The library connects us with the insight and Knowledge… of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos.
By Ambrose Inusa Sule
This indelible statement by one of the world’s greatest minds, celebrates the compelling ways libraries should be sustained in the 21st century. Just as in the world around us, libraries are in the midst of transformation, as some people wonder if Public Libraries still matter, in a world beyond books.
If judged by our usage, libraries are more relevant than ever. Libraries have always evolved to meet the needs of society. This is why libraries are embracing new technology while staying true to what they’ve always been: institutions of learning, advancement, and community revitalization.
According to Robert Kiyosoki, the author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” once said that “If you want your intelligence to grow, go to a library, a bookshop or a school”.
He opined that, “To be effectively competing as part of the global economy, we must become an intelligent society and to become that, we must be a people that read.”
It is therefore an understatement to say that the way of life of a nation is influenced by the percentage of its citizen who is literate. Cuba, for example, is adjacent to the US and has the highest rate of literacy in the world. This is one of the reasons why Cuba has a vibrant economy despite decades of diplomatic conflicts with the strongest nation in the world.
Therefore, a reading nation is an informed nation. But Nigeria can not be regarded as a reading nation because the younger generation of Nigerians does not consider reading a leisure activity. The poor reading habits of these younger Nigerians affect their performances at school and during examinations. It has been proved that children/students with poor reading habits do engage in anti-social behaviours such as school violence, bullying, and examination malpractice.
Being a former British colony, Nigeria’s literacy culture ought to be as standardized as that of the Britain. About 99 percent of British citizens can read and write. The same cannot be said of Nigeria.
So, past efforts of setting up a national library in Nigeria to encourage reading habit, besides being the memory and databank for learning and remembering processes of the nation, forms part of the general information on the development of libraries in any country round the world.
The Ford Foundation, the Nigerian Library Association, and the 1959 library advisory committee of the West African Library Association, Nigeria’s pre-independence federal parliament and government made varying contributions to the establishment of the National Library of Nigeria.
The National Library of Nigeria came into effect in the mid-1960s, with the enactment of the National Library Act of 1964. Prior to the passage of the National Library act, a series of educational conferences conducted in Ibadan, had laid the intellectual basis for the creation of a network of libraries funded by the government to provide accessibility of educational materials to Nigerians.
In 1970, a new legal precedent was set with the creation of the National Library decree, which was partly enacted on the advice of the board which wanted to expand the library to other state capitals in order to create a network of repositories of knowledge.
Although, the role of libraries in national development worldwide is not self–evident; same dogged the National library with challenges of recognition, funding, and public support since its inception.
The National Library of Nigeria, noted as “A” grade parastatal under the federal ministry of education has since over the years built on its original mission. Today, it is a vital organ that acts as the intellectual memory and databank for learning and remembering processes of the nation, providing the intellectual ammunition to aid government officers in policy implementation.
It is instructive to note that, the NLN which supposed to be a reference library is the only national library in the world that operates from more than one geographical location. As at today, the National Library operates in 25 out of the 36 states of the federation.
It is not known to many that today, the NLN is one of the largest depositories of knowledge in the country, by receiving copies of books published in the country by both the government and private authorities.
It also collects books on contemporary or new ideas from international organizations. Its responsibilities also include the issuance of the ISBN and ISSN to publishing organizations, a process which is today cumbersome in the absence of appropriate enabling technology at the state offices.
It can not be said that with its statutory functions, it has always been Uhuru; like every organization, the NLN has tried to stay afloat with all the challenges, but has not been able to effectively expand to all the 36 state capitals of the federation as designated by the library decree of 1970 due to inadequate funding.
Many years after its establishment, its operations, personnel, working facilities, status as government parastatal, annual budget allocation, management patterns, and statutory instruments have not improved phenomenally or changed due to inadequate funding. Whereas the cardinal objective for establishing the library remains dynamic in view of the influence of new media technologies or modern library services.
With all the enormous challenges, it is gratifying to note that the need to promote effective reading habits among the general populace of Nigeria has been receiving attention from the National Library of Nigeria by sponsoring the readership promotion campaign in the country under its present leadership. This is done as part of the strategies to ginger up the reading culture in Nigeria.
What seems to have been one of its most daunting challenges is the lack of Headquarters building which has made its operational coordination and service delivery almost impossible. Since the relocation of National Library of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja, it has been operating in a rented premise. There is no doubt that it is receiving the attention it deserved to enable NLN meaningful prosecutions of its crucial programmes.
But in spite of the daunting challenges facing the organization, the NLN has always been in the vanguard to rejuvenate, inculcate and inspire Nigerians to read more regularly in line with the vision statement of building an informed and enlightenment citizenry through the provision of information resources that are readily available and easily accessible.
Mallam Habeeb Jato Director/CEO NLN, who runs an open door policy and a team player, has always decried the dearth of reading culture in Nigeria. He once said that, “As the world is moving towards the knowledge based economy; the NLN as the nation’s apex intellectual memory and databank of learning, would continue to promote reading culture in Nigeria, in continuation of the pet project “Bring Back the Book” by President Goodluck Jonathan.”
He promised that, “NLN will always be in the vanguard to rejuvenate, inculcate and inspire Nigerians to read more regularly in line with the vision statement of building an informed and enlightenment citizenry through the provision of information resources that are readily available and easily accessible”.
The National Library no doubt, has continued to embark on readership promotion campaign in its branches for children who are the future leaders of tomorrow and the objective was to sensitize, inform, educate and advance the knowledge and creativity of the youths via various literary activities.
The problem with the above objectives is that the readership promotion campaign has been restricted largely to Abuja, Lagos, and some few state capitals. The impact has not really been felt in other parts of the country because the National library has not been adequately funded to put the campaign in prints or electronic media.
Jato on several occasions, has personally donated books to schools, mostly during the reading promotion program. His advice always is that, “Childhood is the appropriate period to set the building blocks and ultimately give the road map on how to shape a better future. It is time to show children love as well as explore the potentials available considering the challenges”.
With the ongoing transformation agenda by President Gooluck Jonathan, the need to justify library services to contemporary policy makers and society at large is more urgent than ever before.
Ambrose Inusa Sule, Journalist writes from Abuja.