for teaching, learning, and research. The library of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) faces challenges in providing adequate resources and efficient services to its clientele. Educational reforms introduced in the country at the tertiary level beginning ten years ago and the collegiate system adopted by the university have brought about many changes in the academic programmes. There has also been a phenomenal growth in student numbers over the past decade. Enrollment at KNUST, for example, has more than doubled. The student population in the 1996/97 was 6,321, and by the end of 2005/2006 it had increased to 19,964, an increase of more than 200 percent. The impact on library resources includes overuse of library books and journals and the consequent deterioration of the collection.
Library orientation is both a marketing and welcoming activity and often forms part of the university's orientation programme for first year students. Fidzani (1995) outlines the objectives of orientation and user education:
* to introduce students to facilities and resources in the library;
* to develop library skills;
* to make students independent users and learners in the library;
* to develop capabilities as self-sufficient users;
* to establish the library as the centre of academic activity;
* to provide basic understanding of the library so that users can make efficient use of library material and services;
* to educate users about information sources and resources and how to exploit such resources effectively and efficiently.
Every year the KNUST Library organises user education for all new students, in the form of lectures followed by demonstrations and guided tours of the various departments in the library: Lending, Law, Photocopying, Ghana Collection, Reference and Research, the United Nations, Theses, Women's Collection, Serials, and Electronic Information. The major problem facing the library is how to organise user education more effectively given the rise in student numbers, the limited number of professional staff and the advent of electronic resources which has changed the information landscape.
This study examines the constraints facing the KNUST Library in its attempt to provide effective user education, especially in this era of increased student numbers. It takes a critical look at how user education programmes are planned, organized, and implemented at KNUST; and how information technology (IT) could lessen the burden on librarians carrying out these programmes.
Hooks, et al. (2007), remark that, "teaching students how to use the university library resources had been a challenge for academic librarians for most of the twentieth century and has emerged as a high priority for academic librarians in the twenty-first century as well." Alimohammadi and Sajjadi (2006) add that, "library and information professionals have experienced the information seeking challenges of newcomers for many years, and have planned a wide range of instructional programmes to tackle this problem." User education provides a platform where librarians introduce new students to the complexities of university library facilities; familiarize users, who have little or no information seeking skills at all with a broad range of library resources in order to develop library skills; and educate them on how to find materials using library catalogues, subject indexes, CD-ROMs, and the Internet.
The American Library Association (1989, p. 2) defines user education as encompassing all types of activities designed to teach users about library services, facilities and organization, library resources, and search strategies. A survey of the literature reveals the importance of user education in academic libraries. It is believed that improving user's skills in exploiting library resources and services can lead to greater use of the...