In this Information Age, Information Technology has revolutionized every aspect of human life to an extent that the present generation could be referred to as digital natives. This Information Technology has brought the world to a point of being a global in terms of information dissemination. It is against this background that Sutton(2008) envisaged “Information Technology has rapidly changed the world today.” This is evidenced in the change of cultural, social, economic and educational aspects of life. In this regard, the impact of Information Technology has been felt in the home, education, health defense and security, finance and commerce, the industry and in the office. This technological development has also had an impact on traditional information institutions such as libraries.
Information Technology’s impact on libraries in academia has been on activities concerned with in-house keeping routines such as acquisition, cataloguing, serials control, circulation of library materials, managing statistics and retrieval of information. Academic libraries are now providing their clientele with much better and effective information services through the use of Information Technology. The application of Information Technology to information management activities has resulted in the overall improvement in the performance of academic libraries.
An academic library is the nerve centre of its parent institution thereby meeting the teaching and research needs of that institution. It is established with the main focus of providing effective information service delivery for students, teaching staff, administrative and technical staff of an academic institution. In this regard, current and relevant textbooks and journals as well as reference materials constitute the collection of an academic library to match with the information needs of the curricula. In an academic library, an adequate and conducive reading environment should be provided for users and it should be properly staffed. In a nutshell, an academic library supports research work and complements the teaching/learning programme of the institution.
FOURAH BAY COLLEGE LIBRARY
Fourah Bay College Library is a three-storey building located in the centre of the campus housing various sections/departments. The functions/operations of the different departments of the Library are all geared towards one goal, thus the provision of effective service delivery in meeting the information needs of its clientele. Each department is headed by a trained and qualified professional staff supported by para-professional and non-professional staff who are all answerable to the Acting Librarian.
The lower ground floor of the Library houses the Sierra Leone Collection and Bindery. The Sierra Leone Collection houses materials written on Sierra Leone and the neighbouring countries; materials written by Sierra Leoneans; few copies of dissertations and theses; manuscripts, pamphlets and pamphlets-files; selected titles of local newspapers, Sierra Leone Gazette; Fourah Bay College and University publications; periodicals such as Sierra Leone Studies, Africana Research Bulletin, Sierra Trade Journal, Sierra Leone Language Review, Historical Journal of Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Geographical Journal; Sierra Leone Chambers of Commerce Annual Reports; Sierra Leone Acts/Bills; CSM Reports, Parliamentary Debates and Proceedings; Annual Reports of the various Government ministries and departments; and Presidential Addresses. Attaching such importance to this department for research work, the Sierra Leone Collection is referred to as our national heritage. Located on this floor also is the Bindery which is the Conservation and Preservation Unit of the Library for the preservation of library materials to prolong their life span. It also operates commercially as a way of generating revenue for the College.
On the ground floor of the building on entering the Library are the Circulation and Cataloguing departments, American Shelf, the Librarian’s Office, the Reference Section of few stocks with a conducive reading area and a Photocopying Unit. The Circulation/Lending department of Fourah Bay College Library like all academic libraries is responsible for lending materials especially books for use outside the building or home-reading. The Circulations Desk which is adjacent to the Librarian’s Office and Reference Collection handles all lending procedures, thus charging and discharging. The Circulations staff also register new students and those desiring to become members by issuing them prepared library cards for the use of the library and its facilities. Recalling overdue books and reserving required books returned form part of the routines of the Issue Desk. The Issue Desk staff also maintain records of all materials issued for home-reading.
The operations of the Cataloguing Department which is also located in the ground floor include the classification, cataloguing and accessioning of all newly acquired materials especially books before placed on the shelves for accessibility by users. Typing and filing of catalogue cards and stamping of catalogue books with Library’s ownership stamp is also done by the staff of the Cataloguing Department. The American Shelf created by the American Embassy in collaboration with the Fourah Bay College Library is a collection of American literature, history and few titles of international magazines and provides a small reading space. Photocopying, printing, laminating as well as comb binding jobs are done on commercial basis in a rented room. This Photocopying Section located at the ground floor of the building. The entire first floor of the library houses the Periodicals Department which houses current and back issues of periodicals in almost all disciplines. These include journals, abstracts, indexes and magazines.
Lecturers, students and researchers find the Periodicals Department useful for preparing lecture notes, doing assignments and undertaking research activities. This Department also houses magazines for leisure reading as they contain information such as news items, announcements, statistical data, and advertisements about products and services. The routines carried out in the Periodicals Department include subscribing to journals, claiming back issues paid for but not yet to be received as well as missing issues, entering of received journals on kardex, preparing materials to be bound.
