Repositioning Nigerian Libraries for Optimal Impact

Ayeni Phillips

Ayeni Phillips

In recent times, libraries in Nigeria have been faced with misconceptions and wrong perceptions. Unfortunately, these misconceptions do not only come from the unlearned, but also from the elites and those who have passed through universities. People seem to underestimate the significance of libraries as regards their services. This however owes to so many reasons which include but not limited to; lack of exposure, poor reading culture, past encounter with untrained and unprofessional librarians, poor library services, advent of the information and communication technologies (ICT), Internet and its attendant search engines. Some people even wrongly define the library solely as a place where books are stored. As such, when you say you are a Librarian, they wonder and ask you why you have assumed the duty of just arranging and keeping books on the shelves.

More specifically, the roles of the library in providing cutting-edge information services to meet the educational, cultural, religious and recreational needs of users are gradually being underestimated. This perhaps cannot be attributed chiefly to users’ ignorance about the roles of libraries and librarians in achieving a knowledge and literate society, but because some libraries have failed in their roles as gateways to knowledge. A cursory look at the present library system in Nigeria – especially public and school libraries, shows that there is need for a total overhauling of the policies, collections, services, and infrastructure in order to effectively meet the varying and ever-changing needs of library users.

Nigerian libraries are faced with dwindling budgetary allocation, unfavourable government policies, poor management of library resources, deterioration and threats from vandalism. Yet in other dysfunctional libraries, the major problem has been linked to poor or under-staffing, since people who do not know anything about librarianship are recruited based on connection and nepotism to man libraries. The implication of this is that the focus and purpose of such libraries will be defeated and constantly threatened by ineptitude and poor services. In order to regain relevance and patronage for Nigerians libraries, there is need to reposition our libraries, aligning them to world standards. There is need for a paradigm shift from the traditional ways of rendering information services to best practices that befit the 21st century information services provision. It is no longer business as usual, but a more proactive and innovative way of providing information is a sine qua non to achieving a literate and knowledge economy.

Clearly, we need to rethink our libraries not just as quiet zones where lips are sealed, where meetings are prohibited, where collaborative works and exhibition are only left in the imagination of the users, but a more welcoming, imaginative, creative and information hubs. Our libraries should be user-centric, services driven, technology inclined, and innovation embracing. We need to innovate and rebrand the way we render services. More so, the collection of information bearing resources in Nigeria libraries should be constantly developed. When users find library collections reliable and relevant in meeting their needs, they will be encouraged to visit again. There is nothing as embarrassing as using an Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) to search for a book in the library, only to get to the shelf where it was recorded to be found and discover that the book is not available on the shelves. Shelving and shelf reading should be constantly carried out from time to time in order to ensure that books are placed at the right place. Moreover, libraries should subscribe to electronic resources, such as online databases where users can access e-books, e-journals, e-reference for free in order to cater for the needs of remote library users.

In addition, Nigerian libraries should engage its citizens by reaching out to users, and taking library services from librarians’ comfort zones (library buildings), to the homes of users through mobile libraries and library campaigns. It is expedient to innovate our libraries not just as reading cubicles but as learning hubs, innovating spaces, creation hubs, maker spaces, training and retraining centers. Community libraries could organize computer training classes, digital literacy sessions for community dwellers. Public libraries could allow its space to be used for sensitization, polio vaccination exercises, and for citizenship orientation about national and global development agenda. Nigerian libraries need to, as a matter of urgency, play a leading role in community developmental projects and showing the world that libraries are quintessential entities in achieving the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Most importantly, training of staff in technical and soft skills should not be taken with levity. No current, relevant and thought-provoking information resources will be useful without the service of well trained, technology-savvy, passionate and courteous librarians. It is not enough to equip libraries with state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure without engaging the service of qualified and certified librarians who have the expertise and qualification to do so. If library staff are lagging behind in these skills, it will inadvertently impact negatively on the overall services of the library. Librarians should be encouraged to participate in both national and international workshops/conferences, with the view to empowering them to cutting-edge approach and best practices in information service provision.

Consequently, for our libraries to be relevant and sought-for in creating information literate and knowledge driven society, there is need for structural and technical repositioning and replenishing of both material and human resources. All hands should be on deck to ensure that Nigerian libraries, when compared with what is obtainable in other developed countries like UK, US, Korea, Australia, etc., are able to stand tall in the business of information provision. As such, it behoves the government, organizations, individuals, and well-meaning Nigerians to lend their support to our libraries for maximum impact. On the other hand, librarians and information professionals should learn new skills, relearn technical and soft skills and unlearn primordial principles involved in providing information services for library clienteles, in order to make Nigerian libraries cynosure of all eyes.

Author: Ayeni Phillips

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