Enhancing subject access to local publications in selected university libraries in East Africa
Access to information is a fundamental right that all humans should enjoy and a core function for libraries. In this study, the thesis was access to research is greatly hampered by the subject terms that librarians assign to aid library users find resources within the library. The terms are western in nature and do not adequately represent the local publications. On the part of the cataloguers, there is inconsistent and inappropriate application of subject headings as they try to conform to the universal cataloguing standards through terminologies that marginalise and exclude the local user. As a result, many aspects of African information materials are rendered inaccessible and therefore under-utilized because of inadequate subject descriptions. In view of the above, the study aimed at examining the process of creating subject access to local publications in the University Libraries at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Makerere University, Uganda. The study employed a case study design using a qualitative approach. The methods employed included interviews and observations. Cataloguers were the primary participants in this study. The findings showed that subject headings are assigned in strict adherence to the Library of Congress Standards to the extent that the local user has no alternative but to adopt the terminology as espoused in the standards since they are claimed to be universal. The local practice of cataloguing in both cases was deemed very complicated by the librarians as there were no documented guidelines to guide the cataloguers and therefore a lot of inconsistencies and inappropriate terms assigned. Local terms that would be assigned to represent these resources were left out and cross references were not provided for at all. The main challenges identified in creating access to local publications besides the inappropriate subject headings, were inadequate cataloguing tools, lack of retraining opportunities. The study concluded that the cataloguers have not adequately utilised the cataloguing resources available in the different formats to provide subject access to local publications. The end result was that the subject representation provided for these resources is not appropriate. The study recommends that cataloguers should be equipped with critical thinking skills lack of which could be the reason for the meek acceptance of standards without innovative ways of focusing on the user. Librarians were urged to document local practices as a way of orienting new librarians and grounding old librarians at the workplace. A model for enhancing access for local publications was proposed and some suggestions to replace inappropriate subject headings were made in the field of education.