Special libraries are collections that exist to serve the specific needs of their clients. The libraries are varied as their needs. However, the libraries do have common elements in the service that they provide, their focused collections and their knowledgeable staff who are able to adapt to the changing needs of their clients base. The phrase “Special libraries” is a misnomer, because all libraries are special and have commonalities in their functions. This statement does not dispute the fact that some libraries have special concerns-be they of their clientele, their collections or their purpose. A standard definition of a special library would be the one that exist to serve the limited needs of a specific entity- a business, industry, government agency, non-profit group or professional organisations. Also included are subject oriented units of a public or academic library (Beenham and Harrison, 1990).
The collection of special libraries is smaller and tends to be more focused in comparison to public and academic libraries. Special libraries have the tools and the people necessary to make information available to the client because it is not just enough to collect and house information. It must be made accessible to users. A Special library in short is particularised information services which correlates, interprets and utilizes the materials at hand for the constant use and benefit of the organisation it serves (Chirgwin and Oldfield, 1982).
The over-riding requirement of the Special library is that it should provide current information that enables research workers and other employers to carry out their duties effectively. Therefore, it provides not only a collection of materials for which is known demand, but also a network of services that make information readily available for a variety of outside sources.
Previously, the provision of books and other materials for purposes of research had been considered of paramount importance. With the dramatic increase in the number of post-war student in Sierra Leone, it came to be more generally accepted that a university library should aim to serve the needs of their main categories of readers; namely, the undergraduate research worker, and the academic staff.
Definition of Charging or Issues System
According to Berkett and Ritiche (1977), the recording of the loan of materials is called charging or issuing. The charging method selected by a particular library depends to a large extent on the library’s clientele, the size of the stock and the need to restrict the number of items which a library member may have on loan, and on whether the library has peak periods for the lending and returning of materials. The choice of methods will also be affected by the amount and type of information the library staff requires the issue to furnish.
The purpose of a circulation system is to give the library users as much access as possible to the stock. Unfortunately, a book loaned to one reader is not available to others and certain restrictions have to be made. For instance an Encyclopedia is a compendium of knowledge on a vast number of subjects and is designed for easy reference rather than for continuous reading. Allowing such a book on loan would inconvenience a great number of library users without benefitting the borrower.
Each library will use a system for recording the books and other items it lends to its readers. There have been many modern developments to record issues in the last thirty years, mainly due to high cost of staffing, increased usage, and in search of better all-round efficiency. There is no one all-purpose systems which will meet the demands of all kinds of library, although the latest computer charging system can cope with many aspects speedily.
A good system should enable the library staff to discover which reader has borrowed which book. It should show when books are due for return and which are overdue. Some systems can control the number of books issued, and particularly the number which each reader has borrowed. The better systems will permit the book is renewed without returning the book in person, and should allow readers to reserve books which are not immediately available.
Charging or Issues System in Libraries
The Circulation department is the area where most patrons are used to because it is here that library materials are loaned out and returned after use, and it is sometimes referred to as the leading or take home department. Records of patrons are kept here after they have completed a necessary form that provides personal information about them, that is, name, address, sex, status and guarantor. Some departments have different cards for different categories of users to complete. The following functions are however performed by circulation department:
• Registration of new users and keeping the records of library patrons;
• Keeping records of borrowed materials and those returned;
• Noting down when borrowed materials are due back in the library;
• Keeping statistics of the department;
• Sending overdue notices to patrons who fail to return their books when due (Nwogu, 1991).
Types of Charging or Issue Systems used in Libraries
As has been said, one of the principal services offered by libraries is the lending of books and others materials. Obviously, libraries need to keep some kind of record of such loan transactions and many methods have been devised to regulate this task. These methods are known as Charging or Issuing methods. The charging method selected by a particular library depends to a large extent on the library’s clientele, the size of stock and the need to restrict the number of items which a library member may have on loan and on whether the library has peak periods for the lending and returning of material. Here are some examples of charging methods used in varied types of libraries.
