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CONSULTANCY SERVICES AMONG ACADEMIC LIBRARIANS IN THREE NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES
Background to the Study
The university as the highest citadel of all forms of learning is a vital institution that facilitates and sustains social, political, economic, cultural, technological, etc progress of every society the world over. This is achieved through advanced teaching, learning and research. Research is targeted at national development as its results are applied to improve individuals, systems and institutions. Universities therefore set the development agenda of any nation. Supporting the above stance, Azikiwe, in University of Nigeria (2004), posited that “Universities have been responsible for shaping destinies of races, nations and individuals. They are mirrors which reflect their particular societal idiosyncrasies”.
The responsibilities of the university to the society are enormous, but how far a university is able to realize this depends to a large extent on her library, and how it is able to harness the resources therefrom. The academic library is the ‘heart’ of the university without which it cannot fulfill her major traditional duties. The laws establishing university institutions in Nigeria are explicit on the function of the library as the provider of bibliographic service to the academic community, i.e. the collection of adequate and relevant materials and their organization, storage, retrieval, evaluation, and dissemination. The academic librarians are the catalysts in this veritable process.
Academic libraries provide support to members of an academic community, including students, researchers and lecturing staff. Omekwu and Ugwuanyi (2009) defines the academic library as “libraries established in Universities, Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Monotechnics. Their collection is tailored towards achievement of the institution goals of teaching, learning and research. They serve the students, lecturers, administrative members of the academic community as well as others”. These functions help the institutions to achieve their primary objectives.
Typically, an academic librarian will manage, organize, evaluate and disseminate information. A key aspect of their work is facilitating and supporting learning by teaching information retrieval skills to students and staff. Elaborating further on the strategic role of the academic librarian, Alsop and Gibson (2010), noted that academic librarians play vital and varied roles in the life of the university; guiding students and faculty staff at the reference desk, instructing library research sessions and developing library collections.
For the purpose of this research, academic librarians shall be conceived of as individuals who have undergone the professional training in library and information science and have obtained a good grade in at least the first degree or its equivalent from a recognized institution and such whose services are engaged either in a university library or in the library schools as educators. These are the category of professionals considered to be duly equipped to provide consultancy service for the consumption of the society.
The wikipedia free dictionary defines consultancy as “the practice of giving expert advice within a particular field”. Library Consultant, according to the Harrods’ librarians glossary (1995) is defined as “an individual offering a range of professional skills and advice relevant to the operations of libraries. Usually these skills will be marketed on a commercial basis by a freelance self-employed person”.
Ekere (2005) revealed that because of the tradition of free public library service, many people on both sides of the information transaction (both librarians and users) have a mindset that information should be free rather than provided for a fee, a position he viewed as strange to the business world, because firms often hire technical and special librarians to handle their information needs thus making substantial investments in information. It is axiomatic that information is power and those that have it dictate the pace. Information is an essential commodity and a tool for wealth creation. The abysmally low rate of information acquisition and conversion among developing countries account for their extreme poverty and impoverishment. It is argued that any commodity, no matter how precious, given for free is hardly conferred with much value.
Like all developing countries, the major problem of Nigeria is intellectual poverty. There is very scanty investment in knowledge resources, whereas the world of today is knowledge-driven. Any society that shows little regard for knowledge must pay dearly for the omission as is the case with the developing world today. Academic librarians, as the corps of intellectual and information gate keepers of the ivory towers must think of enriching not only the universities but the society at large; by packaging relevant information and providing easy access to them at affordable rates. This will not only enrich the society but also bring about a turn-round in the income of the librarians.
Ekere (2005) maintained that “a great impetus for fee-based library services came from the recognition that knowledge is a business and information is a commodity. Information create wealth”. He noted however that many librarians are not happy with the concept of information as a commodity (or knowledge as a business), but that is a fact which would influence the future of all information workers. Quoting Carton (1985) in his view of the difficulties which this new concept causes for librarians, he asserted:
If information is power in this wired world, a concept now popular in the corporate world business must be willing to pay the price. And they are… In short, when dealing with those who recognize and treat information as a commodity and who use it for profit, libraries must be prepared to do the same (p. 2).
Mintz (1984) in Madu (2008) referred to consultancy services as information brokering, which he described as “services rendered by an individual or organization; in the case of libraries or institutions who on demand from information seekers or users try to answer questions using all sources available and who are in business for a profit”. Continuing, he added that information brokering can also be used in a generic term for persons, organizations, libraries and institutions providing information services for a fee. The bottom line of their activities in information provision is the fact that they are in business to make profit, hence they charge fees.
For the purpose of this study, consultancy service is defined as the act of providing information and information services for a fee. As earlier noted, this form of service is a recent development in library work in which the historical philosophy is to provide information services to all who needed it free of charge. Madu (2008) buttressing the workability of information consultancy noted that some librarians and information workers have found it challenging and profitable to leave their library jobs and set up their own information services, offering to gather, evaluate and package information for their clients for a fee.
