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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 213-218

The supporting roles of academic librarians in virtual education

Health Information Technology Research Center, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

Date of Web Publication9-Feb-2018

Correspondence Address:
Shahin Mojiri
M.A, Library and Information Sciences, Health Information Technology Research Center, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2395-2296.225095

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Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have greatly affected our professional and personal lives in a short time. One of the areas most affected by these technologies is education. The role of ICTs in learning is significant, and today, we can see virtual learning courses in many academic fields. On the other hand, one of the most important functions of academic libraries is supporting the educational programs. With the advances in ICTs, the structure, space, and services provided by academic libraries also changed and we have witnessed a great increase in electronic resources and services in libraries. Due to these changes, libraries managed to continue their support role even in virtual education programs. Since joining libraries, ICTs and education together can have significant effects on virtual learning, this study first investigates the marketing of library services and the role of academic libraries in virtual education programs, and later discusses various library services that can be helpful in virtual learning programs such as preparation and access to information sources, digital reference services, and teaching of information literacy. Finally, the most important skills for librarians in the virtual education environment are investigated.

Keywords: Academic librarians, digital library, distance education, E-learning, virtual education

How to cite this article:
Soleymani MR, Mojiri S, Zadeh MH. The supporting roles of academic librarians in virtual education. Int J Educ Psychol Res 2017;3:213-8

How to cite this URL:
Soleymani MR, Mojiri S, Zadeh MH. The supporting roles of academic librarians in virtual education. Int J Educ Psychol Res [serial online] 2017 [cited 2020 Mar 29];3:213-8. Available from: http://www.ijeprjournal.org/text.asp?2017/3/4/213/225095

  Introduction Top

The rapid growth in information and communication technologies (ICTs), especially the Internet and World Wide Web and easy access to these technologies, has affected various aspects of human lives. Education and learning is one of the areas which is greatly affected by these new technologies. Due to the difference in infrastructure in various societies, their access to information technologies and as a result, the effects of information technologies are not similar everywhere. However, the advantages and opportunities created by the use of ICTs have caused a desire in various organizations for the utilization of ICT which is greatly evident in universities and institutions of higher education and their tendency toward electronic or virtual learning. The presence of virtual and distant learning programs in various fields and educational levels in universities around the country shows the advantages of mixing education with ICTs. Today, distant learning is a growing industry that is greatly appreciated by various people and organizations due to lack of time and locational constraints.[1] Despite many advantages of virtual learning, ignoring the requirements and necessities of this type of education can greatly reduce its effectiveness. Similar to traditional education, libraries play an important support role in virtual learning. Yang believes that quality learning has a close and inseparable tie with libraries.[2] Therefore, libraries can improve their support role in virtual learning by changing their traditional structures and improving the skills of their librarians. This article is a nonsystematic narrative review carried out in by searching Google Scholar, Farsi databases such as MagIran, IranDoc, SID database, professional magazines such as Nour and English databases such as PubMed, ProQuest, Emerald, and Eric with keywords of electronic learning, virtual learning, distant learning, digital library, and librarians. A total of 87 articles were retrieved, and after evaluation, 33 articles were used to investigate the role of libraries and librarians in virtual learning.

  Marketing of Library Services in Virtual Learning Top

To have a strong and successful presence in the competitive information market, libraries need to reevaluate their traditional methods of promoting their services and products to their potential customers. Given the numerous information carriers available today, library is no longer the sole source of information which has reduced the leadership role of libraries in the area of information and communication. In the past, libraries were often the only source of information which meant that library management and librarians did not spend their time in promoting their services but today libraries are under a lot of pressure to improve their presence by providing quality services and through marketing of their services and resources.[3] Marketing provides libraries and information centers with an opportunity to change and improve their physical resources and services. Libraries can use various marketing techniques to turn the potential customers into actual ones.[4]

In virtual learning programs, the role of library if usually not clearly defined due to lack of physical contact of users and libraries. Often, participants in virtual learning programs are unaware of the library's existence or only use the library when they have to. Therefore, librarians must use marketing methods for digital libraries and services to inform students and educators of virtual learning programs about their resources and services. Academic librarians can use methods such as mailer/brochures and preparation and distribution of educational packages before the start of the virtual learning program to inform participants in virtual learning programs about the digital library and its services. The contents of these educational packages might include the Internet address (URL) of the library's website, library's goals, method for acquiring username and password for the library, description of the tools necessary for accessing the database, information regarding subscriptions and agreements, information about virtual reference services, contact information of library, and other relevant information.

