Access and Accessibility of Academic Libraries' Electronic Resources and Services: Identifying Themes in the Literature From 2000 to the Present

Access and Accessibility of Academic Libraries' Electronic Resources and Services: Identifying Themes in the Literature From 2000 to the Present

Barbara Blummer (Center for Computing Sciences, USA) and Jeffrey M. Kenton (Towson University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3914-8.ch010
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An analysis of the literature on access and accessibility in academic libraries identified five themes including: evaluating electronic resources and services for disabled users, examining the digital divide and electronic access in countries with limited resources, analyzing access to library collections and services, increasing access to electronic resources and services, and utilizing tools to promote access to resources. The review highlighted the importance of assessment, user studies, collaboration, skills instruction, and technologies in fostering access and accessibility in academic libraries. Assessing all users' access to library resources remains essential in identifying issues with the delivery of services and materials through the web. User studies foster improved access to resources by revealing individuals' resource and instructional needs as well their physical impairments. Collaboration among various entities supports funding, resource acquisition, and service development, especially in countries with limited resources. Instruction, like collaboration, enhances users' access through the improvement of their information and digital literacy skills. Lastly, access and accessibility of library resources centers on the use of technology to support all users' abilities to utilize libraries materials and services. Students' access to library resources and services is critical for their completion of course work as well as their development of 21st Century skills.
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The literature highlights the importance of information accessibility to foster its use. However, as Aguolu and Aguolu (2002) remind, us the availability of information does not assure its accessibility (as cited in Ugah, 2008). Ugah (2008) pointed to five obstacles to information accessibility such as “conceptual, linguistic, critical, bibliographic and physical” (p. 3). The author also maintained the more accessible information sources are, the more likely they are to be used. Likewise, studies that illustrate the popularity of electronic journals over their print counterparts and Google rather than subscription databases, underscore users’ need for convenience in accessing library materials.

In the pre-digital era accessibility of library resources included access to the building, the staff, the card catalog, and the catalog records. A variety of factors influenced users’ access to materials in this period including: the library’s operating hours, the knowledgeability of its staff, the circulation period for an item, the call number, the shelving layout, as well as the librarians’ usage of cataloging standards and rules. The latter remained particularly important and centered on librarians’ adherence to classic texts in cataloging items (Knowlton, 2008). These tools enhanced the findability of library records in the last four decades and included the Anglo American Cataloging Rules, the Library of Congress Subject Headings, the Library of Congress Classification schedules and the U.S. Machine Readable Cataloging to (Briscoe & Selden, 2000, pp. 181-182).

The advent of the Internet extended information accessibility in academic libraries with the inclusion of virtual access to resources and services. Foremost, the availability of electronic resources coupled with the popularity of the web fostered its use for delivering content from subscription databases, online journals, virtual collections, the Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) as well as library services (Ewing, 2005; Jasper & Sheble, 2005; Kaur &Verma, 2009a, 2009b; McHale, 2008; Northrup & Ashmore, 2006). Libraries created webpages to provide access to their resources and also adapted services such as reference, reserves and document delivery to support users online (Buckstead, 2001; Burk, 2006; Li & Fullerton, 2002; Platt, 2002; Slater, 2008; Withers, Casson, & Shrimplin, 2002; Wynstra, 2005). In addition, the appearance of new cataloging standards and rules such as resource description and access (RDA) and other new vocabularies and description schemes aimed to promote use and access to various print and digital materials (Baker, Coyle, & Petiya, 2014; Guenther, 2003; Tillett, 2011). Moreover, catalogers’ use of linked data as well as the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) increased users’ access to online collections (Shreeves, Habing, Hagedorn, & Young, 2005).

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