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ISC 19. Reference librarian/user relationship at the Obafemi Awolowo University Library

J.O. Ajileye-Laogun

Hezekiah Oluwasanmi Library Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife

E-mail: erioluwadajuat symbolyahoo.co.uk

Abstract

This study was conducted to research into the link between students perception of the librarian and the rate at which they approach them for services at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria.   A questionnaire survey was used for data collection from the students in nine out of the eleven faculties of the university. The survey shows that there is a strong link between the librarians' attitudes, students' perceptions and assumptions of them and the rate at which they consult them for services and information.

Introduction

The Librarians' attitudes to a very great extent, determines the patronage of users to the library. When librarians are friendly and welcoming including being helpful, users are encouraged into the library, while in a library where the librarians are unfriendly and lazy, users are driven away.   The personality of the librarian determines the rate of utilization of the library by its users.    She/he should be friendly, humorous, intelligent and professionally good. Then, the user will be convinced that there is an approachable and reliable information expert in that library. If they are so drawn to the library by the mien of the librarian, they will then be able to browse through the books and thus become aware of the availability of materials relevant to their studies and research.   Thus, the use of the collections increases.

Concept of librarians

At all levels of education, there is a general lack of awareness about the roles and duties of librarians and libraries and their potentials to education. This poses a formidable barrier to equitable access to information and the promotion of knowledge in our society. People are aware of the need for information acquisition but are ignorant of the roles of the library and librarians. This explains why the increased recognition of the value of information has not brought with it increased recognition of the librarian as an information professional. One obvious reason for this is the thwarted image of the librarian. The librarians' image over time has been that of a negative one. Librarians are regarded as rigid personalities who cannot be approached, either an authoritarian or a weakling, incompetent hideaways, doing no more than shelving or stamping of books. This image hinders and forms a barrier to using librarians to ask initial or follow-up queries for help or information. People think of librarians as "trained" or "skilled" but not necessarily as "professionals" and have no idea of qualifications or training requirements (Heron P.,1977; Rothwell A., 1990).

This low professional image of librarians led to their lower status and this hinders the use and importance of librarians in the community. School librarians are not given heads of departments appointment.   More so, librarians in academic institutions are not recognized as being equal to their counterparts in the faculty, even librarians in the commercial sector have lower rankings than other colleagues. Librarians being placed at this lower level cannot contribute to the overall organization as effectively, neither are they being involved in policy setting or important committees. Librarians remain "gatekeepers" to information at best rather than "gateways" or "information intermediaries" (Schumann P., 1990). In all types of libraries, the role and skills of librarians are not fully exploited, reinforcing low image, status, value and usage.

Reference theory

This study is hinged upon Vavrek's notion that the central focus for reference theory is in studying the quality of the relationship which develops between the librarian and the users of libraries. He maintains that emphasis on the librarian's internal housekeeping routine and the importance of a knowledge of sources is a wrong approach to the provision of a reference service. A close study of the nature of interpersonal communication is more important to Vavrek (1974).

The reference theory states that it is the librarians' task to ensure that users and potential users of libraries have untrammeled access to resources. The librarian needs to be an active promoter of the use of information and libraries rather than the somewhat passive keeper responding to stimulation but not reacting without such stimuli being provided by others.

Reference librarianship

The reference service is a complex, multi-faceted and ultimately, personal service and must be examined judiciously from various positions to be able to determine the degree of its success. According to Low (1990), provision of reference services is an important component of the information product. Reference librarians can be referred to as the public relations officer of any library. She/he is the image booster to the library she/he is working for because of his/her duties, which deal directly with the users.

Library users use the library to read and borrow books. However, many users in the University library who consult staff only have contact with non-professional staff.

A clerical image of book-stamping/shelving is fostered rather than an organizing or disseminating one.

(NCC 1986)

It would enhance the image of any reference librarian if users consult them for information. But the majority of users who patronize the reference rooms only use books and not staff and most who consult staff only ask them for information such as "where is reading room B?", "how can I get to the toilet?" etc. and are not aware of their roles as information providers.

There is also little realization of the work of librarians behind the scenes. University students, for example, saw librarians in a service role, to help locate information needs and could not differentiate between professional and support staff (apart from by age) (Heron P., 1977).

In the University Libraries, the Librarians' role in maximizing learning resources are not realized due to poor communication and relationships between the librarians and their faculty counterparts and so their services remain unused and underutilized.

The Reference Librarian

Lawal (2001) highlights the functions of Nigerian reference librarians among which are assistance and instruction in library use, location of materials, use of the catalogue, and use of basic reference tools and sources. They also provide brief, factual information of the ready reference type, conducting literature searches, interlibrary loans for users, selective dissemination of information to clients and public relations.

Objectives of the study

This study was undertaken with the following objectives:

1. To find out if users are aware of the services at the reference desk.

2. To find out if users approach, or are willing to approach, the reference librarians at the Hezekiah Oluwasanmi library, Obafemi Awolowo University, with queries.

3. To find out the attitude of users to reference librarians and how this has hindered or aided them in their relationship.

