of the American Society for Information Science and Technology   Vol. 27, No. 6    August / September 2001


Go to
Bulletin Index

bookstore2Go to the ASIST Bookstore



Editor's Note : This article and the one that follows were edited for the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology from papers submitted to the SIG/III International Paper Competition in 2000. Together the articles present a picture of efforts to use digital technology to provide basic information services to university faculty, students and health professionals in Ethiopia. They highlight what can be achieved through local collaboration and with the help of international partners in the face of highly constrained resources.

The Potential of Electronic Document Delivery Services for Academic Libraries in Ethiopia

by Petros Demilew

Petros Demilew is with Addis Ababa University Libraries, Addis Ababa University, PO Box 1176, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and can be reached by e-mail at law.aau@telecom.net.et

The term e lectronic document delivery (EDD) may have many meanings depending upon the context. For example, in Collection Management for the 21st Century, Grahm Cornish  has defined it as "supplying a text in electronic form which is required by a reader but which is not in the library being used by the reader at that time" (p. 160). The International Encyclopaedia of Information and Library Science defines EDD as the transfer of information from a publisher or library to a user by electronic means, such as e-mail or an online network or on CD-ROM. In this study, the term EDD is used to mean the automatic request and delivery of documents (journal articles, a portion of a monograph, etc.) using communication networks such as the Internet between the requesting and supplying libraries.

At a workshop held in Addis Ababa in September 1998 on resource sharing and networking among academic institutions in Ethiopia, participants and information professionals raised document delivery service issues, discussed major problems extensively and adopted resolutions. A report on the workshop was published by Addis Ababa University Library in 1999. One of the major issues raised during the workshop was the importance and feasibility of EDD service (EDDS) among academic libraries in Ethiopia with the possibility of developing an EDD project. The study reported here was done to prepare for such a project.

General Background and Statement of the Problem

Academic libraries in Ethiopia emerged with the commencement of higher learning, particularly with the establishment of the University College of Addis Ababa in 1950. The number of academic libraries has increased with the expansion of institutions of higher learning. In 1999 there were 18 government funded higher education institutions in the country. All of these institutions reportedly have libraries to support their training and research missions.

It is now widely recognized that it is no longer possible for even the world's largest research academic libraries to acquire most published material, much less for those in developing countries like Ethiopia to do so. Addis Ababa University, for instance, presently subscribes to only 436 selected core scholarly journals, which is 0.17 % of those that were available in 1990 according to an analysis by Graves and Wulff in Advances in Library Resource Sharing.

On the other hand, the rapid increase in the number of students and staff and the growth of both undergraduate and postgraduate studies at higher academic institutions in the country has placed a heavy strain on library resources. This strain has resulted in rationing of student and staff access to library holdings.

The recognition of resource sharing in terms of interlibrary loan (ILL) and document delivery has added a new dimension to library service worldwide, and many academic libraries now make use of them to overcome the above mentioned challenges. It is the emergence of these services that has led to the "just-in-time" versus "just-in-case" debate and to the development of "access versus ownership" policies.

Ethiopia also needs to utilize document delivery services effectively and efficiently as one means of resource sharing and cooperation in order to address its problems. To this end, our study attempts to explore the potential of EDDS using existing resources such as the Internet.

Objective and Methodology of the Study

The general objective of the study was to investigate the existing manual-based document delivery system of academic libraries in Ethiopia with a view to proposing enhanced resource sharing among the academic libraries through the application of EDDS.

To understand the need and to make document delivery more efficient through electronic means, it was useful to examine the current patterns in document delivery and the obstacles hindering its overall efficiency. To do this, a survey research method was used. The survey investigated the existing patterns of information flow, information exchange, resource sharing and other related issues. To carry out the survey we employed questionnaires, interviews, onsite observation techniques and reviews of existing documentation.

Findings and Discussion of the Current Status of Academic Libraries in Ethiopia

The findings of the study are divided into seven categories:

    1. Academic programs

    2. Library staff members

    3. Library holdings

    4. Services provided

    5. Computer facilities and other equipment

    6. Financial resources

    7. Cooperation and resources sharing

Academic programs. Only programs carried out by at least three institutions were considered in the analysis. We observed that 7 of the 17 (41.2%) responding institutions have a common area of interest in technology and agricultural sciences. The next most important areas of interest are the social and natural sciences, each with six schools (35.3%). In addition, all institutions have freshman introductory courses both in natural sciences and social sciences. From the data, we can conclude that when institutions want to cooperate they have common areas of interest for the purpose of information resource sharing.

