BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Polytechnic education was formally established in Nigeria with the promulgation of Decree 33 of 1979. The main purpose of the polytechnic education is to produce middle level technological manpower for the nation economy. Polytechnic education is therefore part of the technical education programme, which aims at providing practical and applied skills as well as basic scientific knowledge to their products. This system of education according to Attama (2007) was a shift from the traditional university type of education, which is more or less purely theoretical. He said the specific aims and objectives for the establishment of polytechnics include:
[a] The production of high level and middle manpower as appropriate in areas necessary for agricultural, industrial, commercial and economic development of the country.
[b] The identification and solution of the technological problems and the needs of the industry.
[c] The production of technicians and technologists for direct employment in industries.
Polytechnic education was therefore introduced based on the realization that the desire for a better condition of living of the people and the overall development is very much dependent on the level of acquisition of skills and basic scientific knowledge. Onuh (1997) cited in Attama (2007) observed that the nation’s progress and prosperity will be determined not by wishful thinking or pious hopes but by the people’s ability to understand and take optimum advantages of the potentialities for continued advances resulting from a dynamic and progressive technology. Attama  reiterated this when he said that the possession of this ability and understanding requires sound operations of economy as well as theoretical and practical knowledge of technology.
Amongst the first five Federal Polytechnics established in Nigeria by the Federal Government, two were located in the North Central states of Nigeria. These are Federal Polytechnic, Idah located in the ancient town of the then Benue State, but now Kogi State and the Federal Polytechnic, Bida in Niger State. Realizing the objectives and goals for which these institutions were established, some state governments follow the foot steps of the Federal Government to establish State Polytechnics to produce high level and middle manpower for her industries. These states within the North Central States are Plateau State with Plateau State Polytechnic, Barikin Ladi, Kogi State Polytechnic, Lokoja, Kogi State, Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, Benue State and Nasarawa State Polytechnic, Lafia, Nasarawa State. Federal Government later established more Federal Polytechnics in the country, one of which is Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa , Nasarawa State.
The aims and objectives of the polytechnic education are achieved through teaching, research and the dissemination of existing and new information, the accomplishment of which can only be achieved through a functional library. Polytechnic libraries play vital role in the attainment of these objectives. Libraries should therefore be seen as integral part of polytechnic education. Re-affirming the importance of libraries in an education system, Aguolu (1989) stated thus:
We cannot expect an excellent academic programme in any educational institution without the support of well – equipped libraries. Libraries in schools, colleges of education, Polytechnics and universities are not adjunct to their institution but an integral part of them. They are the hub from which all intellectual activities should radiate to all academic and research programmes.
Polytechnic libraries are therefore an important organ in polytechnic education. The academic health, intellectual vitality and the effectiveness in the provision of these technological skills and basic scientific knowledge depends largely upon the state of the library. Fabunmi (2004) described library as the engine room and power house where information are collected, processed, stored and retrieved for use by users.
The basic need for the establishment of libraries in the polytechnics like any other academic libraries is to partner with the institution in attaining the objectives for which they were set to achieve. According to Ajibero (1992) the place of libraries in Polytechnics are very high because they provide information not only for education but for scientific and technical progress as a whole through the use of information both inside and outside the Polytechnic. He concluded that the Polytechnic is as good as its library. This comment implies that any Polytechnic without a functional library is as good as saying it is not a Polytechnic. The library objectives therefore must be in congruence with the polytechnic objectives. These objectives are fulfilled by the library through the provision of adequate and quality information service to the users.
The responsibility for the acquisition of relevant information sources, storage, processing and provision of effective services rest with the librarians and in some cases on the library officers. The librarians are those who must have obtained at least a first degree in Library and Information Science and accepted by the Librarians Registration Council through Decree 12 of 1995 and by law, entitled to practice for all purposes as a librarian in the country. The library officers who at times carry out these functions are those who must have obtained a Diploma or Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) in Library and Information Science from any library school.
All services provided in the libraries are user centred. Udoka (2000) also stressed that entire human and material resources in the library are put in place for the purpose of providing effective services to the users. Quality library services are services that are capable of providing the right information to users within a short period of time. Fabunmi (2004) explains quality services as information services to users that are timely in delivery, meet users needs, easy to understand and use.
Libraries are now being supplemented and transformed with the introduction of Information Communication and Technology (ICT). The introduction of Information, Communication and Technology has brought about the globalization of information Globalization of information is characterized by the breaking down of artificial barriers to the free flow of information, knowledge, services and people across national boundaries. This development has brought about a shift from traditional libraries with site – specific collections to virtual or digital libraries where information and knowledge have no geographical boundaries. According to Omekwu (2008) globalization has brought a situation where information sources are no longer localized or limited by time and space but dynamic, digital and seamless. The implication of this development he argued are:
- Libraries are now situated in cyberspace.
- Library services are no longer constrained by time of opening and closing hours.
- Library users can access services in libraries beyond their own, beyond their country and continent.
- The virtuality of information resources means that millions of users can access resources at the same time.
Today, the philosophy of ownership of information has therefore been challenged by a new philosophy of access to information thus, changing the ways librarians provide information to their users.
