The Role of Academic Libraries in Universal Access to Print and Electronic Resources in the Developing Countries

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Before the advent of information and communication technology (ICT), academic libraries were the sole custodians of information, which was predominantly in print. ICT brought changes necessitated by new information packaging. Academic libraries are faced with managing hybrid resources (print and electronic) and are challenged to acquire the necessary skills. Furthermore, electronic information is eroding the monopoly of academic libraries as the sole access point to information. Nevertheless, academic libraries can maintain their place by serving as an access point to both print and electronic resources. This paper discusses the nature of academic libraries in the digital age including resources, the concept of universal access, and the role of the in universal access to print and electronic resources. It also presents and describes a conceptual model of resource access for academic libraries in developing countries.

Academic Libraries in the Digital Age

A well established library is essential for any academic institution. As a focal point for teaching, learning, and research, it is expected to provide standard information resources. Today, academic libraries are struggling to keep their place as the major source of inquiry in the face of emerging digital technology. Digital technology has revolutionized not only the way information is packaged, processed, stored, and disseminated, but also how users seek and access information. Academic libraries no longer restrict themselves to print services such as collection development, cataloguing and classification, circulation and reference services, current awareness, selective dissemination, and other bibliographic services, but have extended their efforts to interdisciplinary concepts and computer software and hardware and telecommunication engineering and technology. As observed by Campbell (2006:17), "numerous creative and useful services have evolved within academic libraries in the digital age: providing quality learning spaces, creating metadata, offering virtual reference services, teaching information literacy, choosing resources and managing resource licenses, collecting and digitizing archival materials, and maintaining digital repositories". Academic libraries presently are faced with not only the decision on what books and journals to acquire to satisfy faculty and students but also on how to remain relevant in the digital era, mindful of low budgets and resentment on the part of institutional administrators. There is also the issue of library users opting for alternate, more convenient, and "qualitative" sources of information (the Internet). As Lombardi (2000) notes, users will prefer more computer content, more and more computer indices, digitized finding aids, digital repositories of articles, online access to newspapers, etc. Libraries also struggle with when, how, who, and where to begin digitization efforts, while keeping in mind that hesitation in the digitization of institutional archives will result in relinquishing the function to another institutional repository host. The consequence is repositioning of academic libraries resources, operations, services and skills. Resources today occur in hybridized form: print and electronic, and therefore services provided and skills possessed by professionals in these libraries should reflect that trend.

Universal Access to Resources

Libraries have always served as access points for information. Services have evolved from the days of closed stacks, through shelf browsing and card catalogues, punch cards, and OPACS, to the concept of open access and institutional repositories (Cisse 2004). This historic migration has tried to satisfying the changing needs of library users, including ease of access, interaction richness, low interaction, and low cost. Eisenberg (1990) remarks that access is more important than ownership. …