When the web fuels learning

When the web fuels learning

The Internet is the tool for research around the world. Researchers view the Internet and the web as the most convenient form of help in search, retrieval, collection, collation and verification of information. University libraries that have digitised their facilities are reporting an ever-increasing demand for enhancement of facilities by growing number of users. Going by the trend, it might appear that books might soon be replaced by the Internet as the primary source for information. Basically, the convergence of information and two-way communication technology in the Internet has heralded a revolution. 
 
Recent developments in information and communication technologies, especially the Internet, has brought significant changes in the way information is generated, stored, accessed and used. The Internet plays a key role in the access of information resources to support learning and teaching in the academic atmosphere.

The use of the Internet to support learning and teaching is growing exponentially, as more educational institutions are beginning to recognise its potential. Sources of information and other opportunities available through the Internet have increased phenomenally over the years and various programmes have been developed to help users find their way about. This is because of the steady increase in the use of the Internet for education and research. With the development of more sophisticated, customised searching tools, it has become easier to obtain refined information through the Internet within minutes. 

In addition to providing access to readily available information, the Internet also enables individual users to exchange information with others. Anyone with access  can make use of this network to search for information or to communicate via e-mail, read the news, use chat boxes through the Wide Area Information Server (WAIS) and the World Wide Web (WWW).

The Internet offers some incredible ready-to-use electronic libraries. The digital world  consists of various electronic resources, such as e-books, electronic journals and electronic reports. Institutional repositories/ archives are one of the important contributions. A new class of digitised documents is added every day to the growing library, comprising those documents originally published in print. Even newspapers and journals have e-versions today, providing free-loadable text, making it easy for internet-users to speedily access information and directly insert the material among footnotes.

The Internet has virtually transformed library operations. Librarians worldwide have been utilising the Internet to enhance collections, expand services and improve operations. Internet resources and services, such as e-mail, public access catalogues, publishers’ catalogues, online journals, e-books, multimedia encyclopedias and dictionaries, book reviews, are becoming useful collection-building tools in many libraries, especially academic libraries.

A study on information searching behaviour of Internet users in India by research workers in Calicut University found that students primarily used Internet for the purpose of study, research and teaching. A study on Internet users behaviour at Pune University found that researchers used Internet primarily for conducting literature search.

  A study conducted in Sri Venkateshwara University in Tirupati found that more than 56 per cent students use the Internet to access information. A survey conducted in Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar in 2002 revealed that all respondents used the Internet for emails, 82 per cent used it for web browsing, 60 per cent used it for collecting primary information, and 39  per cent for secondary information.

Chief Librarian at Mysore University Dr R T D Ramesh Gandhi says the university library set up 25 computer terminals in 1995.

Currently, 100 to 125 students and researchers access the Internet daily and the time has been rationed to one hour per student. But increased demand for access time has now compelled them to expand the facility to 250 computer terminals available round the clock.

Gandhi says the Internet is emerging as a major help for science researchers who require frequent access to Inflibnet, the UGC Infonet Digital Library Consortium, which provides current and archival access to more than 5,000 core and peer-reviewed journals and nine bibliographic databases from 23 publishers and aggregators.

Curiously, the advent of the Internet and Inflibnet made them stop subscription to nearly 800 foreign journals as a cost-cutting measure. However, Gandhi does not anticipate the Internet replacing books as a major source or help for researchers as it still lacks the credibility of the print media.

Bangalore University Chief Librarian Dr P V Konnur echoes the same views as his Mysore counterpart. Konnur says the Internet has come to be recognised as a major help for the 700 and odd researchers in the University going by the growing number of researchers who keep awaiting their turn on the 100 computer terminals currently in the library’s cyber centre.

The University will, however,  extend its Internet resources to all the 680 affiliated colleges shortly which will allow students access to the nearly 6,500 electronic journals available on the net, free of cost. This service is currently being extended to researchers at home through ‘R3’ (Remote Resource Restricted) access by the university. Konnur says the Internet has drastically reduced the literature search time. “Earlier, we would devote six months to locate the relevant literature. Today, I can provide them text from a hundred documents within half an hour,” Konnur observes.

Even Lalitha Aswath, Professor of Library and Information Science in Bangalore University does not apprehend any threat to courses like Library Science from the popularity of the Internet. She says Library Science is, in fact, a much sought- after course and career for IT companies that need help with segregation of information and organisation of knowledge.

“In fact”, Aswath adds, “the M. LISc course at Bangalore University now offers two elective papers — Web Technology and Digital Resources Management.”
A recent study of the Internet use in the Aligarh Muslim University’s (AMU) Maulana Azad Library, one of the most reputed repositories of books and manuscripts in India, reveals that 36.56 per cent of respondents spent more than eight hours on the Internet a week, six per cent fulfilled their needs within two hours of Internet use a week, and 31.36 per cent spent an hour a week.

Eighty-eight per cent used search engines as the most important tool for their research. The study found that 33 per cent users said they searched for information through specific websites and weblinks, while 18 per cent used databases for the required information.

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