Library without Walls for Distance Learners of South Asian Region: A Dream Far-fetched
Neela Jagannathan, CEMCA, New Delhi, India
Impressed by success of Russian distance education (DE) system, Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of United Kingdom recommended starting of DE in UK. Open University of United Kingdom (UKOU) was established at Milton Keynes in 1969. Since then there is a tremendous growth in distance teaching institutions; growth in print and e-learning programs; increase in number of conferences, seminars, training workshops; and growth in literature on DE. These developments have contributed immensely towards the maturing of a strong and sustainable parallel system of education.
OPEN AND DISTANCE EDUCATION IN SOUTH ASIAN REGION
South Asian Region (SAR) comprises seven countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India,
Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). Administrators and policy makers in
these countries have realized the potential of open and distance education (ODE)
as an easy and effective option, which can fulfill national educational goals
and learning needs of their populations. Inspired by success of UKOU, SAR countries
have adopted ODE model across sixteen open universities (OU) – one each
in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and 13 in India.
Andhra Pradesh Open University (APOU), established in 1982 at Hyderabad and renamed as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Open University (BRAOU), was the first State OU in India. At national level, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) was established in 1985. Since then, 11 OUs have been established.
IGNOU has national as well as international jurisdiction, but other OU only have jurisdiction in their respective states. India also has National Institute of Open Schooling for school education at a distance.
Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal do not have open universities but run DE program in certain fields according to their requirements. In Bhutan, the first and only DE program for in-service primary teachers is conducted by National Institute of Education (NIE), Samtse since 1995. It has now adopted information and communication technologies (ICT), and this has already helped upgrade NIE’s internal networking; created a website to allow students access information online; installed new software; provided supplementary learning materials, tutorials, and academic counseling.
In Maldives, Atoll Education Centers conducts English Language
Course for adults through DE. Students’ queries are clarified through
teleconferencing. Realizing the potential of DE, Centre for Open Learning was
established at Maldives College of Higher Education in 1999.
The phrase “Libraries without Walls” describes a library without physical infrastructure such as library building, operational sections, reading and stack rooms, circulation counter, furniture, equipment, collections in diverse media, and so on. They are embedded into a virtual library and accessed through Internet from any computer system – desktop or laptop. Advent of ICT has brought about a dramatic transformation in all aspects of education including library and information services (LIS). Books are no longer like bricks in the walls of libraries; rather they have got converted into bits and bytes to create libraries without walls.
Perusing through literature available on world-wide growth of ODE in last three and a half decades, it is evident that librarians of DE institutions in UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong etc. have taken innovative initiatives to outreach LIS for distance learners. These experiments have created virtual library environments that render effective library support to users.
UKOU has developed its electronic reference library for distance learners.
A guided tour of “Open Library at a Glance” introduces them to different
tools and information services available through “Open Libr@ry”
(OPAL). It has created a Reference Sources webpage and designed a database of
subjects and courses related websites called ROUTES (Resources for Open University
TEachers and Students).
Similarly, Athabasca University students can avail library facilities from Digital Reading Room (DRR), a home-grown electronic reserve since 2002. It is a gateway to library's databases and faculty’s teaching material. It mostly has resources that do not need copyright permission and handles all requests for document delivery and suggested readings from this system. (Magusin and Kay: 2004)
Electronic Library at Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) provides in-campus facilities and a Remote Access Guide to library resources. OUHK electronic reserve comprises e-journals, indexes and abstracts, dictionaries and encyclopedias, directories and handbooks, e-news etc. accessed by active students, staff, and part-time tutors. OUHK examination papers, reference materials, electronic theses and dissertations can also be accessed. OUHK library catalogue is available through both web and Telnet but latter requires Net Term or Simp Term software. (http://www.lib.ouhk.edu.hk/)
Remote Referencing Help Desk project at University of Edinburgh Library provides online browser chat to interact with a librarian while searching a database (EDINA BIOSIS, BIDS ISI, BIDS EMBASE or MEDLINE)”. (http://www.remote.lib.ed.ac.uk)
Brigham Young University has created a portal for English course students, which gives access to electronic resources and library services. It has created course-specific library pages integrated with web-based courseware (Blackboard) (http://uviclib.uvic.ca/dls/bibliography4.html).
ELITE project at University of Leicester incorporates a web-based interface, chat reference service, and web forms for reference questions. (http://www.le.ac.uk/li/distance/eliteproject/project/elite.html).
There are number of such projects that were initiated and successfully implemented to provide value-added library services for distance learners.
CURRENT SCENARIO OF LIS IN SOUTH ASIAN INSTITUTIONS
Proliferation of Internet has resulted in digital divide not only between developed and developing countries, but also amongst developing countries based on their socio-economic, linguistic and technological capabilities. The prerequisite for DE in marginalized communities is telecommunication infrastructure. While developed countries have resources in abundance, developing countries in South Asian Region (SAR) face dilution of their resources to provide basic needs to their huge populations. They are struggling hard to provide even basic library services due to ICT constraints.