4. To determine users' perceptions of reference librarians and their duties.

Hypotheses

The hypotheses of the study was that: Users are not aware of the services being rendered at the reference desk and some do not even know of the duties of the reference librarian and that some view the reference librarian as unapproachable and do not, consequently, explore the services of the reference librarian.

Methodology

This study was designed to cover a representative sample of students from the Faculties of Administration, Agriculture, Education, Environmental Design and Management, Law, Technology, Pharmacy/Medical Sciences, and Sciences, Social Sciences/Arts at the Obafemi Awolomo University. The study was carried out in 2003/2004 academic year.   There were eleven faculties in the university out of which nine were selected for the study. A random sampling technique was used to obtain a representative sampling of the students in each faculty.

           

A set of questionnaires was administered to the students of these faculties. A student list was stratified into sub-parts of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th year of study. Out of 250 questionnaires 169 (67.6%) were completed and returned. The questionnaires were distributed through individual lecturers to their various students at different levels.

The questionnaire is tagged "Questionnaire on Reference Librarian/User Relationship". A careful study of the records and available collections in each of the sections named in the questionnaire was undertaken.

Results and discussion of the study

Both male and female respondents from the nine faculties and at different levels, and completed parts one to five of the questionnaire.

Table 1: Percentage distribution of respondents by some selected socio-demographic characteristics

SEX

Frequency

Percent

Male

106

62.7

Female

63

37.3

Total

169

100.0

AGE (Mean age = 24.0 years)

15-19 years

12

8.4

20-24 years

78

54.5

25-29 years

44

30.8

30-34 years

3

2.1

35-39 years

1

0.7

40-44 years

5

3.5

Total

143

100.0

FACULTY

Administration

31

18.3

Agriculture

6

3.6

Education

16

9.5

EDM

8

4.7

Law

12

7.1

Pharm/Medical Sciences

29

17.2

Sciences

19

11.2

Social Sciences/Arts

32

18.9

Technology

16

9.5

Total

169

100.0

LEVEL

Part one

19

11.2

Part two

55

32.5

Part three

38

22.5

Part four

51

30.2

Part five

6

3.6

Total

169

100.0

(NB: the table for AGE excludes non-response)

Visitations and consultation

Table 2: Percentage Distribution of Respondents by how frequently they visit the library and their purpose for visiting the library, controlling for their Level in School

How frequently user visits the Library

Level in School

Total

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Everyday

5.3

9.1

10.5

10.0

16.7

9.5

Often

42.1

41.8

31.6

32.0

16.7

35.7

Sometimes

36.8

20.0

34.2

24.0

16.7

26.2

Seldomly

15.8

20.0

5.3

16.0

16.7

14.9

Hardly

0.0

9.1

13.2

12.0

16.7

10.1

Never

0.0

0.0

5.3

6.0

16.7

3.6

Total

100.0 (19)

100.0 (55)

100.0 (38)

100.0 (50)

100.0 (6)

100.0 (168)

User's Purpose for Going to the Library

To read

84.2

60.0

58.4

58.0

33.3

60.8

Search for materials

10.5

25.5

27.8

30.0

66.7

26.5

Read/search for materials

5.3

12.7

11.1

8.0

16.7

9.6

To chat/sleep

0.0

1.8

2.8

4.0

0.0

3.1

Total

100.0 (19)

100.0 (55)

100.0 (36)

100.0 (50)

100.0 (6)

100.0 (166)

(NB: the table excludes non-response; number of cases for each total is in brackets)

Table 3: Percentage Distribution of Respondents by how often they consult the Librarian/Library staffs

How frequently user consults Librarian/Library staff

Every time user needs information/help

51.5

Hardly

28.5

Never

16.4

Don't know users can consult them

3.6

Total

100.0 (165)

  (NB: the table excludes non-response; number of cases for each total is in brackets)

Tables 2 and 3 shows how frequently users visit and consult a reference librarian in the library, which level visits the library most and for which purpose. 9.5% visit the library everyday, 35.7% of the respondents visit the library often, 14.9% seldomly visit and 10.1% of the respondents hardly visit, while 3.6% never visit the library. This shows that the percentage of the students who visit the library is minimal compared to the number of students on the campus even though the ones who visit the library do so for different purposes.           51.5% of those who visit the library consulted the librarian for information and help while 3.6% were not aware they could consult a member of library staff.

Awareness of roles

Table 4: Percentage Distribution of Respondents by whether they know the reference librarians, their rating of reference librarians and their knowledge of the qualification of reference librarians, controlling for their level in school (part I, II etc.)