The Browne System: For many, many years the most commonly used charging method is the Browne system. With this system, a membership application form is filled in and the reader is given a number of tickets bearing his or her name and address. The reader presents the books to be borrowed at the issue desk, along with a reader’s ticket for each book. The date label in each book is stamped with the date of return; the book card is removed from each book and inserted into the reader’s tickets (one book card per ticket). The charge therefore is one book card inserted into one ticket. When the book is returned, the assistant will look inside it to ascertain from the date label, or pocket, the accession number/author/class number as well as the due date. The appropriate charge is then removed from the issue, the book card replaced in the book pocket and the ticket returned to the reader.
The Islington system: In this charging system, each reader is given one plastic ticket on which is embossed his or her name and address. The stationery inside the library books is the same as the Browne system. However, the difference lies in the fact that the reader must print an address slip (using an embossed ticket) for each book he or she wishes to borrow. Therefore the ‘charge’ is a book card plus a paper address slip inside a blank ticket.
Ticket book or Cheque book charging: In this method, each book has a book pocket permanently fixed inside the cover on which details of the book are given. Within this book pocket is a plain pocket, inside which is a book card bearing details of the book. The reader need only insert one of his or her ticket slip into the plain pocket and present the book for date stamping. The assistant removes the ‘charge’ and it is subsequently filed. The issue trays are usually kept in a separate ‘discharge room’ and not at the issue desk. There is a reception desk where the books are returned, the actual discharging being done later in the ‘discharging room’ when the charge is removed from the issue, the reader’s ticket destroyed and the plain pocket and book card returned to the book. An additional ‘cheque book’ is issued to the reader whenever the previous one is used up.
Token Charging: The book date label is stamped in the usual way, and the reader must surrender one token for each book being issued. On returning the books, the reader merely receives the appropriate number of tokens in exchange. At the end of each year the reader must be able to produce the full complement of tokens or pay a replacement cost for any which have been lost. A visible index (that is a list of reserved books which must be checked whenever books are returned) is used for reservations.
Punched card charging: when a book is borrowed, the assistant takes two punched cards, pre-dated with date due for return (both punched and dated stamped), places the two punched cards in an automatic key punched machine and punches on both cards the reader’s number and book accession number and class number. One card is retained as the library’s record of loans; the other card is inserted in the book pocket with the date of return clearly visible. The punched cards are removed from returned books, sorted into accession number order by machine, and then matched by machine with the duplicate cards kept as the library’s record of loans. Unmatched cards represents books still out on loan and these can be refilled mechanically, this time in date order to reveal overdue.
Computerised Issuing System: Computer systems now available in libraries are very advanced indeed. The issue terminal is equipped with a data pen to which may be attached a self-inking date stamp. There is a card holder into which the reader’s ticket is inserted. Charging is accomplished by running the data pen horizontally across the bar code on the reader’s ticket and the across the barcode labels on the books to be borrowed. The date labels in the book are stamped with the date of return and the ticket is returned to the reader. The discharge terminal is also equipped with another data pen and this is used to read the books’ bar code labels when they are returned. The reader’s ticket is not required at this stage as the reader’s name will be automatically deleted from the computer records when all books are have been returned(Beenham, and Harrison 1990).
Charging or Issue System at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences Library
The College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) was founded on the 12th April, 1988 by the Government of Sierra Leone in Co-operation with the Nigerian government and the World Health Organisation (WHO). With the enactment and coming into effect of the 2005 University Act, which led to the creation of two universities in Sierra Leone, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences as a constituent arm of the University of Sierra Leone, in cooperation with the National School of Nursing, which is now a faculty and the Pharmacy Technician School, also part of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library started a few months after the college was established in 1988. The library was first located at Bass Street, in Brookfields and later transferred to New England in Freetown, from where it was finally transferred to the Connaught Hospital, when the Ministry of Health gave up the building it used to occupy as a library.
The College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library was started by a Medical Librarian by the name of Nancy M’Jamtu-Sie in 1988. The library holds the main stock of Medical and Health Sciences materials in the University of Sierra Leone. The library depends solely on donations and it operates on three sites: the main Medical library at the Connaught Hospital which houses the library administrative office, short loan, reference, World Health Organisation audio cassettes collection; the CD-ROM and Internet facilities, the multidisciplinary library at the National School of Nursing, houses the general collection and as well as short loan and reference books and the Medical Sciences library at the Kossoh Town Campus.
