libraries in Nigeria        0  718 reads

Introduction to libraries

Library provision, within Nigeria's system of government, is a matter within the powers of all the three tiers of government: federal, state and local. Accordingly, the federal government, through the Federal Ministry of Education is responsible for the provision of the services of the National Library of Nigeria as well as for a number of special libraries within the federal civil service and its parastatals. The responsibility for establishing and running public libraries is that of state and local governments. They do this by enacting laws setting up statutory bodies charged with the responsibility.

Over the course of the past thirty years or so the steady decline in the political and economic power of state and local governments vis-?-vis the federal government has meant that public libraries in Nigeria have fared less well than other types of libraries. In the sharing of national revenue between the three tiers of government, the federal share has grown at the expense of those of the state and local governments. The situation has been made worse by the continual decline of the Nigerian economy, in the most part caused by the sharp drop in the value of oil in the international market and the government's structural adjustment programme. The steady devaluation of the Nigerian currency since then has dramatically increased the price of imported goods, such as books. Given that over 90 per cent of the book stocks in libraries are imported from abroad, library funding in Nigeria as a whole, and public library funding in particular, has been severely affected. There has been a sharp increase in the funding requirements for their services and, until recently, the difficulty in securing adequate foreign currency on a timely basis.

Finally, the increase in the number of states and local governments in Nigeria has further decreased the financial standing of state and local governments and their ability to provide adequate funds for their institutions. Compared to a federal structure based on three regional governments at the time of Independence, Nigeria's federal structure now consists of 36 state governments, 771 local governments and one federal capital territory. This development has sharply increased the proportion of state revenue for maintaining state administrative structures, while further reducing free funds for development and the provision of social services. Indeed, it is now a common feature for state and local governments to be in arrears with the payment of their functionaries and to be unable to back approved subventions for their institutions with cash as and when due.

The crisis in the funding of public libraries in Nigeria is thus, without doubt, at the heart of the problem of public library provision in Nigeria today. Most established libraries have neither been able to implement expansion plans nor maintain existing plant since they were first established. There are many examples of library buildings that are derelict and unserviceable because of the lack of adequate maintenance. The oldest public library in Lagos has been experiencing floods during the rains because of inadequate maintenance over the years. The federal capital territory, Abuja, has no public libraries. There are cases, in many of the newer states where public libraries exist in name only. There are other instances where buildings have been built by, or donated to, state governments, there is no book stock and furniture to run the service. Over the last five years and more, most public libraries, as far as can be ascertained, have not been receiving any funds for their capital estimates. Those that are fortunate have received only funds for their overheads with which they pay staff salaries and not much else. Many libraries are in arrears with the payment of staff salaries.

The funding crisis, combined with the high cost of books, has resulted in the book famine which has been a feature of library services in Nigeria as a whole, and public libraries in particular, during the past two decades or so. Studies have shown that public libraries lack current journals and magazines as well as current reference books, textbooks and fiction. The most recent publications in these libraries are usually donations received from Book Aid International, which has contributed books worth N800 million to the Nigerian library system in the past three years. It need hardly be said that, given the circumstance described above, public libraries have not been able to modernize and improve their services through the computerization of their information services. None have been able to provide access to the Internet for their clientele. Public libraries in Nigeria, in their current state, are therefore not in a position to offer the range of services set out in the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto. They have largely become reading rooms for students preparing for various examinations.

The way forward

The crisis in funding, important as it is, does not, however, fully explain the problem of the underdevelopment and decay of the public library services in Nigeria. The more urgent task has to do with the need to effect radical changes in the concept of public libraries and adapt the institution to Nigeria's needs and circumstances. Thus the public library in Nigeria should be designed to serve the needs of a cross-section of the population: urban as well as rural; literate and non-literate; children and adult. It should be firmly rooted in Nigeria's oral culture and play an important role in its preservation and promotion. Consequently it should be a combination of the print-oriented conventional public library services and the multimedia-oriented rural/community information service on the model of the Malian Operation Lecture Publique.

As part of the programme of re-tooling and revitalizing public libraries in Nigeria, there is a need for effecting an equally fundamental change in their structure. Hitherto, they have hardly taken their services beyond a few urban centres. To achieve their new purpose and mission, they should be reorganized into networks of community libraries, based, possibly, on Nigeria's zonal structure. Each of the zonal networks would be co-ordinated so as to cater effectively for the information and training needs of its constituent community libraries. Various ideas are being canvassed about ways in which this new type of public library service could be implemented. Some have suggested new structures of neighbourhood libraries initiated and sustained by the communities.

Another idea is to graft the community libraries on to school libraries, which will thus be transformed into dual-purpose school/community libraries which function as school libraries during school hours and community libraries thereafter. Models of such libraries have been in existence in Senegal for a number of years and are now reportedly being introduced into the Nigerian scene by the National Primary Education Commission with World Bank support. The advantage of this option is that tapping into the existing network of schools in the country can create a network of community libraries relatively quickly.

Appropriate staffing and training/re-training are the key issues that will also have to be resolved. There is therefore a need to ensure that the library schools are duly sensitized about these changes and are encouraged to offer appropriate training programmes to equip the staff who would work in the community libraries with the knowledge and skills required for their multi-faceted responsibilities. Finally, there is still the important issue of funding.

It is safe to assume that funds from public sources will continue to be problematic, particularly if they are to come from state and local government authorities, as long as the present formula for sharing the national revenue remains. The solution, therefore, is for the funding of community libraries to be done on the basis of a partnership involving government, local communities and other donors. Community involvement will be vital at every stage in the planning and implementation of each community library to ensure community commitment and project sustainability. Areas requiring further elucidation in support of the project to revitalize public libraries in Nigeria include the following:
- The comprehensive mapping of the current state of public library services in Nigeria through a baseline study.
- Funding strategies and options.
- Appropriate structure for implementing community libraries in Nigeria.
- Training modules for community information workers/librarians. G

boyega Banjo
Blackwell/Safari Ltd.
Spectrum House, Ring Road
PMB 5612, Ibadan

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