Librarians also need to present and introduce their resources and services to the educators and teachers of virtual learning programs because often students use the resources introduced to them by their teachers. In addition, the educators themselves might also require access to information sources and digital services such as virtual reference services to carry out their duties. In addition, often managers of universities and colleges prefer virtual learning programs to traditional programs due to limitations in budget and physical resources such as classrooms. Therefore, librarians need to present their services to the university's management to ensure the allocation of sufficient budget for digital library activities. The digital library's funds are used for acquisition of digital resources and access to digital databases as well as other services such as virtual reference services and supporting library's users, and it is the academic librarians' duty to inform university's management about the necessary funds.[5]

  Academic Libraries and Virtual Education Top

Libraries have always had an inseparable connection with education and were considered places for transfer of knowledge and information. Libraries act as a powerful support for education by providing information resources and necessary library services.[6] Libraries, whether traditional or digital, have three main roles in formal education including information sharing, gathering ideas, and bringing people together with the goal of learning.[7] The growth of virtual education programs in universities and institutions of higher education has created new opportunities and challenges for libraries. Given the fact that the information needs of students in virtual education programs is similar to that of students of traditional programs, with only the methods for accessing library resources changing between two types of students, libraries need to add new services, and resources to meet the needs of this new customer base on top of improving the quality of their traditional services.[8] Holowachuk believes that the library needs of students can be divided into three categories:

  • Educational reference services and software and hardware tools necessary for accessing these resources
  • Information services including bibliographic information about information resources and references, journals, and books
  • User services such as guidance by librarians, question and answer (Q and A) services, and similar activities.[9]

Libraries started to enter the virtual space since the year 1931 when the American Library Association reported that participants in virtual learning programs face serious limitations for using library resources compared to normal students. To this end, the Association of College and Research Libraries introduced a guideline for extending the library services and academic programs and courses to both normal and virtual learners.[10] Today, digital libraries based on the growth and development of internet technologies have removed time and space limitations and play an important role in the process of electronic learning by creating access to digital resources and services, preparation of personalized and international information systems, and digitalization of library resources.[11] Digital libraries are libraries that can be accessed from any place in the world and provide their users with variety of resources such as texts, audios, pictures, videos, and other information sources.[12] In general, the goals of digital libraries include:

  • Gathering, storing, organizing and spreading of information, and knowledge in digital format
  • Facilitating the saving of time and resources for library users
  • Providing access to rare and hard-to-find resources
  • Protecting vulnerable resources
  • Facilitating virtual learning programs.[13]

  Library Services in Virtual Education Top

Distant learning services are the type of university programs and courses that allow students to study outside of university regardless of their physical proximity to the university. Distant courses and programs can use traditional or nontraditional media as their outlet.[14]

In order for library to fulfill its support role in virtual learning programs, most of the services need to be provided to learners over the Internet. Cassner and Adams believe that some of the roles fulfilled by libraries and librarians for distant learning students include: helping the students find the necessary resources for their assignments, teaching the students how to use information sources, supporting the students in their educational and research needs, the role of a technical assistant and providing various services in library's website such as self-learning guides that help students in various programs. They also believed that librarians must know how to use some software applications to that they can help the students use these applications. Johnson et al. believe that online or virtual learning has changes services and resources of academic libraries. They investigated the needs of distant learning students and concluded that they need library services such as research aid, reference questions, and providing basic training in information technology skills.[15] In general, the most important library services for medical virtual learning programs include the following.

