Challenges encountered by nontraditional students in satisfaction of their information needs with reference to Nairobi and Kenyatta university s’ libraries
Growing appeal for nontraditional mode of learning in the public universities of Kenya has placed academic libraries at the centre of attention. This is owed to the crucial role libraries play in supporting teaching, learning and research activities in the parent universities. Establishing strong empirical evidence is a necessary foundation stone for libraries to effectively meet this academic obligation. To this end, this study examined the challenges nontraditional university students face towards satisfying their information needs from their respective public university libraries. The study specifically assessed the nature of information needs of these students, the resource base and services capacity of libraries to satisfy their information needs and responsiveness of the libraries policy environment to satisfy these needs. The study focused on the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University. The choice of these universities for the study was informed by their dominance of the student population and experience in information services provision to students in the university landscape. The study adopted a combination of quantitative and qualitative research design, and its theoretical underpinning was the servqual theory of service quality, advanced by Parasuraman et al. (1988). The data required was obtained from 326 nontraditional students and 10 library staff with the aid of self-administered open ended questionnaires. In-depth interviews were also done with the respective university librarians. The quantitative responses were analyzed with the aid of SPSS computer software and results summarized under frequency distribution tables and graphs. Analysis of the qualitative responses was grounded on thematic contents in which the emerging semantic and structural similarities were grouped together to create response typologies as posited by Glaser and Strauss (1967), and resultant summaries synchronized with the interpretations of quantitative attributes. On the whole, the analysis indicated that while commendable steps in the direction of meeting user information requirements are notable on the part of libraries, namely extension of opening hours, automation of resources and expansion of access to online reading materials, nontraditional students still have diverse information needs. In their effort to satisfy these needs they are confronted by myriad challenges, ranging from inadequate and inappropriate information resources of respective libraries to unfavourable policy frameworks for the library systems. In particular, the results show that lack of time, inadequate user information literacy especially about online sources and resources, unfriendly staff establishments and non conducive library opening hours are the major constraints facing nontraditional students towards satisfaction of their information needs. On the library services and resources front, the findings indicated that libraries have inadequate number of staff, equipment and facilities in relation to the large population size and diverse information needs of nontraditional students. This situation is aggravated by insufficient financial resources for library operations. In addition, the policy environment within which libraries function toward satisfaction of information needs of nontraditional students is peripheral; largely embedded in the regular mode of learning. These findings have led to the conclusion that nontraditional university students are exposed to several fundamental challenges relating to satisfaction of their information needs. These challenges border on their own circumstances, reluctance of the libraries to re-structure their resources and service and near-rigid library policy frameworks. Ultimately, it is recommended that measures toward reducing these should take the direction of developing policies and programmes whose strategies put emphasis on building intense information literacy of nontraditional students and intense interactive working relations among students, faculties, libraries management, university administrations and the government. Proposals for further research in this field and commensurate actions for staff and nontraditional students are also provided.