THE NEED FOR FUNCTIONAL PUBLIC LIBRARIES

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The authorities should invest in public libraries to encourage reading culture

The recent death in Benin, Edo State, of a university undergraduate inside a church where she went to read highlights the necessity for public libraries in Nigeria. If there were public libraries, perhaps she would not risk being alone inside a church to read. Sadly, even where they exist 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.

In most countries, a public library is a serious component of the education infrastructure at all levels of government. But we have neglected this vital aspect that can help extend knowledge to a vast majority of our people. It is rather ironical that in an information and knowledge-driven world, those in positions of authority 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.

If the current trend of neglect continues, the Nigerian Library and Information Science Students Association (N-LISSA) warned recently, public libraries will soon go into extinction, thereby destroying the knowledge base of the nation. Most libraries in the country, according to the student association, “are in a devastating, pathetic, critical, emergency, and worrisome condition”, adding: “Most Nigeria’s public libraries are characterised by dilapidated structures, falling roofs, bushy environment, absence of electricity supply, lack of staff, lack of library materials….”

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 by the states to those in the universities–are largely neglected. As demonstrated by the fate of the National Library that has been under construction for decades, libraries in Nigeria are starved of funds and are largely abandoned.

To the extent that there is a connection between the reading culture of a people and the development of their society, one can hazard a guess as to why Nigeria remains largely underdeveloped despite its abundant human and natural resources. In our country 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 current challenge, the National Librarian said recently 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.

Again and again, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has harped on the fact that functional libraries are 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.