  Providing Access to Information Resources Top

Kascus believes that the most important role of libraries in supporting distant learning programs is to grantee access to information resources necessary during education. Holowachuk also emphasizes that the key to success in distant learning programs is access to suitable information resources. Therefore, it is the duty of academic librarians to select, gather, organize manage, and provide access to information resources needed by students and educators in distant learning programs.[10] Librarians need to use various methods such as studying the program's curriculum, consultation with educators and professors and gathering the feedback of the students to identify the information needs of the students.[16] Limited budget in libraries and the increasing cost of access to online databases have increased the responsibility of librarians when it comes to identifying the correct information resources. Joining information resource consortium is one of the methods used my managers of academic libraries to address these challenges.

The process of selecting electronic resources is different from the process used for books and paper journals. Librarians need to have a more active role when it comes to electronic resources because students and faculty members are often not familiar with electronic resources in their fields. In addition, managing electronic resources is different from managing printed resources. Electronic resources do not need weeding, repair, or binding but instead, need to be updated, user-friendly, have rich contents and be cost-benefit efficient to provide better services to students and faculty members.[10]

Digital libraries include textual and Non-textual files in machine-readable data files that can help the students access necessary information.[17] Resources accessible through digital libraries are divided into two categories: resources that are produced in digital formats such as electronic books and journals and databases and resources that are not in digital format atfirst but can be digitalized over time including printed resources or analog audio or video resources. In general, providing the necessary recourses for students without the time of location limitations is the most important responsibility of academic librarians in supporting virtual learning programs.

  Teaching Information Literacy Top

Information literacy is a sustainable and important skill for independent, lifelong, and autonomous learning that is the basis of a literate society in the current era. Information literacy is important to the success of the students, and high information literacy leads to better results in higher education.[10] Information literacy is defined as the ability to access, evaluate, organize and use various information sources. An information literate person knows when and where to access the necessary information and how to evaluate their usefulness. As an aid to information literacy, in the current era, information technology literacy if defined as the ability to use electronic and nonelectronic technologies to access, use, store, organize, protect, and present new information and scientific productions. Although the results of various studies show a direct link between information literacy and academic success of the students,[18],[19],[20] Ritterbush believes that most students lack the necessary skills for access the information necessary for their research needs.[21] Therefore, teaching information literacy skills is one of the important duties of academic libraries in virtual learning programs.[22]

Similar to traditional students, virtual learning students need to have virtual information literacy skills to achieve academic excellence. In addition, given the nature of virtual learning, most students in these programs need to have the necessary skills for using online information sources and search-related skills. Also given the increasing volume of electronic information and lack of control and judgment tool in the internet, the information pollution phenomenon becomes important. Therefore, having the necessary skills for evaluation the value and credibility of retrieved information becomes essential. Finally, skills for effective use of information, familiarity with methods used to identify credible journals, citation methods for information sources, examples of plagiarism, copyright, and research ethics are among the other needs of students in virtual learning programs that can be best thought by academic librarians.[23]

Teaching information literacy to students of virtual learning programs can be done using group or personal information consultation sessions, web-based workshops, video conferences, preparing multimedia resources, preparation of teaching guidelines, preparation of electronic pamphlets and booklets, through telephone, using internet forums, discussion groups, and using asynchronous tools such as email and web-based forms.[24] Given the nature of interaction in virtual learning courses and the limited face-to-face contact in these programs, teaching information literacy is faced with various challenges such as unfamiliarity of librarians with learning methods, and information needs of the students and their ability for working in electronic environments that can reduce the effectiveness of these teachings.

  Digital Reference Services Top

Reference services have always been one of the key services of libraries, especially academic libraries. It can be said that reference services are the added value of information and library services.[25] Academic libraries can play an important role in the development and success of educational programs through their reference services. Using novel ICTs, especially the Internet in educational programs has greatly changed the services necessary for supporting these programs. Suitable reference services in academic libraries not only play an important role in attracting users to the library but are also considered among the criteria using to determine the quality of education.[26] Providing reference services for students of virtual learning programs leads to three important opportunities and challenges including globalization of information, increased expectation in the students, and reviewing references.[5]

Today, academic libraries are in the transition period from a traditional structure to new structure and are unable to satisfy the increased needs and demands of their users without the use of novel ICTs. Due to the fact that unlike traditional students, students in virtual learning programs need to achieve a balance between their work, family, and educational needs, they need 24 hours a day, seven days a week access to library's reference services. To meet this demand, libraries have used various internet services to create and implement digital reference services. Digital of virtual reference services are the type of services in which librarians act as a medium and answer the users' questions using internet tools.[10] Answering general and specialized questions, helping the students in using online information databases, solving hardware and software problems, and providing bibliographic information or full-text services are among the services provided in digital reference services.