According to Ford (1998), Information brokers (consultants) provide services similar to those provided in a reference section of the library and more elaborate too. He noted that:
One of the services provided by an information broker is research service which is normally performed with the use of published materials with the traditional form of library skill. With advancement in technology, this can be done online with the use of computers. It could also be done manually as is customary with libraries; the method of arrangement or presentation is very important as that determines the way the user or researcher will look at it (p. 13).
Other services that could be offered by libraries and or academic librarians include: abstracting services, indexing services, bibliography compilation, current awareness service, directory compilation, publishing, translation service, organization of Information, document delivery, database design, literature search, Training, Public relations, printing and binding services, seminars/conferences. (Ekere, 2005), (Madu, 2008).
In the field of library and information science, several consultancy services exist. To mention a few instances, the Digital Library Consultancy (DLC) is made up of experts in the development, customization and support of software for presenting digital libraries on the internet since 1997. Their consultancy services include; digitization and data conversion services, project management and consulting, selection of appropriate digital library software, software customization services, support and maintenance service, etc. Ann M. Seidl is a professional library consultant with specialty in research and Geographic Information System (GIS) in libraries, as well as training, staff development and computer coaching. Some staff of the Department of Library and Information Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka provides consultancy services to the public, particularly indexing and tutorial services.
The demand for consultancy services in library and information field persists. For instance, the Christian Reformed Church advertised her need of a library consultant with academic background to consult with the Nigerian branch of the church, school and library leadership to develop library resources in denominations, Bible schools and Seminaries. A trainer with a good knowledge of the Library of Congress Classification Scheme (LCCS) and familiar with online resources was also needed to help train the librarians of their theological schools. The above demand tilts favourably towards the academic librarians. By virtue of the environment of the academic librarian, their qualifications, proficiency and experiences, they tend to be more sought after for consultancy services. Indeed, academic librarians are the technocrats of the library profession.
A consultancy service in universities in general is not a new phenomenon. In Nigeria, it became popular against the background of declining government subvention amidst increasing student enrolment. University funding in Nigeria is not getting any better and there is no indication of a drastic improvement soon. For instance, while UNESCO recommended a minimum of 26% of a nation’s budget for education, the Nigeria government allotted only 11%, 1.83% and 2.2% of her annual budget in 1999, 2003 and 2009 respectively to education. (Okiy, 1998), (Abah, 2003) and (Bello, Ifedayo, Iyabo, Aliu & Badejo, 2009). Accordingly, many universities have in the past adopted series of cost mitigating and revenue yielding measures, some of which have achieved remarkable successes.
According to Ode (1989), the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), University of Jos (UJ), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) are some of the universities operating functional consultancy services. Continuing he noted that Bookshops and printing presses have been incorporated into limited liability companies by many universities to make them operate commercially. For instance, the University of Jos bookshop established in 1977/78 was incorporated in July 1983, while the printing press at OAU, established in 1978 was incorporated as OAU press limited in 1980. Professor Jubril Aminu, whose tenure as Vice Chancellor the University of Maiduguri commercialized its printing press, farm project and guest houses, gave several reasons in support of these consultancy services by universities. He said independent revenue helps to fund teaching and research and that it transforms university teachers from mere thinkers and professors in their disciplines into people who form an integral part of the active economic sector. As if these are not enough, Bobby (2006) reported that a former don, Dr. Odia, admitting the ivory tower’s cash crunch contended that academic departments and faculties like Civil Engineering and Agriculture can form themselves into consultant groups and go out and seek for fund to run the departments. “Everywhere in the world this is the norm, but everybody sits down here and expects government to continue to put money in education. Why can’t professors with over 20 years of entrepreneurial skill go out and attract funding?” he quizzed. Revenue generated through consultancy services by university libraries and other academic departments can indeed go a long way to supplement university finances to enable her meet her objectives.
Consultancy services are not only carried out for the purpose of generating revenue for the university as an institution. Many staff are also involved at personal levels to improve their income. This is popularly referred to as Private Practice (PP). Thus many lawyers, Engineers, Medical and Veterinary doctors, Economists and other professionals are involved. As earlier noted, this became popular due to low remuneration amidst high inflation.
The reason for consultancy services among universities and academic librarians is not far-fetched; their rich depository of information, knowledge and skills must naturally diffuse to the relatively less-concentrated society to which they respond and are responsive. Unfortunately, academic librarians appear to be generally indifferent to the need for consultancy services. Even the few that appear to engage in it are rather casual about it, thus showing a lackluster performance.
