Libraries provide unique services that empower individuals, communities and the society at large. The role of the library as a change agent in all ramifications is not in doubt. Over the years libraries have and still playing significant impact in nation building. Libraries serve as hosts to global information and knowledge and are key drivers of education, research, innovation and community development. There is no better platform to drive change and sustainable development in our communities than the public library. “The public library is a platform where members of the community go to learn, get educated and informed, where individuals meet to exchange ideas, create knowledge, foster the spirit of the community and carry on other activities relevant to the lives of people”. In fact, a well funded public library, powered by ICT infrastructure can serve as liberator from poverty and deprivation as well as a springboard for innovation and change. Little wonder that societies with well developed public libraries are making waves in science, technology, education and other spheres of human endeavours. For instance, the United States has over 9,000 public libraries that play vital roles in community services, early childhood literacy, computer training etc. These libraries are safe places for everyone, reflecting the American dream and diversity. Russia and Sweden has 38, 055 and 1,132 public libraries respectively. More so, research has shown that libraries are a good return on investment and that the direct economic benefits that communities derive from public libraries are significantly greater than the cost of operating these libraries.
In this piece, we shall consider the state of public libraries in Nigeria. This is more so, considering their importance in the socio-economic development of a nation. This is part 1 in the series. Other types of libraries will be examined in subsequent parts.
PUBLIC LIBRARIES IN NIGERIA
The development of public libraries in Nigeria was largely influenced by colonial masters with a view to enhancing literacy of the natives. This was further fuelled by the generosity of some notable individuals who donated their personal buildings and collections. To this end, public libraries existed in all the regions as it were. Infact there was a public library in Eastern Nigeria that was constructed in 1959. This was after the Eastern region public library legislation that was promulgated in 1955. The Eastern Region had a 5 year strategic plan for the development of public libraries including mobile libraries. In the Western Region, there were public libraries in towns such as Ibadan, Abeokuta and Lagos. Some of these libraries were reading spaces, providing information materials to the people at no cost. Following the creation of Midwestern Region in 1963, public library operations became visible in cities like Benin, Asaba and Sapele. In the North, public library services started in 1962 at Kaduna spreading out to other cities. These libraries started as reading rooms to enhance literacy.
The public library is a open place for learning at no cost to all members of the community irrespective of age, sex, race, religion, and educational background. It is solely funded by various state governments in Nigeria. The public library is a veritable platform of education. This is why it is fondly referred to as the ‘’people’s university’’. As at today, every state in Nigeria has established Library Boards to supervise the services and operations of public libraries. The boards are charged with the responsibility of providing library services to the people.
In Nigeria, there are 316 public libraries spread across every state including the Federal Capital Territory. See the table below for a nationwide analysis of public libraries.
Table 1: Breakdown of Public Libraries in Nigeria
|S/N||STATE||NUMBER OF PUBLIC LIBRARIES|
From the table above, it is crystal clear that the number of public libraries in Nigeria is grossly inadequate for over 180 million people. Many of these libraries are dilapidated buildings with empty shelves and outdated materials (where they exist). So many public libraries cannot afford dailies, not to mention Internet connectivity. The state of public libraries in Nigeria is to despicable to say the least. Though in recent times, we have had interventions from IREX International as well as USPF and NITDA, a lot is required to turn the fortunes of public libraries around in this country. Successive governments at all levels have paid lip service public libraries in our communities. Some public libraries are still in rented apartments, with little or no space, while others are in buildings inherited since the creation of the state.
The number of our public libraries is a far cry when compared to what exist in other nations. For instance, there are 3,415 public libraries in Canada. See the table below for more:
Table 2: Number of Public Libraries in Selected Countries
|S/N||COUNTRY||NUMBER OF PUBLIC LIBRARIES|
There is no gainsaying the fact that the number of public libraries in Nigeria is grossly insufficient. There should be a deliberate effort by government, corporate bodies, religious organisations, community based organisations, indigens in Diaspora, philanthropist, donor foundations etc to build and equip libraries in our communities.
