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This project examine Reference and Information Services in State Teaching Hospital medical libraries in the South East Nigeria with a view to finding out the extent of services provided to users, problems that hinder effective reference and information services. It also proposes strategies that would help to improve these services in the libraries. To achieve the objectives, six (6) research questions were drawn to guide the study. The design of the study is descriptive survey. A total of one hundred and eighty six (186) respondents were randomly selected for the study. A 96 items questionnaire, oral interview and an observation checklist were the instruments used to collect data which were presented in tables and analyzed using frequencies, percentages and the mean. Findings reveal availability of reference and information services, dissatisfaction with reference collections and services provided in these libraries, also the study further reveal that  poor infrastructure, outdated materials, online catalogue and ICT facilities were not available for reference and information services. To redress the situation, the researcher makes recommendations improvement in funding as well as provision and application of ICT facilities in reference services.



Background of the Study                                     

Medical libraries can play a critical role in medical education and provide a balanced perspective on medical issues. In addition, a variety of services have been developed to improve information delivery. Information providers are convinced that medical libraries are useful; however, this is not enough. (Adio, Akewukere and Ibitoye 2007) Medical library also known as health library is designed to assist physicians, health professionals, students, patients, consumers and medical researchers in finding health and scientific information to improve, update, assess or evaluate health care. Medical libraries are typically found in hospitals, medical schools, private industry and in medical or health associations. To become accredited, every Nigerian college of medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine or public health is required to have a health or medical library appropriate to the needs of the school, as specified by an accrediting body, such as Nigerian Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria's standards. These accreditation standards include having qualified library staff on hand to answer reference questions, and provide training in using electronic resources. Some academic medical libraries are located in the same building as the general undergraduate library but most are located near or in the medical college or faculty. (Wikipedia 2010)

Federal and State University Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria were established to provide the best possible health care delivery to Nigerians in general and to those in its catchments areas in particular. Ogunbode (2005) indicates that the philosophy is simple: "to produce health professionals who are responsive to the needs of the community they serve." The objectives of the medical library are inevitably tied to the objectives of its parent institution. Roach and Addington as quoted by Garfield (1985) make it clear that, "Medical libraries are established to provide services and information resources to support and advance the mission to patient care, research and bio-medical education for health institutions." The library's position within an organization is therefore strategic and pivotal. It is key to the success and indeed to the very existence of an enterprise. Abels, Gogdil, and Zach (2002) state that in their research, "it is no over statement to say that whatever may be the future, the services of information provision will continue to be an essential instrument of human welfare." Likewise, Margetson (2002) recognizes the importance of dynamic access to information. In the Nigerian health sector, there is an urgent improve library resources and managerial effectiveness. Medical libraries are established to meet health information needs.  (Adio, Akewukere and Ibitoye 2007). These cover a broad area of life.

De Gennaro (1984) predicted correctly that, "there is the need to evaluate medical libraries, because in no distant time, the excellence and usefulness of a library will be measured not only by the state and quality of its collections, but also by the range of resources that its staff are able to deliver to users by conventional and electronic means from a growing variety of services. Users will no longer ask what the library has, but what it can provide."

Medical library roles are enumerated by Walzer, Stott, and Sutton cited in Adio, Akewukere and Ibitoye (2007) as follows:

1)  Provision of current information to users in a quick and cost effective manner

2)  Provision of balanced perspective on medical issues

3)  Provision of alternatives to formal learning in form of material support for

      continuing medical education

4)  Provision of value services, which improves information delivery

5)  Dissemination of health information and promotion of healthy lifestyles

6)  Satisfying the health information needs of the community

7)  Locating and assisting in the development of relevant information or materials

8)  Pairing information outreach with other activities in which the populations already

     engaged e.g. workshops, conferences, community events etc and

9)  Integrating health information into ongoing programmes of the target population in            

     the community, thereby empowering members of the health community

      Reference and information service exist in libraries because the many means of access to information in library collections are complex and are not intuitively self evident to users. To mediate between all library users, information needs and the information resources of the library,  libraries offer reference and information services.  The dual concept of reference and information service is a relatively new one.  Although information service-meaning the provision of specific facts and information to library users, has always been implicit in reference service, libraries initially offered reference service for didactic reasons as a fact of their broad educational role.  The purpose of reference service is to help a library clientele to use its collections and external resources effectively to meet their information needs. The distinguishing features of reference service include a staff designated to provide the service, a collection of reference works accessible to the public in an area the set aside for the provision of the service, adequate guides to the library’s resources such as a classification scheme, a catalogue, and indexes and a high degree of interaction between the staff and clientele (Retting, 1993).

According to Clark cited in Ruteyan and Akporhonor (2007) direct reference service is personal assistance to individual seekers of information.  Indirect reference service consist of behind – the scene activities including selection, acquisition, processing and administration of reference section. Also Ugwuanyi cited in Ruteyan and Akporhonor (2007) defines reference services as “the personal assistance given to the user in finding specific information” whether direct or indirect. Bunge and Bopp (2001) categorized reference service into three broad groups which are as follows:

1)                 Information service that involve either finding the required information on behalf of the users or assisting users in finding information.

