The National Librarian, Professor Lenrie Olatokunbo Aina, last week, called on stakeholders in the education sector to go to the grassroots and inculcate in children the reading habit. “When a reader develops the various reading skills needed for successful reading, he is then inclined to read and a reading culture evolves through getting involved in daily reading activities,” he said.
While we endorse Aina’s campaign, we also reiterate our earlier call for the resuscitation of public libraries across the country so that those who want to read would know where to access such relevant materials. There is a connection between the reading culture of a people and the development of their society. 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.
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 we have neglected this vital aspect that can help extend knowledge to a vast majority of our people.
It is rather ironic 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. 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 artifacts 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.
In Nigeria, 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 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 Library headquarters was awarded some years back, 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.”
Again and again, UNESCO has 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 their mental development outside the classroom environment. In a knowledge-driven world, 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