The main reason for the Stone Age to come to an end was the development of new toolsets and skills and not the shortage of stones. History has been much of a witness to the abandonment of old ideas and adoption of new means when proved to be better. Society is often at the crossroads of identifying new ideas, letting go of traditional ideas, and evaluating new methods. Rather than being a retrospective step, these new ideas will increase integrity, and the toolset associated with the change would be wider and open to more people. This style of approach has a significant influence on the operation of libraries, youth education, policy decisions and building future information structures. (Lankes, 2008, p. 667)
A digital library can be defined as a warehouse of information that is delivered electronically to users who may access it remotely (Rosenberg, 2005). According to Umeozor (2013), information is crucial for all aspects of life, and no person or organization can work efficiently without information. In any community, libraries are recognized as the foremost home of information. Libraries have been established to render information, shape people’s thoughts and opinions and, most significantly, to motivate people to search for information that would lead towards the development of individuals and society as a whole. Umeozor (2013) also claims underuse of library resources in society and in an academic environment is a matter of concern to policymakers and social scientists.
Information that appears in digital libraries most times is controlled with the use of a computer system that identifies and select pertinent materials by collecting, organizing and ensuring its availability to users and also stores and retain them for future access (Rosenberg, 2005). Higgins (2013) also stresses that it is very crucial that everyone, especially the disadvantaged sections of the society have free and unhindered access to information. Basically, the rule is that digital libraries are able to connect and service a wider range of users much more than the traditional libraries are able to do.
The nature of digital libraries
The conventional roles of a library are recognized as knowledge archival, safeguarding and maintaining the culture, knowledge dissemination, knowledge sharing, information retrieval, education, and social building contacts (Neal, 1997). According to Rosenberg, a digital library is a library in which most of the information is available in electronic form, allowing users to access many of the library’s services remotely via the internet (Rosenberg, 2005).
The digital library is a system for presenting collections that can be scanned and stored in media such as floppy and hard disks, tapes and compact discs (Passos, Carolino, & Ribeiro, 2008). In a strict sense, the digital library is a means of organizing digital information which relies on the use of up-to-date information, computers and network technology to identify, collect, sort and store information resources (Yao & Zhao, 2009). Digital libraries are also gateways to many external information resources; today, without digitization libraries cannot be described as unified, comprehensive collections (Marcum, 1997). Digital libraries also act as cognitive tools, repositories and information networks (Sumner & Marlino, 2004).
Objectives of a digital library
The primary goal of a digital library is to enhance the frameworks by which knowledge resources are identified, organized, processed, disseminated and stored across board irrespective of their sizes, types, contents and information sources and distributed in an electronic format. The technology of digital libraries includes digitized resources for finding, processing, sorting, storage, transmission and management of the information (Yao & Zhao, 2009). As hypermedia and multimedia resources digital libraries are becoming critical processes for intellectual capacity building (Rapp, Taylor, & Crane, 2003). They provide efficient storage, easier access, faster retrieval and analysis of data (Fuhr et al. 2007), enabling users to access knowledge anytime and anywhere, through user-friendly interfaces that break the barriers of language, distance, and culture. Digital libraries also allow copying by downloading information documents or printing them (Byamugisha, 2010).
Significance of digital libraries
Digital libraries not only tender wider access to resources in their collections but provide for the longer protection of the materials (Lopatin, 2006). The strength of digital libraries and digital collections depends on the relationships libraries develop and maintain with the creators, publishers, and aggregators of Resources, as well as with those who use, learn from, and appraise these resources (Sharifabadi, 2006). Chowdhury et al. (2006) assert that digital libraries have substantial features, such as fast search facilities, which users readily adopt as they can select resources while they browse. A full-service digital library must carry out all the necessary services of traditional libraries and also share the well-known advantages of digital storage, searching, and communication (Chowdhury & Chowdhury, 1999).
One of the major advantages in digital libraries is that information security has its foundation in the mature processes that are adapted for other types of information systems. These include regular back-ups, off-site storage of information and an audit list of changes (Chaffey and Wood, 2005), As well as database transaction logs and redundancy management. The content and services from digital libraries have been disparate; as have the techniques they use (Smeaton, & Callan, 2005). There are numerous library software package solutions available on the open market. One such software application is the Greenstone system, which can be customised and extended to suit specific digital requirements. Greenstone is a versatile library operating system that can be used by both small and large libraries to support electronic functions at very reasonable price with efficient internet connectivity.
Migrating from conventional to digital libraries
Librarians and information professionals are responsible for creating innovative systems for the collection, organization, dissemination, and preservation of information and new knowledge regardless of format (Gbaje, 2007). In a conventional library setting, what users want becomes clear and more focused after some discussion with the librarians, but in a digital libraries context, no such librarian is present and the system itself must effectively provide user guidance (Theng, 2002). With digital libraries librarians are responsible for preserving and enhancing existing information resources by converting them to the online environment, computerizing existing collections, adding computers for user access, and providing access to online databases and the internet. Librarians must develop new approaches to managing their resources as the dynamic, changing, competitive environment necessitates specialized staff and improved management competencies (Moghaddam & Bayat, 2008).
