The poor condition of our national and state libraries is quite disheartening. YIRA-EEBA BEKEE writes on the causes and possible solutions.
When we hear the word library, one thing comes to mind- books, books of all kinds. From those meant for children, to those meant for teenagers and even for adults. These books also cover a wide variety of subjects, ranging from politics, religion, entertainment etc and a variety of themes like coming of age, peace and war, judgment, love and many more written with different styles. It could be narrative, descriptive, and expository. But are there only books in the library? The definition of library by Wikipedia shows that there are a lot more items in addition to books that make up a library.
Wikipedia defines library as “a collection of sources of information and similar resources, made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing”. It also added, “it provides physical or digital access to material, and may be a physical building or room, or a virtual space or both.
“A library’s collection can include books, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, films, maps, prints, documents, microform, CDs, cassettes, videotapes, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, e-books, audiobooks, databases and other formats. Libraries range in size from a few shelves of books to several million items”.
Now let us go back to one of the questions raised at the outset. When was the last time you visited a library? You are about embarking on a research work, or probably, you have been bombarded with heaps upon heaps of assignments and deadline for defence and submission is fast approaching. Or you just want to read a book for leisure. Maybe that is your own way of unwinding. You have no particular book in mind but you want something quite interesting and for the research work and assignments, the materials you have just won’t suffice. At this moment, it then dawned on you that there is a nearby library you could visit. Without wasting a second, you get dressed and head for the library. On getting there, were you impressed? Could you get the materials you wanted? Some have been disappointed and this is what they have to say. Gabriel, a user of the national library, Abuja, lamented on its poor state saying, “libraries in some secondary schools are of higher standard when compared to the National Library. A national library where there is no electricity. No light, no fan, not to talk of air-conditioning, is nothing to write home about”.
Bemoaning the state of the Cross River State Library, Odey says, “unless you are researching issues about 1914, you cannot make use of the Cross River State Library. What are now available are books of Lord Lugard. There are no current materials. The books you are looking at now, I came with them. The place needs urgent revamping and re-stocking and the staff strength needs to be boosted too”. He added, “Another painful part is that you cannot use this place on Saturday because people now use this place for wedding receptions making it impossible for people of my kind to come here. I know many people think that reading/research is for students alone; it is not.
“There are people who still use hard copies and not the Internet or online. We have two professors as governor and deputy governor, yet one of the souls or engine room and sources of our development is dying. History and development are stored in books. They must sit up and live up to expectation, it is so disappointing that someone who was once a vice chancellor can allow this to be happening under his watch, it is unacceptable and appalling.”
What actually is the problem? Library officials complain of inadequate funding by the Federal Government. The result is that outdated books still decorate our library shelves like a piece of jewelry on a woman’s neck. In this case, fake jewelry especially when it has faded. We all know what it does. Instead of beautifying, it does the contrary. Lack of funding has also resulted in the facilities being poorly maintained. One official said, “we are supposed to update our shelves yearly but because of the funds, it has not been so. We get materials from gifts and exchange, book donations and hand purchases and most of our materials are outdated.”
Jegede, a library user says this about the National Library, “it can only be neglected for this long because there are no readers to complain, no one to protest. Our people do not read books anymore; we now rely on technology. He also added, “whenever any of the network providers flop for one minute, the internet explodes. You see different hash tags. Why can’t we do the same for the revival of our libraries? Even the government is not encouraging. It is a pity.” Due to the falling state of libraries across states in Nigeria, people no longer find the analogue library very useful. Like Mr Jegede said, our people do not read books anymore; we now rely on technology. It seems the analogue library is gradually fading, gradually taken over by the e-Library (the online library) just like darkness slowly fades, paving way for light at dawn. People now depend on the Internet to get all they would expect of an analogue library and chances of being disappointed are low. I recall once I wanted to read a book. I asked someone I felt could have it. His reply? “Who does that? Why get a hard copy when you could download the soft copy?” and like a friend of mine would always say, “everything is on my phone.” Know what that means right? There is no puzzling question, no doubt that needs to be cleared that isn’t a tap away on the Internet.
Should we, because of this, now completely ignore our local libraries? Here are some of the reasons we should not. At the local library, one could read as many books as he/she wants and also borrow for free. This is unlike the Internet where one needs data or Wi-Fi to operate and we all know data isn’t free, we pay for it. And if one argues that Wi-Fi is free, how about that person you are tapping from for free, didn’t he subscribe? It is also a quiet place to work. If you want to work or study but don’t want to do that at home, you could go the library. Here, you have your space, won’t feel lonely because there are others there too and you could even have access to Wi-Fi. The library also gives you the motivation to read. How so? When you borrow a book from the library and you have to return it in two weeks or get fined, you would be motivated to finish it on time.
What could be done to revive our libraries? Recently the Federal Government pledged to complete the National Library in Abuja. Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, at the launch of the Annual Readership Promotion Campaign organised by the library, gave this assurance. It isn’t about completing the building or moving to a permanent site. More is required. The content of the building also matters. The needful should be done to maintain library facilities. Only then would the reading culture of our people be revived and sustained.
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