Library Staff Members. With the exception of Addis Ababa University, one finds a maximum of one or two professionals working in academic libraries. Indeed the Ambo College of Agriculture, Bahir Dar Poly Technique Institute and Wondo Genet College of Forestry do not have professional librarians at all. The majority of the staff members have usually completed 12 th grade and have a few years of experience. The very few trained personnel with a university level education  (bachelors degree or above) are holding positions as heads of libraries, and they are busy with administrative work. In general the number and quality of trained professionals is inadequate

Among the 17 libraries, 15 or 88.2% of library staff have computer skills. Therefore, if the proposed EDD system were to be implemented, there would  be no problem since a good number of the libraries have staff already with computer technology skill. Therefore, the proposed system will be implemented successfully.

Library Holdings. The survey revealed that many of the academic libraries have very few holdings, and most of the collections are outdated. For instance, at Addis Ababa University Library, a previous study showed that only .4% of the books were published after 1990. The study also indicated that fewer journals were regularly received in the 1990s than in the 1980s.

With regard to indigenous publications all institutions produce bulletins and newsletters. Addis Ababa University, Jimma Institute of Health Sciences, Kotebe College of Teachers Education and Gonder College of Medical Sciences regularly produce scholarly journals. The survey also reveals that most of the institutions have used the postal system to deliver locally published materials. Although 11 libraries used on-site visits for requesting and supplying documents in general, all institutions heavily used personal visits for indigenous publications, as we confirmed through interviews with librarians and onsite observations. Personal visits are also used for ILL services.

Because of the lack of mechanisms for identifying and locating documents as well as weak delivery systems it was observed that researchers and students underutilize these publications. This suggests the need for other means of service that can improve the accessibility and supply of documents.

Services Provided. In all academic institution libraries referral and reading (on the spot and on loan) services are the major functions. Similar regulations on the use of materials for spot reading and loan are exercised; reference materials and journals are not available for loan. In some cases, however, staff members may borrow bound journals and some reserve books for overnight or a day. Most of the libraries are open evenings and weekends in addition to regular working hours.

Referral and query services are usually available, formally and informally. Current awareness services on current acquisitions and other additions are practiced in the same way in all libraries. The major tool in identifying and locating library holdings is the traditional card catalog. Ten (58.8% ) libraries have also provided searching on CD-ROM databases for bibliographic information services. This service expands the accessibility of primary documents beyond the local holdings. 

When documents are not available in their local libraries, users request the libraries to provide them either through ILL or document delivery services. Due to the rules and regulations of ILL or the policies of libraries users may not get primary documents through such a system because journals, rare books and books in demand are not allowed for loan. The only alternative users have in such cases is document delivery services. In present practice the use of document delivery services in academic institutions in Ethiopia except Addis Ababa University is weak and underutilized. Addis Ababa University and Alemaya Agricultural University have a formal agreement with the British Library Document Supply Center (BLDSC) for supplying their users with photocopies of documents using manual methods. The practice of ILL service is also not strong except for Addis Ababa University although it started a long time ago. In many institutions ILL and document delivery services are not considered part of the library/information services, unlike circulation or referral services. Five (29.4%) of the libraries have also carried out literature search services on the Internet for teachers and postgraduate students. These libraries also provide e-mail service for their staff and postgraduate students.

Although not fully developed, Awassa College of Agriculture has started to provide selective dissemination of information services for researchers.

Computer Facilities and Other Equipment. Except for the Ambo College of Agriculture Library, all libraries surveyed have a minimum of one IBM-compatible personal computer with 16 MB RAM or above. They are using DOS and Windows operating systems. The software used includes Microsoft Office (Access, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook Express), Internet Explorer and other types of database management software.

The computers are heavily used for word processing, and some libraries use them for searching databases from CD-ROM. Very few libraries have started to use them for in-house database development or information retrieval services.

Eleven (64.7%) of the libraries have been connected to the Internet. Currently, libraries use the Internet for e-mail, for downloading and for literature searching. Those libraries that do not have Internet connections have plans to get the connectivity in the near future.

Financial Resources. The major financial resources of libraries are their parent institutions. All academic institutions receive aid or donor-supported project assistance for the major part of their acquisition and some specific activities from overseas.

Addis Ababa University and Alemaya University of Agriculture clearly know their budget allocated to them by their parent institutions. However, in general, financial resources for subscriptions to journals and books are inadequate. As a result many of the libraries are forced to cancel subscriptions of scholarly journals and maintain a constant number of books. Journals were stagnant. Ten (58.8%) libraries are in the worst situation since they did not clearly know the budget allocated for the purchase of books or serials.