The Textbook Collection is partly located in the second floor of the Library and as the name implies, this department stocks recommended texts by the various faculty teaching staff in meeting the information needs of the curricula. Past examination question papers, dissertations and theses as well as prepared lecture notes by some departments form part of the Textbook Collection. This department is highly patronised by students and lecturers in enhancing teaching/learning programmes.
THE NEED FOR DITIGISING FOURAH BAY COLLEGE LIBRARY
Academic libraries should move along with the global trends of information technological development. I is therefore viewed with much optimism that digitizing Fourah Bay College Library will significally enhance its operations and improve its information service delivery. A digitized library ensures an accurate and quick information processing, storage, retrieval and accessibility. The use of computers in collecting, processing, analyzing, retrieving of information and data for dissertation to users could be seen as a great privilege enjoyed by academic libraries in this Information Aged. According to Birdsall (2009) a digitised library operates within an electronic collaborative environment to access information regardless its location. This implies that easy access to electronic publications of books and journal is feasible and possible through a digitized library system. Digitised library allows information to be accessed by an unlimited audience at the same time and anywhere.
According to the fifth maxim of Library Science asserted by S. R. Ranganathan (1931) “The library is a growing organism”. Meaning that libraries especially academic libraries in Third World countries in this Information Age should not remain static but be dynamic and move along with the global trends of technological development in terms of information processing, preservation, retrieval and dissemination. Justifiably, Fourah Bay College Library needs to adopt and adapt this trend as a way of improving the services it offers in trying to meet the needs of information seekers.
The dire need to digitize Fourah Bay College library stems from the fact a digital is one that harnesses digital technologies and infrastructure to search, collect, organise and distribute cultural, historical and scientific information whether it is text, visual images or sound. Digital libraries make it possible for electronic publications of books and journals to be accessed by an unlimited audience at the same time and anywhere. In this regard, digitising academic libraries such as Fourah Bay College Library is a necessity. Justifiably, there is dire need to digitise Fourah Bay College Library as the routines carried out manually are time-consuming as opposed to the digitised system which is very much faster and it is thus necessary to digitize Fourah Bay College Library as a way of effectively enhancing its operations. Without controversy, a digitize Fourah Bay College Library system is very much in its operations and retrieval of information and search methods involve less labour, skills and experience as well professional competence in reference queries posed by information seekers.
Digitising Fourah Bay College Library is justifiable as efficiency and effectiveness in information service delivery is ensured over the manual. A digitised library system increases speed in performing duties and subsequently increases productivity. Indisputably, such a library places the full resources it contains at the immediate disposal of the user. Realistically, improvement in the services provided by a digitised library will be on a scale impossible to achieve by manual procedures. Another point of justification in digitising Fourah Bay College Library is that the existing manual system is incapable of handling the work-load taking into account the current state of the collection in terms of size and increase in the number of users. It should be noted with concern that materials especially books are added to the collection on a daily basis and the student population of the college increases every year.
Keeping pace with the current trends in this Information Age, it is necessary to digitise Fourah Bay College Library so that it will acquire some prestige. It is a universally accepted phenomenon that libraries that have initiated a mechanised programme have attracted attention and enhanced their reputation accordingly. In this day and age, there is certainly improvement in the currency of searchable records, improvement in the currency and production of Current Awareness Bulletin, and ability to search and manipulate data in a number of different ways as a result of digitisation. In this regard, there is a need to digitise Fourah Bay College Library as the system enhances its Current Awareness Services in keeping users abreast of latest developments in their areas of interest.
As no library is self-sufficient in information resources, information sharing is facilitated as a result of digitisation. It is quite possible with the use of the computer to share the resources of Fourah Bay College Library with other libraries and information units without the problems and constraints represented by the catalogue. By digitising Fourah bay College Library, staff can learn new skills based on this new technology; tedious jobs can be delegated to machines; easier and quicker access to information; easier means of remedying typing errors; availability of shorter working hours thereby providing extra earnings for the staff.
WHAT TO AND WHY DIGITISE
Digitised academic libraries stand to benefit among other thing increased output and more productive tasks in documentation and information processing, information network enhancement and perfect control of records management and retrieval.
Taking into account the size of the Fourah Bay College Library collection, its digitisation needs adequate financing by the college administration. However, if not the Sierra Leone Collection which holds rare and important documents of historical and research value, some of which are out of print need to be digitised. By digitising the Sierra Leone Collection, the country’s cultural heritage will be well preserved for posterity. Local newspapers and some vital documents housed in the Collection are so flimsy that if they are not digitised, as years go by, there is every tendency for them to wear out and become unreadable.