Reference services in virtual learning programs can be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous reference services are the type of digital reference services in which Q and A process is carried out in an online fashion. In this method, a user enters the digital reference service using a personal username and password and asks the necessary questions or requests specific information. The software then alerts all online librarians who check the questions and thefirst available librarian enters a conversation with the user. The answer to questions might be given immediately or at a later time.[27] Live internet chats, video references, using voice over Internet protocol services, and reference bots (artificial intelligence) are the popular methods for synchronous reference services.

In reference bot system, the keywords present in users' questions are analyzed using linguistic programs and frameworks and then a search is carried out at the database using these keywords. Finally, the retrieved results are automatically sent to the users. Asynchronous reference services are a type of computerized communication in which the users sent their questions which is then answered at a later time.[28] Users of these types of reference services send their questions and receive their answers use tools such as email, web forums, and SMS.[29]

  Skills Necessary for Librarians in Virtual Learning Programs Top

To carry out their support role for virtual learning programs, academic libraries need to have librarians and experts with different set of skills compared to traditional librarians. These librarians can use their digital knowledge and skills as the main tool for advancing library's goals for acting as a medium between users and digital resources.[30] In addition, the dynamic nature of digital environment increases the importance of human resources and their skills and competencies.[31] The important skills for librarians for working in digital environment and supporting virtual learning programs can be divided into five main categories.

Basic information and communication technology skills

These skills include seven skills of ICDL, web page design, familiarity with computer viruses, familiarity with different file extensions, data store and backup, file management (compression, sharing, etc.), ability to install and use software applications, and familiarity with data security in information networks.

Electronic reference service skills

These skills include search and data retrieval in databases, working with search engines, ability to provide synchronous and asynchronous services, digitalization of information sources, ability to create electronic education learning aids, ability to conduct online interviews, familiarity with virtual tours, and familiarity with electronic informatics services.

Skills related to teaching information literacy

These skills include the ability to determine the information needs of the users, preparation of research questions, familiarity with online databases and web resources, ability to evaluate electronic resources, familiarity with reference management software such as EndNote and Reference Manager, the ability to teach citation methods for information sources, skills in publishing articles in professional scientific journals, familiarity with examples of plagiarism and methods for dealing with them, familiarity with copyright in digital environment, and familiarity with research ethics.

Skills for accessing electronic information sources

These skills include the ability to determine the feasibility of various electronic information sources, familiarity with open access information sources in medical fields, familiarity with organization methods for electronic resources, familiarity with consortium for providing electronic information resources, and ability to work with digital library software.

Familiarity with electronic education environment

These skills include familiarity with differences between traditional and electronic education, familiarity with Learning Management Systems, familiarity with content management methods in electronic learning, familiarity with testing and evaluation methods in virtual learning, familiarity with communication and interaction methods in electronic learning, and familiarity with technical and nontechnical support methods for electronic learning.

  Summary and Conclusion Top

The effect of the internet and World Wide Web in the 21st century and formation of virtual education has turned learning into a lifelong activity not limited by time and location. Today, universities and institutions of higher education prefer to expand their educational facilities outside of their physical borders due to various financial and practical reasons.[32] Virtual learning has changed learning activities, and education has become a personal activity that is assisted by educators whose key to success is access to suitable library resources. Therefore, there is a great need for librarians and libraries that remove the effects of information explosion and reduce the large volume of available data through careful selection and organization of information sources.[33] As a result, with the expansion of virtual learning in universities and institutions of higher education, academic libraries also need to improve the skills of their librarians, and expand the range of their electronic library services to meet the information needs of students and faculty members in virtual learning programs and play an important role in facilitating virtual learning.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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