Libraries of AIOU, BOU and OUSL are hybrid libraries having collections of different physical formats in varied media. Libraries at AIOU and BOU provide services to teachers, research students and staff members. AIOU library is not yet automated but BOU library operations have been computerized and OPAC search is provided at the main library. They have small core libraries at Regional Centers to outreach library support for distance learners. Only OUSL library provides direct access to distance learners. It operates as a network of libraries with main library at Nawala, four regional libraries located in Colombo, Jaffna, Kandy and Matara and small libraries at study centers. It has registered 25,000 members including 3000 distance learners as regular members who are eligible to use main as well as regional centre libraries. Distance learners have to pay a refundable deposit to borrow library books. They have a Virtual Information Resource Centre having 15 terminals at main library accessed through web OPAC. They are developing an online service for university academic staff too. But there still remains a wide divide between ICT rich and ICT poor countries.
Out of 13 Indian OUs, only IGNOU, BRAOU, KSOU, MPBOU, YCMOU and VMOU have well equipped hybrid libraries with proper infrastructure and regular staff. They have core libraries at Regional and/or Study Centers. Except KSOU library, all libraries are computerized and provide LIS services through OPAC. Other seven OUs are still in the process of developing their libraries.
Only KSOU enrolls all bona-fide students to avail library services on payment
of refundable deposit. Apart from reading and reference services, undergraduates
and postgraduates can borrow 2 books at a time. Every year 1500 students are
registered and 15,000 books are lent with 100 students visiting the library
each day. The library is best used during Personal Contact Programs, which is
an intensive period of full-time study and library work for students. Small
core libraries at study centers are mainly used by students and counselors.
The library plans to acquire information resources in varied media; introduce
scanning and photocopying facilities; facilitate Internet and e-mail services.
L&DD has an impressive website outlining collections, providing statistics and services to IGNOU staff at headquarters. L&DD has undertaken number of digitization initiatives. It has digitized question papers of all courses and examinations from inception till 2005. Question papers from 1987-2000 are available on CD from 2000 onwards are available on the website. Library has also digitized all minutes of meetings of the Board of Management and Academic Council for easy reference. (http://www.ignou.ac.in/divisions/library/index1.htm)
But despite all facilities and modern services and a new independent building with adequate infrastructure, why cant the networked library system of IGNOU outreach LIS services to RC and SC, and enroll distance learners as regular members like KSOU and OUSL? Why can’t they be supplemented and complemented by effective library support using ICT like UKOU and HKOU? After USA and Canada, India has developed “Guidelines for Library Services to Distance Learners”, so why cant IGNOU provide value-added library services for distance learners?
HOW CAN IGNOU MAKE THE FAR-FETCHED DREAM REAL?
IGNOU needs to have a full-fledged Regional and Study Centers Section at L&DD, and assign the responsibility of planning and equipping the section with necessary LIS resources to a Deputy / Assistant Librarian. The section can be developed in consultation with faculty of different schools, Computer Division and Regional Services Division. L&DD can:
PROBLEMS IN PROVIDING VIRTUAL LIBRARY SERVICES
There are several hindrances and barriers in starting web-based services to outreach value-added LIS.
Distance librarianship is a very challenging and exciting experience. Librarians should reach out to needy learners and help them achieve success while deriving satisfaction from performing their duties well. Let me quote Elizabeth J. Burge (2002) who in her keynote address at the International Conference of Library without Walls – 4, observed that S. R. Ranganathan “developed the famous five laws of library Science for the context of his time”, --- and while concluding her address, she mentioned the “five maxims for librarianship in distance education” given below.
Brophy, Peter, Fisher, Shelag & Clarke, Zoe (eds.) (2002), Libraries without Walls 4: The Delivery of Library Services to Distant Users, Facet Publishing, London.
Burge, Elizabeth J. “keynote Paper – Behind-the-scene Thinking: Key Factors for Librarianship in Distance Education” in Library without Walls 4: The Delivery of Library Services to Distant Users edited by Peter Brophy, Shelag Fisher, & Zoe Clarke, Facet Publishing, London. pp. 7-15.
Jagannathan, Neela, Panda, Santosh, & Kanjilal, Uma (2004), Outreach Library Services for Distance Learners, Viva Books, New Delhi.
Jamtsho, Sangay (1999), “Distance education for in-service teachers in Bhutan”. Indian Journal of Open Learning, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 79-84.
Shareef, Ali Fawaz Kinshuk (2003), “A Computer-Based Distance Education
Model for Small Island States: A Case Study of Maldives”. Malaysian
Journal of Distance Education, vol. 5, no.2, pp. 1-13.
References – Websites