The number of students making use of distance learning is growing rapidly. In 2016 the NWU had 30 000 distance students of which 22 000 were studying education.
Alignment of qualifications offered to contact and distance students in theory requires the same level of information literacy. However, many NWU distance students studying education are full-time teachers and are older than the average contact student. These older students generally do not have the same level of computer literacy as the younger generation. Yet they rely on internet access for all their study material and other information whereas contact students have access to the university library and its professional staff in person. Study centres for distance students across the country offer study books provided by the university but these books are rarely used. The reason is uncertain but distance as well as the fact that full-time teachers do not have the time to travel long distances to visit the centres, can play a role.
The library cannot solve these problems but still has a responsibility to ensure that all students have access to its services and electronic resources. The challenges are numerous and cooperation between library staff and academic staff is crucial in order to understand the information needs of the students. The university library has the quality academic information that students need but it is of no value if students do not or cannot use it. Students with a low level of computer literacy offer a special challenge as they need to be convinced that using the library’s website and searching in academic databases are preferable to doing Google searches.
This paper will discuss problems encountered by distance students and methods used by the Library and Information Services of the NWU Potchefstroom campus to assist them. Inexperienced computer users are guided to access, to understand, to use information and e-resources by means of a mobile friendly website.