This study is an attempt to appraise the reference services provided in the public libraries in the North Central Geo- Political zone of Nigeria viz: FCT City library zone 4 Wuse Abuja and Nasarawa state library,
objectives which addressed types of reference services provided; extent of availability of the reference services; resources employed for the provision of reference service in the two libraries; level of adequacy of the reference resources for reference services; problems affecting the provision of reference services in the two public libraries and suggestions for improving the reference services provided by the public libraries. Based on the six research questions drawn from the objectives, a survey instrument titled appraisal questionnaire was used to obtain information from the respondents. The instrument had two parts “A and B”. Part “A” sought information on the bio-data of respondents, while part “B” direct on the quality, availability and adequacy of reference resources and services. An observation checklist was also designed and administered to determine the adequacy of reference service in terms of currency and quality. 217 copies of questionnaire were distributed based on the population sample, 177 completed questionnaires were returned representing 81.5% response rate. The data collected was analyzed using mean score, frequency count and percentages and presented in tables where necessary. Findings of the study revealed that most of the library staff lack the relevant skills needed for effective reference service. Findings further revealed lack of convenient access to the users of the public libraries and also the need for adequate orientation on the use of library resources and services. Based on the findings, the study recommended among others the provision of current and up to date information sources, and training and re-training of library staff.
Background to the study
The library in a community provides a unique service that should be accessible to everybody. Library is an institution that acquires, organizes, processes and disseminates information materials in all disciplines to those that need them with little or no expense on their part.
The public library is a type of library from inception which has been regarded as a free library set up to provide service to everyone. It serves the community; hence it is referred to as peoples university (Adimora, 1999). Of all types of libraries, public library has the most heterogeneous clients to serve. The services are directed at everyone including literate, non- literate, students, teachers, farmers, industrialists, doctors, bankers, civil servants, businessmen, poor, wealthy, able, and disabled peoples etc. The public library must aim to support the general
interest of the community it serves so as to contribute to the quality of life and add to the totality of man’s happiness and awareness of himself, others and his environment.
The UNESCO public library manifesto issued in 1949, revised in 1972 and 1994 declares: ‘the public library is the local centre of information, making all kinds of knowledge and information readily available to its users.”
The services of the public library are provided on the basis of equality of access to all regardless of age, sex, race, religion, nationality, language or social status. Specific services and materials must be provided for those users who cannot for whatever reason use the regular services and materials for example, linguistic minority, peoples with disabilities or people in hospital or prison. The same manifesto gave the key missions that should be at the core of public library services as follows:- creating and strengthening reading habits in children from an early age, supporting both individual and self conducted education as well as formal education at all level, providing opportunities for personal creative development, stimulating the imagination and creativity of children and young people, creating awareness of cultural heritage, appreciating the arts/scientific achievements and innovations,, providing access to cultural expression of all performing arts, fostering inter – cultural dialogue and favoring cultural diversity, supporting the tradition, ensuring access for citizens to all sorts of community information, providing adequate information services to local enterprises/associations and interest groups, facilitating the development of information and computer literacy skills, and also supporting and participating in literacy activities and programs for all age groups, and initiating such activities if necessary, (Edoka, 2000).
Achebe (2005) notes that the study of ancient and medieval library leaves no one in doubt about the value of public libraries in education. She listed some protagonists of public library services such as Edward Edwards of Britain, Melvin Dewey of America and Antonio Pannizi of Italy who at various times in the history of libraries worked tirelessly to establish their public libraries for the purpose of bringing education and knowledge to the doorsteps of their people thereby encouraging these people to read without necessarily going to school.
Olanlokun (1993) and Achebe (2005) were of the view that the first public library in Nigeria was the Lagos municipal library which was a subscription library with branches in parts of the country. These were followed by the Nigerian government public relation office library located at Lagos, and the numerous reading rooms in the Eastern, Western, and Northern Nigeria. The objectives of public libraries are thus: providing information needs of the community, support their educational efforts
, encourage purposeful use of leisure, encourage and promote reading – habit especially among children.
This study focuses on reference service which is one of the services offered by public libraries. The provision of reference service is an important function of a public library. Readers are provided this service on requests. People have different reference queries that need to be solved by the librarian. Hence it is generally a person –to –person service. In some cases, reference processes involve interviewing the reader to enable the reference librarian articulate the problem of the user clearly. Assistance is necessary in fulfilling functions, and a specific administrative organization of qualified personnel must be provided.
Alokun (2003) was of the view that reference services involve assisting readers in obtaining information from the library. Consequently, the main objective of reference service is to find precisely the right materials to solve immediate problems. Reference service is also the various library activities deliberately designed to facilitate easy availability of information Edoka (2000).
