African Academic Librarianship Virtual Special Issue New Review of Academic Librarianship

New Review of Academic Librarianship

Guest Editorial: Adeyinka TELLA

Department of Library and Information Science, University of Ilorin, Nigeria,

& Department of Information Science, University of South Africa,

Introduction and Background

There is no doubt about the fact that academic librarianship in Africa is making some tremendous progress. A cursory look at the eight articles featured in this special virual issue of the New Review of Academic Librarianship cover a wide range of relevant subjects.  From various perspectives, they focus on Africa academic librarianship, the efforts and roles of librarians to move librarianship forward in Africa and the challenges/ future of African librarianship.  Africa faces many challenges that are infrastructural, cultural and political which means countries on the Continent cannot afford to be complacent. The digital divide between Africa and the Western world, with its new technological innovations, has been widening and academic librarianship is invariably affected by this divide. This editorial explores the role of the academic library, library and information science (LIS), training as well as imperatives for the future. The focus will be three interconnected areas: current development in academic librarianship, challenges confronting Africa academic librarianship and the advent of networked information services. These factors have prompted a comprehensive review of the Library and Information Sciences (LIS) profession.

The global trend is now characterised by a fundamental shift from traditional information environment to an electronic environment where the emphasis is placed more on the acquisition of e-resources such as e-books, e-journals as well as online databases. Currently, the contemporary practice in Africa academic library services in the 21st century is being propelled with an information explosion and the inclusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in all aspects of library services. Despite this, there are some traditional library and information services and functions that are still relevant.

Isah, Mutshewa, Serema and Kenosi (2015) noted that academic libraries in Africa are changing dramatically by adopting new means of technology in all activities of print to an electronic environment. Manual methods for finding information are replaced by a computerized system which provides an opportunity for online accessibility. Isah et al. (2015) traced the historical development of Digital Libraries (DLs), examines some DL initiatives in developed and developing countries and uses 5S Theory as a lens for analyzing the focused DLs. The analysis shows that the present-day systems, in both developed and developing nations especially Africa, are essentially content and user centric, with low level digitization projects in developing countries. Also, there is a lack of interoperability among the various types of DL initiatives. The authors recommended that African libraries should invest in DL projects, digitization of print collection, as well as the development of standards that will address the problem of interoperability among the various systems.

On that note, academic libraries in Africa are now expected to provide to users a range of information and communication technologies necessary for retrieving information quickly from both immediate and remote databases, as well as creating a need for library cooperation and consortium initiatives.   Still as part of the current development and efforts to move Africa academic librarianship forward, Thompson and Pwadura (2014) recognized that automation of academic libraries in Africa aims to improve the management of the library’s resources. There is also an imperative to increase access to these same resources by users that is caught on so well in the Western world where virtually all academic libraries have automated most of their services.

The development in African academic libraries includes the creation of institutional repositories (IR) for the effective management of digital where the stakeholders include the authority and the users (who need to be educated and enlightened).  Thompson, Akeriwe and Aikins (2016) used results from a survey to discuss the processes involved in the establishment of Ghana’s University for Development Studies (UDS) IR (UDS space). Marketing and advocacy strategies were employed to engage Faculty in enabling them to contribute meaningfully and effectively in populating the IR.   The article describes the various communication methods used to promote the IR and evaluates their effectiveness in getting users to participate in populating the IR. The survey reported that a high percentage of respondents was aware of the benefits of an IR and was aware of the existence of the UDS IR. Despite this, a higher percentage of respondents had not submitted to the IR.   The paper points out that the marketing of the IR should therefore be an ongoing process tailored to suit the UDS community and re-examined on a constant and continuous basis. Similarly, Tella, Olarongbe, Akanbi-Ademolake and Adisa (2013) examined librarians role in the the use of ICTs especially the social networking sites Using thes technologies enables them to connect with the users. Social networking sites have  numerous potentials and existing benefits for  libraries and librarians such as creating opportunity to connect with people across the globe (including those they have never seen and those that they are not sure of coming in contact  with). In Africa, library users are gradually becoming ICT savvy and want the libraries to serve them and satisfy their information needs, irrespective of their location and whether online or offline.