User knows the reference librarians

Level in School

Total

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Yes

57.9

36.4

55.3

54.9

33.3

48.5

No

42.1

63.6

44.7

45.1

66.7

51.5

Total

100.0 (19)

100.0 (55)

100.0 (38)

100.0 (50)

100.0 (6)

100.0 (168)

User's rating of reference librarians

Well educated

21.1

9.1

5.6

8.0

0.0

9.0

Experienced

36.8

27.3

33.3

36.0

33.3

32.5

Not too intelligent

5.3

18.2

11.1

8.0

50.0

13.2

Don't know/no opinion

36.8

45.5

50.0

48.0

16.7

45.2

Total

100.0 (19)

100.0 (55)

100.0 (36)

100.0 (50)

100.0 (6)

100.0 (166)

User's knowledge of reference librarians' qualification

School certificate

5.3

16.7

21.6

19.6

33.3

18.0

Diploma

15.8

5.6

13.5

15.7

0.0

11.4

First degree

21.1

22.2

13.5

13.7

33.3

18.0

Higher degree

5.3

7.5

0.0

7.8

0.0

5.4

Don't know at all

52.6

48.1

51.4

43.1

33.3

47.3

Total

100.0 (19)

100.0 (55)

100.0 (36)

100.0 (50)

100.0 (6)

100.0 (166)

(NB: the table excludes non-response; number of cases for each total is in brackets)

Table 4 shows the level of awareness of the students to the presence and roles of reference librarians. However, 9.0% know they are educated, 32.0% feel they are experienced while 13.2% regard them as not too intelligent. It is interesting to know that 45.2% of the respondents have no opinion of the reference librarians, they are indifferent.  

Out of the total number of respondents only 5.4% are aware of their real qualification, 47.3% do not know their qualifications and so as indicated by Table 6; 84.6% of those who know they are well educated consult them every time they need information while those who are unaware of their qualification; 29.7% only consult them when they need information.

User satisfaction

Table 5: Percentage distribution of respondents by whether they were satisfied during last consultation with reference librarian and attitude of reference librarian to them.

User satisfied during last consultation with librarian

Reference librarian's attitude to user during last consultation

Total

Welcoming

Officious

Indifferent

Antagonistic

Don't know

Yes

80.8

30.0

21.4

0.0

2.8

38.2

No

1.9

20.0

21.4

33.3

5.6

10.3

Partially

15.4

40.0

42.8

33.3

2.8

21.3

Don't know

1.9

20.0

14.4

33.3

88.9

30.1

Total

100.0 (52)

100.0 (10)

100.0 (32)

100.0 (6)

100.0 (36)

100.0 (136)

(NB: the table excludes non-response; number of cases for each total is in brackets)

In Table 5 above, 80.8% of respondents who feel reference librarians attitudes were welcoming were satisfied with the consultation. None of those who feel they were antagonistic in their attitudes were satisfied. This is an indication that the perceived attitudes of the librarians contribute to the feelings of being welcomed or users being put off.

           

Recommendations and conclusions

Lack of awareness, poor expectations and negative assumptions of services are major barriers to use of libraries. Images and perceptions of libraries full range of service and level of expectations can be altered and controlled to increase the use of libraries and librarians. Marketing and promotional activities applied effectively will increase value status and awareness. This method was employed by the American Library Association in their outreach, liaison and education schemes and campaigns such as "Ask a Professional, ask a Librarian!" (Smith, G., 1992). In addition to this, symposiums can be organized to enlighten users on the roles and services of libraries and librarians.

The personality of the librarian and the institutions they represent are barriers to its usage. This is because, if librarians are unfriendly, antagonistic or rather unhelpful, users will be reluctant to consult them. According to the research report put forward by Armour J. (1975) where "cold and clinical" were adopted, this accounted for users not approaching librarians for information.

The perceived value of libraries to individuals or organizations can also form a barrier similar to that of the perceived status of librarians. Lange (1987/88) found lower personal values attached to libraries among "typical non-users" and "marginal users" and higher values among "typical users" and "potential users".

Large buildings, deteriorating buildings, rules perceived as being difficult and bureaucracy also contribute to users abandoning libraries and staff.   Part of the reasoning of outreach services was to place books and services in more friendly, familiar places.

Bibliographies

Armour, J.( 1975) The Why and How of Outreach: Reach Out or be Forced Out, In Library Services to the Disadvantaged , edited by W. Martin, pp.83-95.

Heron, P. and Pastine, M. (1977) Student Perceptions of Academic Librarians, College and Research Libraries, 38.

Lange, J.(1987/88) Public Library Users, Non-users, and Type of Library Use, Public Library Quarterly , 8,(1/2).

Lawal Olu Olat (2001). Reference services in Nigerian Libraries, In S.O. Olanlokun and T.M. Salisu (Eds.), Libraries and Librarianship in Nigeria: A Festschrift for Ezekiel Bejide Bankole Lagos: Ikofa Press Limited, pp. 49-59.

Low, Kathleen (1990). Helping the Patron: A Look at reference Encounters, Providing More than Just an Answer, edited by Bill Katz. The Haworth Press, London.

National Consumer Council (1986) Measuring Up: Paper 3, Public Libraries , 3 (21).

Rothwell, A.,(1990) The Image of Librarians , Library Management , 11(1) pp. 25-56 .

Schuman, P. (1990) The Image of Librarians: Substance or Shadow?, Journal of Academic Librarianship , 16 (2).

Smith, G. (1992) Celebrating our Profession, Library Association Record , 94 (12).

Vavrek, B. (1974) The Nature of Reference Librarianship RQ   13(3) .

J.O. Ajileye-Laogun is a librarian at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife Nigeria.   She has a Masters degree in Library, Archival and Information Studies and is currently on her PhD program.


 

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