In addition, the total staff strength of public libraries is put at 3, 417. The breakdown is as follows;
Table 3: Staff Strength in Public Libraries
|4||Others (cleaners, porters, messengers, drivers)||948|
The table above shows clearly the shortage of manpower in public libraries. Professionals account for a lesser number than professionals in our public libraries. Suffice to say that for public libraries to make meaningful contributions to the socio-economic development of this country, staffing must be extremely sufficient. In America, there are 41, 499 qualified public librarians as at 2017.
Many branches of public libraries are administered by library officers and attendants. The few existing professionals are often times in the library board headquarters. Some governments have not recruited public librarians for the past 5 years. We need public librarians with relevant knowledge and skills to develop innovative programs that will drive communities forward. We need librarians that can draw attention to the services they offer and the role they can and are playing in the economic and social life of the communities they serve. It is therefore imperative to build a strong human capital with requisite skills and knowledge to manage our public libraries.
The poor state of our public libraries is also reflected in the number and nature of collections. The total stocks of printed resources is put within the neighbourhood of 21, 382, 366, while e-resources accounts for 26, 147. This again, is grossly inadequate. For public libraries to play important role in socio economic development of our nation, they must provide access to a wide range of information that would enable individuals and communities to make informed decisions to achieve their educational, economic, social, health and economic goals. Apart from a handful, many public libraries lack ICT infrastructure, not to mention Internet connectivity. In most cases, after the initial deployment of Internet facilities,, subsequent subscription renewals becomes impossible, due to lack of fund. Where internet exists at all, subscription to educational and relevant databases is lacking. Thanks to USPF and NITDA for making computers available to some selected public libraries across the nation. More needs to be done. In fact, people should be able to visit our public libraries to read current newspapers to look for job adverts and can even use the computers in the library to type their CV’s and access Internet to send and receive e-mails in every of our community.
The way forward
- Deliberate effort to build more public libraries in our communities
Modern public libraries with good aesthetic features, inviting environment with adequate space should be built by government in every community in this nation. Corporate bodies can assist government by embarking on building and equipping public libraries for our communities as part of their corporate social responsibility. It is not enough to sponsor beauty pageants and entertainment concerts. Also, our politicians should dedicate their constituency project fund to building public libraries in their constituencies. We need more public libraries.
- Review of outdated library legislation
Library edicts establishing library boards are no longer in tandem with current realities. The Nigerian Library Association should pursue the review of the legislation setting up public libraries.Given the importance of public libraries, legislation geared toward more collaborative funding approach by government and other bodies should be incorporated in the new legislation. There is urgent need for amendments and reviews of the various state library edicts/legislation.
- Capacity building of public library staff
Librarians and other category of staff in public libraries need constant training and re-training to meet the demands of the ever changing information landscape. The teaching and learning of ICT skills should be a major focus of library boards as library staff are expected to teach users basic ICT skills and information retrieval.
- Recruitment of manpower in public libraries
The public library is in dire need of requisite manpower to be able to function maximally. Government should recruit qualified staff iranging from librarians, computer scientist, etc to man our public libraries.
- Innovative and outreach services
Public libraries should be more innovative in their services. Public libraries should take services to the grass root level. Specific target groups can be identified such as women, out of school and unemployed youths, young graduates, farmers, small and medium size entrepreneurs etc. These group can be taught useful skills e.g, how to access the internet for information about employment, further education (distance and online learning) and scholarship opportunities, how to write CVs and job applications, how to advertise and market their yields and produce, how to apply for loan and funding for their business, how to keep records (write invoices and tenders), and a lot more. Libraries can also collaborate with experts on health and other issues to drive community growth and sustainable development. It takes an innovative public library workforce to design and implement meaningful programs to promote growth and support their communities.
- Introduction of Nigerian Public Library Summit
Given the importance of public libraries to the socio-economic development of a nation, there should be a yearly meeting of all public libraries in Nigeria. Stakeholders in the public library sector should meet to share ideas and provide a better framework for their operations and services, aimed at further developing public libraries to effectively carry out their role in nation building.
WE MUST ALL ACT AS ADVOCATES AND SPOKESPEOPLE FOR PUBLIC LIBRARIES
Author: Nelson Edewor