Application of Information and Communication Technologies in Library and Information services to distance learning students at the University of Zambia
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Although the University of Zambia (UNZA) in its 2013-2017 strategic plan intends to meet increased demand for university education through expanded provision of Open Distance Learning as an option for mass teaching, there is no mention of an equitable increase in library and information resources and services. Several studies and Standards for distance learning library services have stressed the need for equitable access to library services for both on-campus and off-campus (distance) learners. Sadly, there has been a steady decline in library and information service provision to the distance learner. This study therefore sought to explore ways in which Information and Communication Technology (ICT) could be applied to enhance library and information service delivery to distant learners (DLs). It further sought to propose an ICT framework on library and information services support to distance learners at the University of Zambia. A survey methodology was used to collect data on distance learners’ competencies to access information using ICTs, policy on distance learning library services and the extent to which ICTs were being used in both access to and provision of distance learning library services. Questionnaires were used to collect data from 100 distance learners while interviews were used to collect data from 5 librarians and a member of staff from Learner Support, Institute of Distance Education (IDE). The total number of respondents was therefore 106. All the respondents were purposely selected. Quantitative data was analysed using statistical analysis software, SPSS while qualitative data was analysed thematically. The study has revealed that distance learners do possess ICT skills required to access ICT enabled resources and services (as revealed by 77%) but the major drawback was that these resources and services were not accessible remotely. It has further been established that in as much as distance learners had abilities to use ICTs like computers, most learners expressed lack of online search skills (73%) as well as problems in using UNZA e-resources. Thus learners may require user education in terms of information literacy, ICT literacy and general library use. Furthermore, a policy, which is a pre-requisite to successful distance learning library support, did not exist at UNZA. Additionally, the extent of ICT use in library support to the DL was low to almost non-existent. As learners seemingly possessed requisite ICT skill and as skill can in any case be developed through training, skill would not be a major drawback in model application. In order to effectively meet the information needs of the distance learner, the study therefore recommended that: the UNZA library adopt the proposed model of ICT library resources and services to the distance learner; employ extensive use of ICT in library support; establish/strengthen co-operative linkages with other universities; and that the Library and Information Association of Zambia establishes ‘Best Practices’ that should act as a benchmark for library support to the distance learner and as such institutions should be able to evaluate their services against this minimum standard.
The University of Zambia
- Library