WHY PUBLIC LIBRARIES MATTER

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Libraries are essential to learning, scholarship and development of any society

In most countries, public libraries are a serious component of the education curricular based on the recognition that without such resources, it is practically impossible to improve on literacy. But in Nigeria today, majority of the children, just like many adults, have limited exposure to quality reading materials. And that is very telling on the state of our nation.

To underscore the challenge we face, Professor L.O. Aina, the National Librarian, recently told the Senate that the federal government library would soon be thrown out by the landlord of its temporary site for owing rent amounting to N508 million. “The landlord has threatened to eject the organisation by November with all its unpleasant consequences”, said Aina. He said that the agency could no longer fund the collection of legal deposit resources, development of virtual library service department, capacity building in addition to overwhelming outstanding staff claims.

It is rather ironical that in an information and knowledge-driven world, those in position of authorities in our country are still not conscious of the importance and the need for libraries in our public space. Yet a functional library helps in providing information to the society in different formats in the bid to encourage and promote a good reading culture which is a sine-qua non to personal and indeed national development.

A functional library is expected to stock all kinds of items that add to knowledge – from books to audio and visual materials, internet through computers and artefacts that advance the cultural and recreational needs of the society. Ironically, most public libraries in the country – from those established in the states and run by the state governments to those in the universities – are largely neglected. As demonstrated by the fate of the premier library in the country and in the heart of the federal capital territory, they are starved of funds and facilities to run their services.

In Nigeria today, public libraries, often named “the poor man’s university,” are kept unattractive and poorly maintained while in most cases, the infrastructural facilities are inadequate. Besides, the books in stock are dated just as it is a rarity to stumble on new and current journals. Indeed, reference materials, where they exist, are old and dusty. Audio-visual materials are hard to come by. The quality of manpower is another story altogether.

Four years ago, the National Universities Commission (NUC) panel led by Professor Mahmood Yakubu on challenges of public universities (otherwise called the Needs Assessment Panel) reported that university library resources were mostly outdated and manual; and that no library in the public university system was fully automated. Unfortunately, not much has changed has changed since then.

On many occasions, the Nigerian Library Association has drawn attention to the poor funding of public libraries, all to no avail. Indeed, about the same time the contract for the National headquarters was awarded, the United Nations in its Human Development Report harped on the essence of investing in the knowledge of an individual. According to the report, “a well-read mind is assertive, articulate and seeks information to help solve daily challenges.”

UNESCO has repeatedly harped on the fact that functional libraries are very important to the development of any society. This is because people who read are more alert and empowered while a good reading culture improves the academic performance of children and students and also helps them to develop knowledge outside the classroom environment. Therefore, the relevant authorities in Nigeria will do well to invest in public libraries and make them attractive to meet the informational, educational and the recreational needs of the people.

In a knowledge-driven world, we cannot afford to do less.