2)                 Instruction in the use of library resources and services.

3)                 User guidance in which users are guided in selecting the most appropriate information sources and services.

Reference services are accorded great importance in libraries. They entail assisting library users to find the required library resources. Reference service is referred to as one of the most professional aspects of the librarian’s responsibilities, which every prospective librarian must properly grasp (Chowdbury, 2001).

In this study reference service is defined as the ability of reference librarian to strive within and outside available resources to provide answers to reference questions or queries. Reference and information services offered in the libraries include selective dissemination of information (SDI), users’ instruction services, photocopying services, Indexing and Abstracting services. The resources of these reference and information services include Encyclopedia, Bibliographies, online services, Biographic, Almanacs, Maps, Dictionaries and Manual. However the method of rendering these services in medical libraries are answering ready made questions, Email, Telephone, Internet, Inter library loan, verification, selective dissemination of information (SDI), Database services and library instruction programme.

Information has been a strategic resource that is very critical to all levels, sectors and endeavors of the society including every type of development. It has played a leading role in the development and modernization of human society. Information is defined as embodying interrelated or structured data which are required to enable one to act knowledgably as well as take appropriate decision in any given setting. (Aguolu 1989).  Akonobi (1990) defined information as man’s related knowledge in all resources which will help users to make rational decisions. It is a data of value in planning and execution of programs.

Information service according to working paper on community information of library association (1980) defines it as services which are designed to assist individuals and groups with their daily problems, through the provision of information or by putting them in touch with a helping agency.  These services concentrate on the needs of the lower social groups because they lack access to other sources of assistance. Also Adeyemi (1991) defines information service as products of information systems.  He further stresses that those information systems is a set of resources-men, materials and procedures designed to attain information goals within a particular social economic environment which produce and utilize the systems as a tool for development.

Debowski (2003) opined that information services are aimed at achieving six key outcomes.

1)                 Ensuring that information provided is high quality accurate and appropriate.

2)                 Assisting the user in interpreting the materials if necessary.

3)                 Delivering those information sources to the user in a timely and appropriate fashion.

4)                 Promoting user awareness of new services and information sources as they develop.

5)                 Ensuring the needs of users and the accessible information sources are suitably matched at all times.

6)                 Providing users with individualized guidance and support as they build their information search and application skills.

Assessment has always been a critical component of managing reference and information services, According to Kizlik (2011) Assessment is a process by which information is obtained relative to some known objective or goal. Assessment is a broad term that includes testing. Assessment of service in any organization is done in order to find out whether or not they are meeting the desired goals and to what extent.  The term assessment is used interchangeably with evaluation. Kizlik asserts that evaluation concern determination of the level of quality while assessment concern how the level of quality performance could be improved in the future. The quality of the reference interaction, from either the user’s or the librarian’s perspective may be assessed to help determine how effective the reference service is. Cassell and Hiremath cited in Fabunmi (2011) pointed that assessing reference staff is one way to help determine how effective service is and is one way to help assure quality reference service.  If there is no knowledge of the existing strengths and deficiencies of service, the services cannot be improved, nor can any worthwhile communication about the service take place with interested stakeholders.

Jacoby & O’Brien (2005) in their contribution state that to perform an effective evaluation and assessment of a reference department, one have to choose what reference department will be focused on during assessment activities. Usually emphasis will be placed on the three segments of the department.

1)                 Reference collection: The collection includes print materials but subscription databases must constantly be evaluated for usage, efficiency and relevancy

2)                 Reference staff: The assessment of staff has to be done with as much objectivity and honesty as possible, the goals and standards need to be clear to all staff and the focus should be on helping staff improve their skills, the goal is not to make librarians fear for their jobs or begin ranking themselves.

3)                 Reference service: As patrons are constantly finding and expecting new ways of accessing information, reference, librarians need to constantly evaluate the different ways in which they deliver their service – desk, roving, virtual, and “embedded”.

Akin Oluwakuyide (1972), reviewed Nigerian Medical Library Service, the first medical library in Nigeria, Yaba central medical library was founded in 1945 as section of the ministry of health. The existing medical libraries of note are attached to the medical college of teaching hospitals. The sprang up out of the inevitable need to support teaching and research in the medical colleges. The demand for more doctors and paramedical staff has necessitated establishment of medical colleges at the Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, University of Ife and University of Nigeria as well as in the South East states. Because of the late development and paucity of medical libraries, the art of medical librarianship lacks a well established tradition. Service therefore is not usually based on expertise but rather on the ability of individuals to apply imagination and initiative in learning on the job.

In South East States of Nigeria, the state teaching hospital medical libraries of Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo were created to support their parent institutions medical college by meeting up with the needs of the institutions, faculty, staff, students and health professionals and general public seeking information on about specific diseases, diagnoses or treatment which affect either their health or in case of clients at medical libraries.  Medical libraries maintain print and electronic information sources for the purposes of delivering reference and information services as well as answering clinical questions. From the above, the place of reference and information services in medical libraries cannot be overemphasized. It is against this background that the researcher is examining the reference and information services in these libraries, with a view to recommend solutions for improvement.

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