Service Provision in Covid -19 Era Problems and Prospect: Formerly, the methods of information provision by libraries had been traditional, this entails the acquisition, organization, and dissemination of information resources to its clientele. Information resources were organized and kept in different sections of the library building with an emphasis on hard copy.
Reference services were majorly carried out traditionally (face-to-face meetings and physical interaction with the reference librarian. However, thus traditional methods employed by librarians in carrying out reference services are gradually collapsing due to the covid-19 pandemic.
In order to still effectively carry out reference services, libraries have seen the need to adopt digital reference services.
CONCEPT OF REFERENCE SERVICE
According to the dictionary for library and information science”, reference service can be defined as all the functions performed by a trained librarian employed in the reference section of a library, to meet the information need of users.
This service may include, answering users’ queries, instructing users, in the selection and use of appropriate tools and techniques, directing users assisting in the evaluation of information, etc.
The development of reference service is basically based on Raganathan’s five laws of Library Science, it provided a scientific approach, to Library Science. It argues books are meant to be used, and every book belongs to the user, therefore a user’s time must be saved. Reference service provides quick and precise information which helps to save the user’s time. S.R. Ragathan defines it as” the process of establishing contact between a reader and its document in a personal way.
Importance of reference services
- It saves time.
- Co-operation between readers steps
- Encourages the optimum use of the library collection etc.
The reference service, therefore, performs the following functions as stated by Ala (American library association); the supervision function, the information function, the guidance function, the instruction function, and appraisal function.
Covid 19 Era
On February 27, 2020, Nigeria confirms and recorded her first case of covid-19. The index case was an Italian who had just returned to Nigeria from his home country. From the initial cases of imported transmission, Nigeria has recorded community transmission cases. This has resulted in thousands of confirmed cases of could-19 in the country. In a bid to curtail the spread of the virus, the initial response of the Nigerian government was the closure of all schools, and several other private and public institutions including libraries like academic libraries, etc, beginning from March 2020. To this effect, libraries had to seek alternative measures in providing reference services in order to satisfy users’ needs.
Reference services provision in the covid-19 Era; Problems and prospect
Reference services is meant to assist users in findings, selecting, and using various information sources and materials. This service relies on a variety of printed sources to provide relevant and accurate information to its users.
However, due to the outbreak of covid-19 which has resulted in reduced physical contact between reference librarians and their users, the internet is becoming more and more popular among reference librarians and users.
It enables users to search retrieve and download information from sources scattered all over the world on the web, it also provides users, with a convenient means of accessing information and accommodates busy schedules. The traditional world of reference services has not been greatly impacted by this global trend.
For the purpose of this article, considerations will be laid digital reference service.
The terms digital reference, virtual reference, e-reference, internet reference live reference, and real-time reference is used interchangeably to describe the reference services that utilize computer technology in some way.
DRS is simply defined as the provision of real-time personal assistance to users via web-based interactive software in order to satisfy them. The information the users, the reference librarian can chat as a component of the software to answer a specific or simple question or deliver digital materials, or suggest relevant web resources to the user and provide bibliographic instructions. This service may happen when the library is closed when the user is unable to get to the library thus, users can still be in contact with experienced reference librarians, questions can be submitted via email and linked web pages require attention from reference staff.
Social Inclusion: digital reference extends library service to users with physical challenges, not only can these users access information but can receive real-time guidance from reference librarians Thus facilitating human interaction which is important in reference transactions (Covid-19 era)
A digital reference transfer will usually include the following, elements; the user, the interface, electronic resources as well as print resources, and information professionals.
While planning a digital reference, the following should be considered.
- Physical service location
- Virtual service location
- Training in advanced web skills, reference management, and coordination of the service
- Completion time for the transaction
- Quality control
- Service Population
- Data collection for evaluation
- Promotion of the service
- hardware and software
- Additional equipment
Research has categorized digital reference into three broad groups
- Reference services from publishers, databases, and specialized institution
- Reference service provided by librarians or experts through the internet
- Reference services where users need to conduct a search and find information on the web.
- Some examples of digital reference services include Internet library for Librarians, electric library, Britannica, info please, internet public library, RF desk, etc.
The staff necessary for reference services include:
- Researchers gather information to answer questions
- A co-ordinator to assign questions, monitor answers, and support schedules
- It supports running networks, maintaining web pages and scripts
- Data entry staff to input and send responses.
Problems outlined challenges
- Inadequate findings: Any endeavor that involves the deployment of ICT is capital intensive and references are not exempted from this cost. Daniel (2013) observed that lack of funds is a major reason for the underdevelopment of libraries in Nigeria. Most libraries get their funding mainly from the 10% recurrent budgetary allocation of their parent institution as stipulated by the government. This is barely enough to covet recurrent expenditure. Most libraries especially academic libraries, spend a greater proportion of their income on book acquisition, subscriptions to online databases, and journal and newspaper acquisitions, with nothing left to cater to other projects.
- Poor technological infrastructure: Most library professionals are aware of the benefits of ICT and it is evident that they are positively disposed to introducing ICT to their traditional service. Thus awareness has prompted libraries to propose several ICT projects, however, technological infrastructural challenges seem to be a major barrier to the execution of such projects. It has been observed by Davies et al. (2019) that technological infrastructure that could facilitate projects in Nigeria and other developing countries, has not received the required attention from relevant authorities. Cross’s inadequacy of technological infrastructure has stalled the deployment of initiatives that could have better projected the service of librarians leading to quality service delivery.
Lack of skilled personnel: Traditional method of administering library services has experienced tremendous changes as a result of ICT. libraries now operate beyond the wall of their building tilling more towards the virtual environment. No matter the level of sophistication of infrastructure deployment in the library, librarians must possess relevant ICT skills to be able to maximize their use in meeting the dynamic information need of users. Research has however shown that a good number of librarians in Nigeria are low in ICT skills reassured to provide efficient reference services.
Epileptic power supply: Power supply is one of the major requirements for running digital reference services, however, Nigeria is faced with the issue of inadequate power which has posed great challenges to the actualization of the digital reference service.
Network: The issue of a slow or poor network can also be counted among the list of challenges. In a situation where the network is consistently faculty, it could slow down the reference service which is providing quick information to users. It could sometimes lead to impatience on the part of the receiver (the user)
- The traditional reference service does not require much cost, rather, it requires energy and time from the librarian, meanwhile, the digital reference service requires revenue to run its services. Money is required to buy data and maintain infrastructure. The library should device means in generating revenue, perhaps by charging its clientele in order to keep the service active.
- They should provision modern technologists to meet the need for these services.
- A reference librarian should be educated on basic ICT skills in order to run the services.
- To ensure the smooth running of this service, the library should devise alternative means of providing information due to the fluctuation of electricity in Nigeria; like a generator or solar.
- The infrastructure made available should be carefully maintained to avoid damage.
The outbreak of covid-19 pandemic has redefined the narrative, especially in the area of information delivery across the globe.
Traditional reference services suffered a great risk as most institutions were shut down in order to prevent users from contracting the virus. The need for reference Liberians to be more dynamic in rendering reference service is important as the reference librarians now have an additional set of remote users who access the reference service online, who are more demanding, less patient, and also have greater expectations. This is to ensure their relevance which is satisfying the user’s need.