Nkanu and Okon (2010) opined that arising from current global trends, librarians are now ready for training and retraining to enhance their skill sets to be part of the bridging tools in the digital divide. It is the job of librarians to be ready to play a more vital role using technology in their daily routines as enhancers to quality information delivery to customers in a timely manner. “As a result of such a development, libraries, librarians and managers of digital libraries are concerned about how the phenomenon of such libraries can be effectively managed so that they can meet the main mission of libraries to society and human cultural and scientific heritage and also use available innovations provide the information lifecycle from creation to dissemination with more speed, scope, currency, efficiency, effectiveness, quality and productivity” (Moghaddam & Bayat, 2008).
Based on a meta-analysis of previously published papers, Kajberg (1997), lists the necessary skillsets and abilities required for librarians for the modern age:
· computing and networking skillsets
· effective interpersonal communication skills
· Understanding of research based on reasoning and discipline
· knowledge of psychology
· extent of technological sophistication
· ability to understand and communicate librarian roles in the organizations in which they operate
· skills and sensitivity to work effectively with people from diverse cultural backgrounds
· management skillsets such as financial planning and strategic thinking
· using visual aids for effective communication
Benefits of Digital libraries
Adams and Blandford (2002) suggest that digital libraries are used in many ways and these systems support a whole range of needs across different domains (e.g. academic, clinical, and business). Schiff et al. (1997) support these views and state that digital libraries, in particular, can change the context of people’s work practices and can for that reason restructure and redefine their relationships with each other and with the task in hand. Automation of library systems has distorted service delivery in various ways, including a reduction in material processing time and improved interlibrary delivery (Covi & Cragin, 2004). Modern libraries have progressed from paper-based systems into distributed networks of digital and non-digital material, providing state-of-the-art library services along with traditional services (Liu, 2011). With the improvements in IT and the popularization of network applications, people these days acquire their required information and knowledge mostly through the internet. A digital library is an extensive knowledge network system, combining the environment with a community service organization (Meng-Xing, Chun-Xiao, & Yong, 2010).
The remarkable developments with regard to IT and especially within the ICT domains are having a substantial effect on all areas of human activity. It has become a day-to-day activity to move between different search engines, information hubs or directories, renowned for providing high quality current full-text scientific information (Van Brakel, & Chisenga, 2003). Digital libraries offer improved and efficient access to information and facilitate accessing the data from multiple locations. Extensive digital libraries can be accessed in full from any location or workstation, homes, offices or laboratories, without having to actually travel long distances to physical libraries (Kavulya, 2007). Moreover, digital libraries safeguard the contents of the owner’s information and enhance wider distribution of learning environments (Byamugisha, 2010). According to Lopez and Larsgard (1998), digital libraries are flexible institutional frameworks that can adapt to the driving forces of technological change and encourage networked scientific processes, organizational restructuring, and inter-organizational collaboration, which conservative libraries and data centers are not able to do. Wan (2006) found that by using digital libraries the limits of space and distance are broken. According to Smeaton and Callan (2005), digital libraries can simulate a meeting room where users can share ideas, data, documentation, and logs with each other. Kolloffel and Kaandorp (2003) assert that one essential benefit of digital libraries is to provide electronic services that are easier to observe and more focused on resources. According to Kirlidog and Bayir (2007), electronic databases bring several advantages over printed materials. First, most of them allow easy navigation within a text such as revealing the relevant reference or note and thus returning back. Second, several databases allow navigation from one article to another, saving the reader’s time accessing the paper version in the library. Third, from the point of view of a library, electronic databases are relatively cheaper than printed material. There has been an incredible growth in the use of digital public libraries, and customers have benefited from the growth and ease of services, like the ability to carry out online browsing and research from the vicinity of their homes.
Consumers are getting accustomed to the increase in digital library services and the ease at which they can access global information that was at one stage difficult to retrieve from traditional physical libraries (Kuzma, 2010). Kavulya (2007) reports that digital libraries provide a mechanism for faster access and exchange of information in various sectors, such as medicinal studies, government service and business studies, research and scholarship. Digital libraries can easily be shared and therefore are available to everybody around the clock from any location in the world; this offers flexible arrangements for students, scholars, researchers, and the wider community. With the increase of available materials and user expectations, libraries tend to exploit new technology to fulfill their aim with relatively limited resources (Liu, 2011). Academic and research library users regard e-libraries as better services because the time required to access various materials is reduced, and there is now electronic access to materials not formerly accessible (Covi & Cragin, 2004). Digital libraries invite participation by encouraging library users to participate and contribute to the understanding of resources so that eventually everyone benefits (Robinson, 2008).