To supplement the needs and requirements of their users for journal articles, some institutions like Addis Ababa University are attempting to use document delivery services from overseas like BLDSC in UK, but it is still a problem to cover the cost.

Cooperation and Resource Sharing. At present academic institutions cooperate with each other mainly in ILL or document delivery services. For instance, Addis Ababa University Libraries has a formal agreement with 26 institutions, including five academic institutions. There is also cooperation in staff education and training. A little cooperation is also practiced in joint research and development, exchange of accession lists and tables of contents of journals and in experience sharing among professionals.

Cooperation is mainly based on the goodwill of the institutions involved. Formal resource sharing agreements don't exist, but an attempt has been made to establish a resource-sharing consortium among academic institutions. The first profound basis was established in 1998 at the workshop previously mentioned. All information professionals of academic institutions attended the workshop, which established a basic understanding among them.

All showed willingness and the majority believed that it would be to their benefit to pursue resource sharing. Resolutions were passed on this issue during the first workshop and a subsequent one held in November 1999, also at Addis Ababa University. One of the resolutions stipulated that the importance and benefits of information resource sharing to their libraries be considered. Particular emphasis was given to beginning information resource sharing through ILL and document delivery services among institutions. Although decision makers on higher management levels have to be involved, such strong enthusiasm and appreciation among participants is one important ground for the successful development, implementation and operation of EDDS within academic institutions.

Features and System Requirements of the Proposed Academic Libraries Electronic Document Delivery Service (ALEDDS)

The survey revealed the many challenges and opportunities end users face in obtaining research materials not available locally. Materials have to be requested from overseas when seriously needed but not available in local resources. It has also been observed that there is under-utilization of both the foreign and locally produced journals that are already available in academic libraries in the country. Before libraries forward their requests overseas it would be better to explore all possible locally available resources effectively and efficiently. To do this academic libraries should explore the potential of EDDS. This section deals with the proposed system.

General Considerations. The proposed system of Academic Libraries Electronic Document Delivery Services (ALEDDS) is based on the identified needs of libraries through discussions with librarians of selected institutions having ILL or document delivery services. From the discussions it was observed that all libraries have an interest in a strong information resource-sharing consortium using EDDS and taking into account the following principles: 

  • Use locally available personnel and other resources
  • Utilize the existing infrastructure
  • Provide useful output to users in the consortium
  • Be economically and technically feasible.

Desired Features of the Proposed ALEDDS

To satisfy academic libraries' information resource sharing needs we defined appropriate and important features of the proposed ALEDDS. In the proposed system academic libraries are both the requesters and the suppliers of documents They are the end users of the system.

Web publishing is known for its capability not only to publish but also to easily access information. The website structure of ALEDDS is designed to enable users to reach the information or applications they require in a minimum set of hyperlink clicks. A common approach is to use a hierarchical structure and place as much information as possible in the form of hyperlinks near the top of the hierarchy structure.  

The website is designed to incorporate the following features:

  • an ALEDDS homepage to allow users to read and select options;
  • databases of lists of serials and their locations (libraries);
  • a users search form; and
  • an online request form.

ALEDDS System Requirements.  The proposed ALEDDS system has the following functional requirements:

  • Document delivery request can be transmitted to a document supplier via a network (Internet).
  • Documents are to be digitized before they are transmitted to the requester, if they do not exist in digital format.
  • A document supplier library has to supply the requested document to the requester via a network (the Internet).
  • The received document has to be able to be either printed or viewed electronically by the requester.

The study also addressed hardware, software, communications networks, standards and protocols, and copyright issues.

Prototype of the Proposed ALEDDS

Due to shortage of time and money, the proposed ALEDDS was developed and tested only for the processes of identifying the location of serials (mainly journals) within academic libraries, of submitting online requests to the supplying libraries and of transferring the requested scanned documents to the requester library. At the supplier end librarians fulfilled the request by scanning the hard copy to digital format and sending it using a MIME-coded e-mail attachment. According to these requirements and desired features of the proposed system a prototype serial database, searching and online request forms were developed. 

Application Employed. The prototype was developed using the ColdFusion application kit. ColdFusion is a rapid application development tool that enables the rapid creation of interactive, dynamic and information-rich websites. It does not require coding in traditional programming languages (although programming constructs and techniques are supported). Instead we created applications by extending HTML files with high level formatting functions, conditional operations and database commands.