As part of the changes taking place in African academic libraries landscape, many Africans are now studying at a distance. As a result, academic libraries need to serve them just like they are doing to those learning through physical attendance. A relevant study using a questionnaire was carried out by Nwezeh (2010) in four universities running distance education programs in Africa. The respondents were randomly selected from the distance learning (DL) students of the universities. It was discovered that DL students were not adequately catered for as far as the use of library resources is concerned. It, therefore, implies that a student could graduate without having used libraries.  Relevant to this, Chimalizeni, Chimwaza, Chataira and Msengezi (2014) concluded that on-line learning is the fastest, least expensive, and most convenient mode of training and outreach, especially when compared with face-to-face delivery in Africa. It should be acknowledged that this mode of training requires much time, planning, and effective communication between the different parties. Consequent on this, the author recommended that adequate planning and financing should be made for DL students to be able to make use of the libraries and information resources. This was proposed with the belief and assumption that it would enhance the critical thinking of the distance learners and also improve their degree of exposure to existing knowledge.

The African academic libraries environment is rapidly changing. More and more information is disseminated with new knowledge being discovered and produced constantly. De Saulles (2012, p. 1) refers to an “explosion in digital technologies that have transformed the way we create, distribute and consume information.” Realizing this change has prompted teaching and learning institutions to adapt their curricula from a traditionalist one where technology is central to everything (Gavin, 2015). So, for instance, one would now find that librarians no longer rely upon an encyclopaedia or index as the first reference source when dealing with an information search (Ochola et al., 2015). Estelle and Woodward (2010) noted that users make use of search engines like Google and Yahoo and they argue that librarians need to recognize that users can easily bypass the library. Therefore, the library must embrace new technologies. 

The changes taking place in African academic libraries landscape means that the curriculum in African Library Schools will have to be tailored towards teaching the students how to handle the various changing situation in any academic libraries that employ them. With this situation, the available libraries schools in Africa are making sure that they review their curriculum from time to time to reflect the change taking place. Not only this, it seems that the available library schools are not producing librarians in sufficient quantity. As a result, there are still many nonprofessional librarians working in academic libraries in Africa. Relevant to this situation Igwe (2012), adopted a descriptive approach to trace the present state of education for library and information science (LIS).  Igwe found that out of the 117 universities in Nigeria for example, 45 are private with only two offering LIS, thereby contributing to an inadequate number of professional librarians. The author outlines the factors causing the neglect of LIS by these private universities, which include wrong notion and perception of LIS by societal members, poor visibility of the professional association of librarians in the country, and the poor state of the nation’s information infrastructure. Recommendations and strategies to establish and run a LIS department for the training of librarians in these private universities are given. The expectation is that, if adopted, it will result in the production of more proactive contemporary librarians for the nation and the world at large.

The challenges of African academic librarianship

Consequent on the changes taking place in African academic landscape, there are so many challenges that have been identified associated with the change. Thompson and Pwadura (2014)   describe the several challenges are making it difficult for academic libraries to be automated, thus depriving them of the numerous benefits a library stands to gain from automating its services. The University for Development Studies (UDS) Library in Northern Ghana embarked on an automation project on one of its campuses including the full automation of the cataloguing and circulation operations. Chimalizeni, Chimwaza, Chataira and Msengezi (2014) also identified challenges faced by learners, for example, such as the limited access to computers and Internet in African academic libraries.

