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Transforming library services at one of Nigeria’s leading academic institutions: it’s not business as usual

An interview with Abdullahi I. Musa, Interim University Librarian, Ahmadu Bello University | July 23, 2015

Ahmadu Bello University library

The following interview between Abdullahi I. Musa, the University Librarian at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, and Library Connect Editor Colleen DeLory took place in June 2015. Originally from Nigeria, Dr. Musa has spent time abroad completing his PhD and serving as an adjunct faculty member at Emporia State University in Kansas. He has also been a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois. (See Dr. Musa’s contributor profile.)
Since starting at Ahmadu Bello University as interim University Librarian in February 2015, he has instituted an ambitious plan for transforming library services, anchored by core values and executed through the balanced scorecard system. He oversees a library staff of close to 500 individuals who serve 7,941 postgraduate students, 33,661 undergraduate students, 2,564 faculty members and 7,070 non-teaching staff in 12 faculties and 90 departments.
What was your starting point when you arrived at the university?
My mandate is to reposition the library for the 21st century global educational dynamic to support Ahmadu Bello University in its goal to become a leading educational institution in Africa over the next five to 10 years and subsequently on a global stage. To do this, I need to ensure that university library services are an active partner in improving teaching, learning and research. Of course, I can’t do that alone. It takes a team. 
The first step has been to listen to the stakeholders throughout the university and develop a holistic repositioning document based on the balanced scorecard model, which includes financial metrics, innovation and learning metrics, business process redesign metrics, and a customer focus perspective. The balanced scorecard model provides an efficient and effective framework for converting our repositioning ideas into objectives and actionable activities. This is what I did over the last three months. It is challenging, but I loved doing it!
How has the library staff reacted to the repositioning plan?
My first day in the office, I made it very clear to staff that I’m not here to ask them to do the impossible. I proposed a set of core values to underscore our new approach to library and information services:
  • Customer-centric 
  • First-time right
  • Continuous improvement 
  • Team theory 
  • Knowledge sharing
  • “Just-in-time information” as opposed to “just-in-case information”
As the library staff internalize these core values, it prepares them for the challenges ahead. I also realized that to improve participation it is imperative to pay attention to employees’ needs and to record grievances and impediments that stall task execution. Accordingly, six committees were constituted to conduct a needs analysis. Together, the committees came up with a 40-page document. To make sense of the data from the document a content analysis was employed to determine subthemes and themes. This has helped tremendously in ensuring buy-in. The librarians accept the innovations because they are part of the process.
What kind of changes does the plan include?
Ahmadu Bello University librarians teaching information literacy skills
Arising from the 40-page document, we have outlined 35 library and information services that have the potential to enhance teaching, learning and research at Ahmadu Bello University. A number of the services are traditional; others are innovative, while some are essentially out of the box. There are too many to discuss in detail, but a few examples include:
  • High-impact journal services — A team of librarians will offer one-stop shop services for scholars who want to publish in high-impact journals.
  • Grant writing — A team of librarians will find local, national and international opportunities to fund the services we want to provide and apply for those grants.
  • Peer tutoring — Students who are proficient in academic research strategies will reach out to other students to offer peer tutoring in online information services.
  • Student competition — Students can register a research area of interest at the beginning of the semester.  When they submit their final papers, a librarian will check for evidence of citations from scholarly databases like ScienceDirect. If those are correct and sufficient, the student will be entered into a drawing for an iPhone or iPad. The objective is to encourage use of academic resources.
What support are you providing library staff?
I am always concerned about how librarians can provide services that will surpass users’ expectations. To actualize this, library managers must build competencies. In this sense, I am emphasizing training and retraining of library staff in both technical and soft skills. In my opinion, technical competencies of librarians in the 21st century call for a paradigm shift in light of the development of digital technologies that revolutionize how scholars access and share information. With dwindling resources and pressure from funding agencies, librarians must pay extra attention in selecting and making available “just-in-time” information resources that align with the teaching, learning and research focus of students and faculty. This approach is a departure from the archetype procedures where librarians emphasize selecting and purchasing “just-in-case” information resources with the hope that the information will be used someday, by someone. 
Most importantly, I strongly believe that 21st century librarians must receive training in skills that will allow them to develop innovative plans for diffusing library resources to faculty and students. Additionally, librarians must be supported in learning how to design strategies for enhancing access to, and adoption and use of library resources.  
Other than technical skills, there is the compelling need for every library staff to receive soft skills training in areas such as oral presentation, interpersonal communication and customer services. 

Do you have the online resources and platforms you require to meet your goals?

The university is fortunate to have a robust central infrastructure operated by the Center for Information Technology, though there can be bandwidth issues during heavy traffic periods. The student and faculty populations, especially the younger ones, are technologically savvy and often use smartphones, tablets and laptops. The library offers a range of scholarly materials, including open source ebooks, fee-based online journals and other resources. So we are well positioned to optimally harness these resources to enable us to favorably compete in terms of access to best-in-class information resources — locally, regionally and globally. 
Any final thoughts on transforming library services at Ahmadu Bello University?
Traditional library services are gone forever. Librarians are no longer book custodians within four walls of the library awaiting faculty and staff requests. 21st century library service is not business as usual. For instance, at the end of each day, everyone in Ahmadu Bello University library services — myself included — needs to be able to articulate the impact they have had in improving teaching, learning and research at the university.