Digital library, therefore, offers an even more extensive platform by helping learners develop their abilities to access, evaluate, and utilize information to develop knowledge, to think critically, and to solve problems (Wang, 2003). Lee et al. (2005) explain that the key advantages of digital libraries over traditional libraries include:
· Digital libraries bring the information closer to the end users, making it more accessible, and may increase its usage. · Digital libraries use computer technology for searching and browsing, which is helpful for reference work that involves leaps from one source of information to another.
· In digital libraries information is always within reach, available at all hours; materials are never checked-out, miss-shelved, or stolen.
· In digital libraries new forms of information become a possibility. Accessing the internet allows libraries to retrieve all sorts of information, search the online catalogues of other libraries, share information sources with other organizations and institutes, communicate with book jobbers and vendors, and access a wide range of international databases (Ashoor, 2000). According to Zhou (2005), the unique characteristics of digital libraries include:
· storage facility for information resources
· information resources in varied media
· network broadcast of information resources
· distributed information resources management
· highly shared and pooled information resources
· intelligent retrieval technologies
· information services without the limitation of space and time.
Pacios (2007) is of the opinion that digital libraries have taken a pivotal and central place in facilitating independent, ongoing learning and therefore they are contributing to the personal and social development of people of all ages. They are leading to the development of opportunities and satisfying the community’s wish to understand its and other peoples’ cultural heritage through literature, history, the arts, and poetry. With their materials, resources, technology, and activities, digital libraries are teaching people how to search for and evaluate information and helping people to acquire skills that will allow them to critique constructively.
Limitations and boundaries of digital libraries
Digital libraries research has attracted much attention in developed countries (Rusbridge, 1998), and many complexities have been noted about the experience of use and managing access to digital libraries. According to Rusbridge (1998), the director of the Electronic Libraries (eLib) Programme in the UK, all of the five extensive-library projects that began in January 1998 and were completed in 2000 experienced problems, such as system security, managing user access, designing end-user and staff interface, database inter-connectivity, staff training and infrastructure management. Anandarajan, Igbaria, and Anakwe (2000) discovered a high failure rate of digital libraries implementations in developing countries. Digital library applications involve cultural issues, as there are differences in the method of information retrieval and type of information retrieved by different categories of users (Borgman, 1997). Worldwide, one of the common barriers to the use of ICT in the digital age is linked with information literacy. Information literacy is an art that extends from knowing how to use computers and access information to critical reflection on the nature of information itself, its technical infrastructure and its social, culture, and philosophical perspective and impact (Nkanu & Okon, 2010). Smeaton and Callan (2005) observe that there are some constraints with digital libraries and that many of these are related to the ability of the user. These include:
· cognitive skills (e.g. learning styles, perceptive abilities)
· individual variance (e.g. education, gender, age, experience)
· behaviour patterns of groups or individuals
· subject field (e.g. health, engineering, arts)
· labour environments (e.g. business, home, office, and university).
Luther (2000) identifies the following potential issues and difficulties of understanding and using electronic resources in libraries:
· not enough information on usage
· lack of marketing methodology
· variation of content
· lack of ease of user interface
· difficulty in building an economically sustainable system
· ensuring user privacy
· no comparable data being available
· difficulty in the correct context.
The digital divide means that some individuals and/or communications can use electronic information and communication tools, such as the internet, to improve the quality of their lives and some cannot (Salinas, 2003). Most of the related studies have taken the information divide and poverty as one of their primary objectives to explain the formation of the information divide and poverty. In concurrence with the theoretical perspective and framework that these studies adopt, causes of information divide and poverty appear to have been sought in three different domains: the political economy domain, the culture domain and the cognition domain (Yu, 2006).
Information communication technology
The ability to use ICT is now assumed by most commentators to be a requirement to living and working in the “information society”. It is widely agreed that ICT is transforming all aspects of society from education to civic involvement, employment to leisure (Selwyn, 2003). The development of ICT and omnipresence of computers in universities have brought along with them several changes to the learning and instruction methods as well as the operating environment of libraries (Boumarafi, 2010). A new educational delivery model has evolved from the use of the web technology. Hence, e-learning has emerged as a shared learning process to meet the demands of a new age in which ICT has reshaped and is continuing to reshape the educational environment (Boumarafi, 2010). One of the major requirements of a DL environment is to maintain the originality of information. With the availability of technology, one can use information created by others and can effortlessly claim it as one’s own (Rusbridge, 1998).
In summary, the literature indicates that the digital library is an effective method of collecting, storing, organizing, preserving and distributing information. Digital libraries can also create greater opportunities for collaborative learning, nevertheless implementing this method in developing countries is a challenge that must be overcome. Digital libraries also need librarians to have specific 21st-century skills such as ICT skills, communication skills, strategic thinking, and financial planning. Digital libraries offer the benefit of access to information anytime and from any location, and can significantly change the means of education delivery. Digital libraries have dramatically changed the delivery of information resources both in the public and educational sectors in the global world at large. More countries in the developing countries are fast integrating their library operations/systems to enhance information delivery and to catch up with the developed countries in terms of technology.