Similarly, Anunobi, Ukouma, and Ukachi (2012) explained that in recent years, library and information services have developed from the traditional print based services to technology driven systems engendered by the adoption of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in library operations and services. These developments have brought about an increase in the responsibility of Library and Information Professionals (LIP) in academic institutions that are exposed to traditional and ICT driven operations. The work also identified the need for research on career progression. In their study, Anunobi et al. sought to determine the coping strategies especially of female librarians to the challenges of the digital world. A survey was carried out among female academic LIPs. The questionnaire was designed to elicit information on the challenges emanating from operations/services in the library, career progression and societal expectations, in addition to their coping strategies. The challenges identified include increased responsibility provided by the digital world concerning tenure track professional requirements, the need to acquire new digital skills needed for the changing library operations/ services, and acquisition of digital competencies as well as meeting societal expectation.

Ilesanmi (2013) also identified challenges such as capacity building as an issue affecting the progress of the profession. The author emphasized that many academic librarians possess outdated skills that do not fit the 21st Century library functions.  The lack of skills could be attributed to the non-exposure to current skills required due to inadequate library funding. Most of the libraries in Nigeria face the problems of infrastructural facilities which deny them of better ways of serving the research community. Furthermore, it has been observed that in Africa, resources in libraries are no longer current. Obsolete materials are found due to inadequate funding. Even when there are hard copies, the possibility of distribution to users at the same time is slim due to insufficient numbers of copies available. The exchange rates and the economic meltdown have also contributed to this issue. Power supply problems are also a serious issue. All of these mentioned affects almost every activity of human endeavour in which the library is a part. Some libraries resulted in using generators while some library activities stand still until the government power supply returns. The uuse of generators consumes a lot of fuel, and its servicing and maintenance are very expensive to sustain. There are suggestions that such challenges can be overcome through time scheduling to accommodate every challenge, collaborating with colleagues who have more time to acquire digital skills and investing personal resources to live up to the demands of the digital world.

The prospect of Africa academic librarianship

African librarianship has the immense potential to pull Africa out of the cultural crisis caused by decades of colonialism and misdirection. The overall expectation of libraries and librarians are two folds: providing access to information to fight ignorance, poverty and disease; and harnessing Africans indigenous knowledge and uploading them to the global information infrastructures. On accessibility issues, it is certain that Africa needs information to tackle underdevelopment. In planning for library development, Africa’s economic conditions must be considered. It may not be able to build ultra modern libraries or acquire the latest ICT for now, but priority should be given to adapt what is suitable to the African way of living and to make efforts to improve our best practices.

Currently, in Africa, it is glaring that many are wallowing in ignorance, superstition, fear, poverty, and diseases (Anasi, 2012, p. 121; Chimalizeni, et al., 2014). Therefore, by way of transforming librarianship in Africa, it is imperative that reliable, relevant, and timely health information is accessible to everyone. These are traditional library attributes that need to be in place for libraries in Africa to fulfil a meaningful role. Some views seem to support what is known as the “transformation of librarianship.” In relation to this, Mutula (2013) emphasized the greater competition posed by the proliferation of information services that are not library based. Mutula explained that the increasing use of ICT, especially personal computers, the Internet, electronic databases, electronic data-retrieval methods are factors in the transformation of librarianship. (p. 89). These support the emphasis being placed on knowledge management for professionals.  There is an issue about whether or not African academic librarianship should be transformed or newer technologies should be introduced to enhance the role of librarianship. Responding to this, Mutula (2013: 90) claimed that “as a result of the transformation that has taken place in the nomenclature librarianship, it has given way to the library and information science, which in turn has evolved into information science or information management in the 1990s”. The transformation of librarianship profession has enhanced access and participation in higher education in LIS training because of diverse options and choices in academic programme offerings. 