Statement of the problem
Information is the bedrock of any sustainable development. The management of a nation’s developmental information rests more with the academic librarians, particularly in the universities than any other group. This is by virtue of their training and practice in meeting the onerous information challenges of a complex community like the university. Though the academic librarians in Nigerian universities may have to a large extent met the aspirations of their primary constituency, the larger society is in dire need of their reservoir of knowledge to enhance its transformation. Unarguably, the larger society has not benefited substantially and directly from the services of the academic librarian. This they can dispense through consultancy services. Regrettably, the field of library and information hardly comes to mind when the subject of consultancy service is mentioned. This is because it appears to have been left for the field of management only. A lot of academic librarians despite their potentials seem to be indifferent to consultancy services with far-reaching implications on the society. When information services are tailored to address development challenges of the public and private sector, they cannot but be sought after. This was vividly amplified in Omekwu (2007), when he asserts that “development concerns of third world countries must feature prominently in the service agenda of their librarians. This is because information-rich countries have invariably become economic-rich nations…. They should be proactive information providers to public sector development needs”. It is worthy to add that a nation’s wealth of information does not exist in a vacuum but in informed citizens like the academic librarian. From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that a bleak economic future awaits the nation and the academic librarians except a culture of consultancy services is imbibed to package and deliver cutting-edge information to address development needs of the nation and to enhance the income of the librarians. Academic librarians must therefore situate themselves in the knowledge economy and draw upon the vast opportunities created by the Information and Communication Technology to carry out this task.
Purpose of the study
The main purpose of this study is to determine the consultancy services rendered by academic librarians in the three Nigerian Universities. Specifically, it is geared to:
- determine the extent to which academic librarians in the three universities provide consultancy services.
- identify facilities/ resources for consultancy services by academic librarians in the Universities.
- identify the patrons served by the academic librarians through consultancy services.
- determine the benefit of consultancy services to academic librarians.
- identify the constraints to effective consultancy services among academic librarians in the Universities .
- proffer strategies for enhancing consultancy services among academic librarians.
The following research questions shall guide the study:
- To what extent do academic librarians in the three Nigerian Universities provide consultancy services?
- What facilities/resources are available to academic librarians for consultancy services?
- What categories of the society patronize academic librarians in their consultancy services?
- What benefit accrue to the academic librarians in their consultancy services?
- What are the constraints to effective consultancy services among academic librarians in the Universities?
- What strategies should be adopted for enhanced consultancy services among academic librarians?
Significance of the Study
It is expected that this study would be useful in the following ways:
Making academic librarians in Nigerian universities awake to their responsibilities concerning information delivery to the wider society through consultancy services. This is achievable when viewed from the perspective that the study will expose the lacuna created due to the indifference of academic librarians to the subject being studied. Equipped with this, academic librarians will realize where they need to readjust and where to improve upon, especially getting re-skilled and acquiring the professional competencies required. Furthermore, they shall learn to situate themselves to become and remain relevant in the knowledge economy so as to provide cutting-edge information services and using modern technologies available for such.
Academic librarians are a product and an integral part of the university community. The implementation of the recommendations that have been made in this study is expected to re-invigorate the academic librarians in information service delivery to the public through consultancy services vis-à-vis information service to the university community. A financial support for instance that may accrue to the library and the Department of Library and Information Science from the parent organization in response to recommendations that have been made herein could be used to provide resources that would facilitate consultancy services among academic librarians.
Individuals as well as the private and the public sectors would better appreciate the cardinal role of academic librarians in enhancing their services and programmes through the provision of relevant information for their utilization. This is realizable when academic librarians motivated by findings in this work had arisen to their responsibilities and avail themselves for patronage via effective advertisement and marketing.
Making policy formulating bodies like the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Senate of universities realize the need to reposition their libraries and Departments of Library and Information Science to face up to the challenges of providing consultancy services to the larger society. This is by drawing up policies, following the result and consequent recommendations in this study.
Contributing to national development. This is because the federal government will have empirical bases to accommodate some of the recommendations that have been made in this study into the National Information Policy. This is also against the background that consultancy services are sought by individuals and institutions to create positive changes in desired areas. These gains range from knowledge acquisition to enhanced service delivery, economic profitability and so on, depending on the nature and needs of the clientele. Individual and sectoral development gained through consultancy services translates ultimately to national development.
Helping to fill the gap in the literature of consultancy services in the country, as it would open more avenues for research into the subject of consultancy services, particularly in the field of library and information science. The study has made recommendations for further research, which are expected to increase the horizon of literature on consultancy services in Nigeria. This is an area where researchers and writers have sparingly explored.
Scope of the study
The study covered three universities: University of Abuja (Uni-Abj) Abuja, Benue state University (BSU) Makurdi, and University of Nigeria (UNN) Nsukka. The choice of the University of Abuja was informed by its location as the Federal Capital Territory, a fastest growing capital city in Africa with a federal university. BSU was chosen as a state owned university while UNN was chosen as a first generation of federal university in a different geo-political zone contiguous to Makurdi, Benue state.
The population for this research consists of academic librarians in the libraries of the aforementioned universities as well as in their library schools.
The study is specifically limited to consultancy service as practiced by individual academic librarians in the three universities selected. The services include:
Abstracting service; Indexing service; Internet