Many public libraries were established in the last one hundred years in several parts of the country and they give prominence to reference service. For instance the Lagos town council library established in the early 1950s provided reference service to adult users who studies mainly for public examinations. The Lagos municipal library opened its main and branch library services to the public and provided children reference services. In the Western states of Nigeria, mobile reference service and loan services were provided in the state capital in the 1970s even though other cities and towns in the state had no access to such service. The regional reference library was opened in Kaduna in 1963 and branches were opened in other parts of the region. The divisional libraries in the Eastern parts such as Onitsha, Enugu, Awka, also gives prominence to reference services to their clients. More recently, the various state library boards give prominence to reference services even though most of them were poorly funded (Olanlokun, 2003). Some reference services offered to clientele are as follows: Inter–Library loan service, user education service, Current awareness service, reprographic service, computer literature search/online searches, Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) etc.
Inter – library loan service occur when a library do not have some materials needed by users and instead of discharging the user, the library will seek for that particular material from another library to make sure that the user get the appropriate material he/she needed so as not to be stranded. Having identified their areas of needs and requests, the borrowing and lending process can also take advantage of the internet for both requesting and delivery of inter-library
loan materials. The essence of a library engaging in inter-library loan is to enrich its collection and provide improved and qualitative services to users.
User education service is another type of reference service offered to user of the library. In this case the reference librarian acquaints the users on how to use the library and the resources in the library. User education is instruction given to readers to help them make use of the library. It is concerned with the whole information and communication process and one part of this involves the total interaction of the users with the library. Generally, the reasons for user education centers on issue of acquainting the users with the library building itself, staff, library tools etc. the absence of this is why the users easily get frustrated when the time come for them to use the library.
Current Awareness Service; this service involves displaying of new accessions in the library over a period of not less than one week for users to browse through. Periodic exhibition are also held on topical issues for academic and research interest.
Reprographic service involves making available materials that may not given out on loan in print
and non-print [CD-Burning, Scanning] formats. Authors like Abel, Gogdil and Zaka (2002) stated that whatever be the future, the services of information provision will continue to be an essential instrument of human welfare. Similarly, Margeston  also recognizes the importance of dynamic access to information. Edoka (2000) on his part avers that the entire human and material resources in the library are put in place at a considerable expense for the overall purpose of effective services to the library users.
Nasarawa state library in Lafia was established in 1997 after the caving out of the state from plateau. It stands as the only public library in that state. The towns that surrounded lafia where this library was located are Awe, Obi, Nasarawa, Eggon, and Doma. The library as at the time visited has a total number of eight staff amongst who are two qualified librarians, one Para-professional with NCE diploma in library science, two library assistants, one attendant, and two security guards. The library have a total of 3241 volumes of books, 218 journals, 125 newspapers and some of their materials are outdated. They have readership of mainly students pursuing WAEC and JAMB, civil servants, job seekers, etc. Their hours of service were from 8.00 to 4.00pm on daily basis excluding weekends.
The Federal Capital Territory city library (FCT) Abuja is the only public library in the whole of FCT comprising of six area councils – Kwali, Gwagwalada, Buwari, Kuje, Abaji, and Abuja municipal area council (AMAC). It was inaugurated in June 1995 by the then first lady of the Federal republic of Nigeria Dr Mrs. Mariam Sanni Abacha after witnessing the sufferings of the people in FCT and its environs as regards reading centers and leisure. The main reason for establishing the FCT city library is to cater for reading and research needs of all residing in the six area councils of the FCT which includes – civil servants that are undergoing in-service training and others that are on their own, students of law school, graduates and undergraduates of tertiary institutions, people looking for employment, secondary and primary students and other who may wish to use the library at leisure. The FCT library situate at no. 2 Gwani crescent along UBE headquarters Abuja, very close to IBB way, Wuse zone 4, Abuja. The library was a bungalow with a fenced compound. The library was directly opposite inland bank complex at zone 4 Wuse. The FCT library has a total of three thousand four hundred and ninety-two books in all from their statistics, one hundred and nine (109) reading chairs, and twenty-five reading carrels, total number of five staff (5) out of which one is a qualified librarian while three are clerks and one security man. The library attends to about 300 readers on a daily basis. The FCT city library hours are 8.00am – 10.00pm Mondays to Fridays, and 8.00am – 4.00pm on Saturdays.
Hours to spend on daily basis and the readers to be attending to in the library forced the staff to embark on shift but no form of incentive was granted to them. The reference service and other professional works in the library are taken care of by the librarian only, and all the works in the library are done manually because only one qualified librarian was attached to FCT library and the library as the time of the study was not automated.