The Cataloguing Department of the Library which processes newly acquired materials before placed on the shelves for accessibility needs a computerised cataloguing system that will exhibit a clear superiority over its manual counterpart. A digitised cataloguing system involves the production of catalogue cards as well as the availability of high speed printers. Unlike manual cataloguing, a digitised cataloguing system ensures improvement in work flow; more efficient work space and increased productivity is also envisaged. Depending on the availability of required funds to embark on this all-important project, the Sierra Leone Collection and the Cataloguing Department should be prioritised in digitising Fourah Bay College Library.
Staff and users will highly appreciate the immense benefits to be derived in digitising Fourah Bay College Library; new skills are learned based on this new technology. As for the staff, tedious job can be delegated to machines and typing errors can be easily remedied. Users have easier and quicker access to information thereby eliminating intermediary with a digitised library system. Some benefits of digitising academic libraries include enhancing increased output more productive tasks in documentation and information processing, information network enhancement and perfect control of records management and retrieval. According to Tedd (2009), academic librarians will acquire better control and manipulation of their work environment through the use of digitised library system. In this regard, Library needs to be suitably and adequately stocked with relevant materials to meet the information needs of the curricula, a digitised system will ensure easy selection and acquisition of materials from publishers and their vendors. The purchase of materials especially books and journals can be done online and less paper is involved in this exercise. And a major benefit of a digitised library system especially the Acquisition Department is the ability to follow up outstanding orders; the identification of publications required to develop the collection; ordering publications from appropriate suppliers; their recording on arrival; the settlement of invoices and detailed keeping of acquisition accounts.
In terms of accuracy and speed, the merits of a digitised cataloguing system far outweigh its manual counterpart. Efficient work space and increased productivity especially in the production of catalogue cards is ensured through a digitised cataloguing system. The digitisation of Fourah Bay College Library enhance its image as a credible source of relevant, timely and current information in satisfactorily meeting the needs of its clientele. In a nutshell, the digitisation of Fourah Bay College Library enhances effective information service delivery thereby attracting high patronage.
Notwithstanding the benefits derived in digitising Fourah Bay College Library, there are challenges equally associated with this new technology. It should be noted with great concern that as a result of financial constraints faced by the College, there has been a drastic cut in the Library budget and this has adversely affected the operations of the Library and its management. Against this back-drop, digitising Fourah Bay College Library will not be an easy undertaking as the system needs to be properly maintained and sustained.
Another challenge to be taken into consideration in digitising Fourah Bay College Library is that most users and staff lack basic training in the use of this new technology and as such, they need to be adequately skilled for the effective operations of this system. And it should therefore be borne in mind that the training of users and staff to become computer literate and proficient involves money which the Library cannot easily afford. This implies that for the programme to succeed, it must be integrated into the working lives of users and staff of the Library. Unquestionably, the Library will need help from system analysts to ensure the functionality of the system. Contracting the services of computer technicians costs money which should be regarded as financial burden on the Library. Besides, the Library will also need to acquire and maintain all necessary equipment for the system to be operational.
A challenging task in managing digitised library systems is that computers are complex, quickly changing, fragile and often incompatible. Besides, electronic records are difficult to preserve because of rapid changes in computer hardware and software. There will always be a new or improved system available that is bigger, better or less expensive than the one just purchased. The time and effort required to convert manual data to machine readable form is also a problem in implementing the system. Frequent power-cuts as well as irregular power supply pose a serious problem in digitising Fourah Bay College Library as it does not have a stand by generator to operate the system.
It should be also taken into account that a real problem during the rainy season is the threat of high intensity lightning strikes. The security of the equipment against damage is also seen as a challenge if users and staff do not acquire adequate skills in handling this technology. Another challenge associated with digitising Fourah Bay College Library is the drastic reduction of its staff thereby creating unemployment which eventually becomes a social problem.
Digitising Fourah Bay College Library is a brilliant idea taking into account the improved services which the system would bring to it. The college administration therefore, should fully support this initiative as users and staff of the library as well as the administration will immensely benefit from it. Accurate and speedy information retrieval so as to get the right information to the right person is realised when the library is digitised. In essence, undertaking such a venture is worth-while notwithstanding the pending challenges that it will bring with it. The college librarian should therefore advocate with justification so that the administration manifests high interest in funding this all-important project. In addition, the college librarian should solicit funds from other organisations, request donor agencies and be actively engaged in fund-raising activities and income-generating programmes for the realisation of this dream.
Birdsall, Margaret O. (2009). Managing electronic information. New York: Prentice Hall.
Chinney, Victor M. (2007). Choosing an automated library system: a planning guide. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Findlay, George R. (2009). Managing periodicals in college libraries. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Suttan, Milton S. (2008). A computerised library: effects and challenges. London: Routledge
Tedd, Lucy A. (2009). An introduction to computer-based library system. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.