Sixty-seven years ago, at the instance of the West African Library Association (WALA), the colonial government of Nigeria founded a federal library advisory committee whose role was “to advise the Federal and Regional Governments and the Government of Southern Cameroon on library and bibliographical policy and problems” (Nnaji, 1986). The committee which also consisted of British Council librarians put forward different proposals for a national library service. This development fast-tracked a moderately successful crash education programme which boosted library development in Nigeria.
In developing countries, public libraries were funded wholly with government grants in agreement with the 1972 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) public library manifesto, which states that:
- A public library should be maintained with public funds, and no direct charge should be made to anyone for its services.
- To enable the public library to fulfill its purposes, it must be readily accessible, and its doors open for free and equal use by all members of the community regardless of race, colour, nationality, age, religion, language, status, sex, educational attainment (Saliu, 1999).
With the UNESCO grant, regional libraries were set up, with old colonial reading rooms transformed into public libraries. Also, more public libraries were built for newly created states during the dismantling of regional structure. As a result of this, library boards were established by decrees and charged with the responsibility of providing library services to the people.
It is estimated that Nigeria had a population of 45.1 million people in 1960. With the handful of libraries/reading rooms littered across the regions, you can guess that the library services weren’t enough to cater to that population.
Today in 2017, we face the same but worse scenario than what was obtainable in the 1960s. Presently, Nigeria has only 316 public libraries spread across the 36 states and capital catering to a population of over 180 million people. With the rife internal security issues and rising poverty profile, thousands of Nigerians have unintentionally opted out of getting an education. This has resulted in a high illiteracy rate and has impeded the successful implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Economic Development Plan of the Nigerian Government.
At a time like this, public libraries should be restructured and mandated to fill in the gap by way of providing literacy platforms where the uneducated can access, learn and gain information that will enable them to contribute effectively to the development of the country.
As librarians, we recognize what literacy can do for communities and nations in terms of development and economic growth. Therefore, it is our responsibility to bring the peoples’ attention to the pitiable state of public libraries in Nigeria.
How important is this?
The UN Sustainable Development Goal seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Lifelong learning can only be achieved if we create a space where everyone is free to learn regardless of culture, social class, age, tribe, etc, that space is a public library.
Education/literacy is the key to freedom from every kind of oppression and it aids democracy. A country where its people are disconnected from its government by way of lack of information or their inability to analyze information will make poor choices in choosing its leaders.
Literacy promotes critical and analytical discussion which is very important for good governance, politics, and economy.
To put it succinctly with a modification of Harold Howe’s quote,
What a nation thinks about its library is a measure of what it thinks about education.
To stand up for Nigerian public libraries, and call for an immediate restoration and construction of new libraries for the growing population especially in the rural communities, here is what you can do now:
- Join the advocacy:
We hereby invite all well-meaning Nigerians to join the advocacy for the restoration and construction of public libraries in order to enable it fulfill its mandate of providing free services to the public which includes educational, social and political information to communities.
While we await government to do its part, it is necessary that we, the stakeholders, employ citizen action in getting things done. A bad policy always boomerangs and delayed action is felt by you and I, the citizen. Books, furniture (chairs, tables, and shelves), toys, computers and other technological equipment will always be appreciated by library staff and community.
- Spread the word:
Let us keep the conversation going by sharing our library stories on social media, with our communities and friends.
- Get involved:
Visit and patronize any community library close to you.
Interact with librarians and fellow users.
Constructive comments, compliments and suggestions will go a long way in helping librarians find inventive ways to serve library users effectively.
Nnaji, 0.(1986) The library in Nigeria. Enugu: Fourth Dimension.
Saliu, U. A. (1999) The development and roles of public libraries in Nigeria. Ilorin Journal of Education, 19. Retrieved 15 April 2012 from: http://unilorin.edu.ng/journals/education/ije/june1999/THE%20DEVELOPMENT%20AND%20ROLES%20OF%20PUBLIC%20LIBRARIES%20IN%20NIGERIA.pdf
Author: Adachukwu Onwudiwe