If academic librarianship in Africa is transformed, does this mean it is for the benefit of the African library users or merely for enrollments at universities to increase? The issue is not so much about transforming African academic librarianship but rather about transformation and the role that librarianship can play.  Ocholla (2003) views ICT as playing an important role in the enhancement of librarianship. However, Ochola emphasised that “while the importance of IT education is recognised by all LIS schools, IT is underemphasized in the majority of existing curricula despite the prevailing positive attitude towards the incorporation of more IT into the curricula” (p. 183). Ocholla also emphasizes that there is room for more research on ICT in LIS education generally and particularly in Africa.  Ochola identified issues such as the lack of ICT support resources, infrastructure, space for practical work by students and having sufficient time in the curricula. Other relevant obstacles to ICT in LIS education in Africa are students’ limited ICT literacy, lack of innovative learning methods, inadequate job challenges after ICT education and improper balance between theory and practice. The situation has improved since Ochola wrote his paper in 2003. Many ICT courses and programmes have been embedded into the curriculum of many library schools with the provision of ICT supports resources and infrastructure which now suggest that the future is bright for academic librarianship in Africa.

Kwanya, Stilwell, and Underwood (2009:73) also argue that although African academic libraries have changed the form and delivery of information, the basic functions of a library remain which are to identify, acquire, process, arrange and make available information. Consequently, libraries continue to perform essential operations such as material selection, acquisition, cataloguing, circulation, maintenance, preservation, and reference and document delivery. Many are employing Web 2.0 features to render services to the clientele. They are now an online presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and there is every indication that more progress will be achieved in the future.

In terms of digitizing contemt, many digitization projects are being undertaken on the continent as revealed by Isah et al. (2015) and  Anunobi et al. (2012).  Most universities are digitizing their theses and dissertations as well as the digitization of newspapers and other manual contents. However, the problem often encountered in digitization project is lack of skills. Digitization skills are being regarded as core skills for anyone who wishes to be a functioning librarian in the 21st century African academic librarianship.

Significance of the Contributions and Future Research

These research contributions demonstrate the energy and innovative spirit of the authors who are engaged in transforming the form and functions of African academic librarianship.  There should be room for hands-on practice of new skills acquired, as well as the opportunity to pass on such knowledge to other professionals through training the trainer. The training could be carried out on a monthly or quarterly basis, as in house workshops or seminars on different areas of librarianship in Africa.

Library instructional programs still do not scale well to cover all students or offer “point of-need” instruction. A technology-based approach that offers online instruction is an important complement to in-class instruction which offers both approaches. This pressure to deliver a more comprehensive instructional program will need African academic librarians to have regular continuing professional development and training. This training should be given priority and observed from time to time. This will ensure librarians ’professional practice remains current and relevant in supporting the vision, mission, and objectives of the institution where they are employed. Such training could be national, international, or both as deemed fit. Significant improvements could result from grants, fellowships, exchanges, and sponsorships being made available to academic librarians.

The papers selected for this special issue show that the philosophy and form of academic librarianship in Africa is changing. The authors have engaged in the rigorous examination of the functions of the academic librarian, resulting in new insights into the importance of developing new knowledge and skills. A strategic mixture of traditional and new services is emerging, one that will offer major new benefits to users but will also require difficult decisions to proceed in an era of limited budgets.   Therefore, there is need for increase budget to enable investment in infrastructural facilities in Africa academic libraries that would foster better services for the research community and promote better relationships with sister libraries around the world.  The investment would also embrace consortium building, resource sharing, electronic document delivery, teleconferencing, and joint online public access catalogue (JOPAC).  Increase budget would make resources richer in serving a larger research community

Isah et al. (2015) reported lack of interoperability among the various types of DL initiatives. The authors identified the need for African libraries to invest in DL projects that will result in the digitization of print collection. It is crucial that they also develop standards that will address the problem of interoperability among the various systems. The envisaged outcome is that that there will be a need for more acquisition and subscription to more online resources. This would bring major gains to the African academic community with the opportunity to simultaneously access and use academic materials within the library, within the community, and even remotely. With more and more research becoming available only in electronic format libraries will have no choice but to fall in place with its acquisition to enable users its access. This pressure can only increase the drive for African academic libraries to continue their move to on-line delivery.