Users needs have also changed in line with the modern demands. Various services are now been requested and offered to patrons without necessary seeing them. This has created a faceless type of readers. Virtual reference are also been used to support distance education in institution. Users can also ask various current information on a particular subject within a limited space of time. These developments invariably mean more challenges on the part of the librarians as custodian and mediators who have the responsibility for the acquisition of relevant information resources, storage, processing and making them available to the users in the best way to achieve the aim and objectives. Providing these services in this era of change is dependent on the librarians’ level of competencies.
Competencies according to Omekwu (2003) relate to the librarian’s knowledge of information sources, access, technology, management and the ability to use this knowledge as a basis for providing the highest-level quality information services to their users. He stated further that competenticies relates to skills, attitudes and values that enable a practitioner to work efficiently, be a good communicator, focus on continuing education or learning throughout their careers, demonstrate the value added nature of the contributions and remain flexible and positive in an ever-changing environment. Murphy (1999), Corbin (1993) and Mohmood (2003) explained competencies in terms of skill oriented behaviours and observable actions measured against qualitative standards. Competency according to them is judged on whether or not learned, mental and physical tasks can be performed. Acquisition of competencies according to Onwubiko (2007) is important because, they help the library profession to adapt and survive in a rapidly changing academic environment. It is therefore imperative to have a list of competencies in Polytechnic libraries that will help in the survival and promotion of the academic libraries and librarians. The librarian’s competencies therefore determine the quality of service provided to readers thus, it is a gateway to providing quality library services.
STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Traditionally, Polytechnic libraries were established to provide library services of collecting, managing and making available information and resources to their parent institution in order to achieve the objectives and goals for which the Polytechnics were established. These functions have not changed but the methods of carrying out these have changed due to current transition from the traditional library to digital library. This transition resulting from the globalization of information due to the application of Information Technology (IT) in libraries created a new library environment – integrated print and electronic sources. There is also seamless access to information created by this change.
The application of Information Technology (IT) resulting in globalization of information had also led to the springing up of internet services within Polytechnic campuses where most of the library users patronize to access their information need instead of the Polytechnic libraries. These developments invariably means more challenges on the part of the librarians which obviously demand the high level of competencies for effective library and information services. There is therefore the need for librarians of the Polytechnics to update their skills so that they can better render services to their users and foreclose the possibilities of internet services operators taking over their jobs. The following questions however emerge:
Do the Polytechnic librarians in the North Central states of Nigeria possess the desired competencies to meet up with these challenges of provision of library services? Are the skills possessed properly applied to the challenges of information and library services provision in this digital age? Are there likely problems impeding the acquisition of the desired competencies by the librarians of the Polytechnics?
These questions definitely demand urgent investigation. If this is not done, there is the danger that Polytechnic Librarians may not cope with the demands of current library services. This will equally affect the provision and use of information in the Polytechnics and may indeed scuttle Polytechnic education. This should not be allowed to happen as it is capable of dampening the nations’ resolve to achieve high level of technical development in the earliest possible future. This is why this study is timely to inquire into the competencies possessed by librarians in Polytechnic libraries that will enhance the provision of good library services.
OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
This study is aimed at the following objectives:
- To identify the desirable competencies possessed by the librarians for quality library services.
- To identify the essential competencies needed by librarians in Polytechnic libraries in the 21st
- To find out the methods of acquiring the essential competencies by these librarians.
- To identify the constraints associated with the acquisition of these needed competencies by the librarians.
- To identify the strategies to be employed in meeting the challenges for the acquisition of needed competencies by the librarians.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY.
This study, which examines the competencies required of the librarians of the polytechnic libraries, will hopefully be of great benefit to the polytechnic library managers, librarians working in polytechnic libraries sectors and their patrons in the following ways:
It will enable the management of National Board for Technical Education appreciate the need for the provision of necessary Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities to various polytechnic and organize constant training for Librarians to be in tune with the changing face of librarianship.
It will help the library management to identify existing gaps in their librarians’ competencies and organizing training to fill such gaps. It will also help library management to develop relevant training programmes generally for staff that will make them more skillful in the provision of quality services to their users.
It will assist library managers in the various polytechnics of this zone in the recruitment of new staff based on the identified gaps in requisite competencies in clarifying common goals for all employees.
It will enable aspiring librarians to become familiar with the core competencies needed in their respective libraries and this will help them make effort for the acquisition of these competencies by sponsoring themselves for training even when the institution refuses to do so.
The library patrons will develop more confidence in academic Librarians capability to cope with the challenges of the 21st Century information services provision and become attracted to make better use of library services with the hope that they will receive better guidance from the librarians.
SCOPE AND LIMITATION
This research study covers the librarians and library officers in the Polytechnic libraries of the North Central States of Nigeria. The Polytechnic libraries where data will be collected from the librarians include: Federal Polytechnic, Idah Library, Federal Polytechnic Library, Bida, Federal Polytechnic Nasarawa Library, Lafia Kogi State Polytechnic Library, Lokoja, and Benue State Polytechnic Library, Ugbokolo. The research focuses on the competencies needed by 21st century Polytechnic librarians that will help to enhance the quality of library services.
This study sets to answer the following questions.
- What are the essential competencies needed by librarians in the Polytechnic libraries.
- Which of these competencies do these librarians possess?
- By what means can these librarians acquire these needed competencies?
- What constraints are associated with the acquisition of these needed competencies?
- What strategies can be employed to meet these constraints of acquiring the needed competencies?