The mission of College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences is: “to train community-oriented doctors, pharmacists, nurses, laboratory scientists, and the health personnel with sound professional and managerial skills suitably qualified to meet international standards and capable to undertake research and pursue training in specialised areas for health care delivery services.”
The College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences practices the Browne Issue System mentioned above, which is practiced in most libraries especially Special libraries found in the University of Sierra Leone. With the Browne Charging or Issuing system at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library, each library book has a book card which is kept in a pocket inside each book. The card identifies each book by recording, usually the accession number, classification number, author and short title. Each reader has a ticket issued to him/her which indicates the name and address. This reader’s ticket holds the book card, which is taken from the pocket in the book, and this forms the record of the issue. Each book is stamped with the date for return and the issue is filed in trays under the date due for return, and within what date probably by accession number.
When the readers return the book, the date due for stamped on the date label locates the correct date among the issue trays and the accession number printed on the date label should find the correct position within that date. The book card is then returned to the book, which is now ready for shelving and the reader recovers his tickets. Overdue books are self-evident since the trays are in date order, and reservation are made searching the appropriate care in an obvious way. The Brown system is simply operated and easily understood by library staff and readers alike.
Clientele or Users of College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences Library
A clientele in library is a body of customers or patrons that makes use of a library in order to get needed information. The clientele of a library are highly knowledgeable group. Consequently, the emphasis of the library is on maintaining considerable depth of subject material or supplying information to be in print.All members of the University of Sierra Leone who are allowed to use the College of Medicine and Allied Health Science library must register with the library and obtain a membership card. External readers are allowed to use the library for reference purposes but would not be given borrowing facilities.
At the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library, most of the books are available to users for loan period and the number of books loaned varies. The book stock covers basic medical sciences, biology, physiology, biochemistry and all disciplines of medicine. Books are borrowed to both students and staff for specific period of time.
Challenges of Charging or Issue System used at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences Library
Special Libraries in Sierra Leone, especially College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences Library are not without challenges.
Space Challenge: The three sites where the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library operates have been observed to be very small with reference to the building. The locations of these sites especially with ones at National School of Nursing which houses the general collection as well as short loan and reference books; and the Medical Sciences library at the Kossoh Town campus, are not seen as favourable in terms of their locations. They do not offer convenient access for all staff and clients. Shelving and storage has not been conveniently located.
Financial Status: The financial standing of the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library has been very unsatisfactorily especially when the management cannot meet with its obligation of taking care of the library’s itinerary. This has led to the library not having updated collections. This has been seen in the area of salaries, which has been very poor, operational costs, subscriptions, acquisitions, training and professional development.
Insufficient Materials: Materials at College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences are inadequate to meet the needs of its users. Materials are mainly acquired through donations as the library does not have enough funds to purchase materials in order to meet the needs of its users.
Inadequate computers and limited Internet Service: There are no adequate computers and strong internet connectivity sufficient enough to service the numerous clienteles. At the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library, the inadequate number of available computers does not allow the library to operate the Computer charging or issuing system which is more advance and easier to operate than the Browne charging system which the library currently uses. The Internet service provided is also not sufficient to handle the high number of both their students, staff and other users.
Lack of adequate trained and qualified staff: The College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library is short of adequate trained and qualified Librarians which have rendered the library ineffective in the area of properly disseminating information to users. The library is only made up of two qualified librarians and additional staff consists of a technician, clerks, cleaners and messengers.
Conclusively, the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library as a Special library in the University of Sierra Leone has been able to meet the information needs of the many users with the Browne Issue system that it operates on. However, the collection is not updated and the service is not excellent enough to satisfy the clientele that it caters for. The College library lacks enough funds to purchase updated materials. The services of the library have not been too satisfactorily and this is due to few trained personnel and limited facilities. In spite of these challenges at College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences library, the Browne charging or Issue System has proven to be the therapy that has salvage the issue of delivery of services to their clients and the due preservation of their materials.