Prototype Development. For the prototype the ALEDDS Web page was developed using HTML and ColdFusion tags. The Web page presents general background information about ALEDDS, links of available services and a list of academic libraries. This page is published on the publishing directory of our Internet Information Server (IIS) (InetPub\wwwroot).

For the purpose of demonstrating database access through the Web, a database of journals and libraries was developed. The database tables were created using Microsoft Access. We used Access because ODBC supports the Microsoft Access driver. The ColdFusion application server communicates with the database through ODBC. Sample records of journals and lists of institutions were created to test the system. The homepage of the prototype provides a short introduction to EDDS. It has links to all academic libraries and various services such as adding a journal, viewing a complete listing of journals, searching for journals or making online requests.

Testing. As a test of the system, we used an 11-page article from SINET: Ethiopian Journal of Science that included texts, maps, tables, graphs, figures and formulas.

At the School of Information Studies for Africa (Addis Ababa University) we scanned the article and transmitted it as a PaperPort attachment to an e-mail file. It was received, viewed and printed at the Addis Ababa University Medical Library. The quality of the received document was as good as the original and the overall process was successful. Therefore, this pre-test demonstrates the feasibility of the exercise.

Conclusion and Recommendations

EDDS have already formed an essential part of the electronic libraries that are emerging as the principal source of information in this era. These systems have helped to increase the efficiency with which primary documents can be provided to end users, allowing them to select, request and obtain documents directly from their local computers. Such systems are necessary for the academic and research communities of Ethiopia to increase access both to locally available information resources and to other exponentially expanding bodies of information. However, EDDS will not appear rapidly, but will most likely develop slowly in an incremental fashion out of the existing library system. Since most of the requirements for implementing an EDDS either exist or can be realized relatively easily, the cost effectiveness of an EDDS is also apparent. With the existing MIME-compliant e-mail, scanning, printing and standard technologies, EDD is technically feasible for the academic libraries in Ethiopia provided that the existing network infrastructure in the country in general and in the academic institutions in particular is developed well.

Recommendations. This study recommends the following points for consideration during the course of the implementation of EDDS:

  • One institution, probably the Addis Ababa University, should take the initiative to prepare the necessary ground and initiate cooperation in this line.
  • A coordinating body (a project team) should be elected by participants with the major goals of coordinating activities and devising and implementing an interim plan of action that should include
  • sensitizing parent organizations' decision-making bodies to the problem and to the need for cooperation through document delivery services including the benefit to be gained if the parent organizations provide financial support and meeting places and help arrange workshops and discussion forums, among other things;
  • creating awareness and motivating the staff of academic libraries, mainly of the professionals, to coordinate their willing and conscious participation to realize the objectives of EDDS; and
  • creating an action plan involving all aspects of procurement, installation, testing, user training and evaluation.
  • After the costs have been estimated and a final decision has been reached, funds should be solicited from each institution in the consortium. If funds from their budgets are not adequate, the coordinating body should approach donor agencies that may be willing to finance the project. If the latter option is taken a grant application or proposal should be prepared clearly stating the needs and objectives of the proposed system.
  • Local resources should be explored thoroughly through a cooperative information resource sharing agreement before libraries request documents from overseas sources.
  • Libraries should rethink their approach to collection development and consider devoting a part of their budget to requesting documents that can be supplied by document delivery services, instead of buying documents that might never be used.
  • The shared database should be located centrally with other institutions having access at the central site. Addis Ababa University library could be a central node. It has a number of advantages. First, relatively speaking, this institution is equipped with more IT infrastructure and it will have its network in the future. Second, there are information professionals at this institution. Third, its holdings are better than the other libraries.
  • EDDS is a scaleable project that can be started small and fully developed later. Therefore, libraries can start to implement the service with the existing infrastructure in a small scale.
  • In order to see other options for EDD, Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation should provide a leased line and reliable bandwidth channel for academic institutions.
  • Technology changes constantly. What is regarded as the best today might be much improved by developments and changes happening any time in the future. Therefore, academic libraries should always keep track of technology changes and evaluate new technology against the already existing systems.
  • Further study should be conducted to enable users to locate, request and receive documents, including databases of articles from journals, in a simple, unmediated process at a place of work where the user has network access.
  • The other area of study that should be considered is to develop a fully integrated automated EDDS that could support delivery of electronic journals using the FTP protocol.

How to Order

ASIST Home Page

American Society for Information Science and Technology
8555 16th Street, Suite 850, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA
Tel. 301-495-0900, Fax: 301-495-0810 | E-mail:

Copyright 2001, American Society for Information Science and Technology