Rot in facilities, dearth of new books turn public libraries to desolate camps
Google, internet can’t phase out conventional libraries -Ebuka, librarian
By Sam Otti
Ask Google for the food you ate last night and it would surprise you with thousands of answers. But when you search through the card catalogue at the National Library of Nigeria, Lagos State, which prides itself as an intellectual storehouse and databank, you would be shocked to discover that popular Nigerian writers like Prof Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are missing in the fold. The Sun Education reporter made this cheerless discovery when he visited the library recently, located at No 227 Herbert Macaulay Way, Yaba.
Google, as a popular search engine, responds to millions of questions daily, providing quick responses, including locations and addresses to places. At the tap of a finger on an electronic device, Google churns out a deluge of information. Millions of people using android phones, blackberry, i-pad, laptops and computers have turned these devices to mobile schools, as they browse varieties of information, ranging from politics, entertainment, education, sports, gossips, fashion, sexism and so many others. The growing addiction to mobile phones and other devices has increased fears that public libraries and all their treasures, would soon be consigned to the civilization of antiquity, considering the growing influence of Google and other speedy search engines. With the emergence of e-learning tools, do people still make use of public libraries?
Investigation by The Sun Education revealed that several people habitually visit the public libraries to read. A recent visit to the National Library of Nigeria, Lagos actually confirmed this fact. Several people had their eyes on books when The Sun visited. Heads were bent over books at different locations in the area. Some even sat under the trees with their books, while others occupied seats provided in a small structure, away from the main building that had a rusty smell and silence.
A quick glance at the once treasured facility showed that it has lost its beauty and ambience. A pool of dirty water occupied major part of the entrance to the main building. People risk wading through the flood to the library during heavy downpour. Like most Nigerian public institutions, the library shares the same telltale signs of distress, a setting of redolent age, unkempt lawns and over-grown grasses. Not even the smiling faces of the staff working in the library could conceal the rot inside the halls.
Drama unfolded when The Sun reporter asked for books written by Prof Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. A female librarian directed him to the Administrative Section, with a catalogue of boxes reeking with age and decay, arranged alphabetically according to author’s name and title of books. Going through the old dog-eared cards in the dimly lit room was a perfect eye test. One of the cards marked: NC PR 6001 C514, bore Achebe Chinua, and the title of the book was, The Insider: Stories of War and Peace from Nigeria. A second card, NC PR 9898 A177, bore teh name of teh same author, with the book, Don’t let him die.
A curiously search through the cards for Wole Soyinka’s latest book, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, yielded nothing, except books written by Agetua John (When the Man Died: Views, reviews and interviews on Wole Soyinka’s controv ersial book), and that of Ogunbe Oyin (The Movement of Transition, a study of the plays of Wole Soyinka). None of Soyinka’s work was found in the catalogue, marked 21, with the inscription SAB-SWO. Further search for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award winning works was more frustrating, as neither her name nor her books was not on the list.
After waiting for over 15 minutes, the librarian, who had gone to inside to fetch the books requested by the reporter, came out with a frown on her face. “Sir, there is no light in the place where those books are kept. The place is dark. You can come back tomorrow or another day we will have light,” she said with a sigh.
Investigation by this reporter revealed that the library has not been weeded for long, thereby leaving the catalogue filled with old books that would take hours to find. To worsen its state, the library has not updated its resource due to paucity of fund over the years.
One of the library users, Taiwo Segun, from School of Oceanography, Lagos, told The Sun Education that the library has more foreign books than local ones. He said the materials in the library needed to be updated and the reading tables replaced with new ones to attract more readers.
“I do my research in the library instead of using Google. There is a kind of bonding when you read books in the library. You relate with the author in a special way. You can compare the author’s work with others, because the library provides different books. I trust the materials I get from books than what I download from the internet,” he explained.
Taiwo said the library also provides an opportunity to make new friends, share knowledge and borrow books. According to him, he uses the internet as a secondary source of information but goes to the library to verify the authenticity of the information.
Another regular visitor to the library, Towolari Babatunde, said the library offers him easy access to specific courses he wants to study. He noted that the presence of other readers in the library motivates him to spend longer hours reading.
“I use the computer often but it distracts me when I am reading. I can end up spending hours on Facebook or Instagram rather than studying. Studying in the library makes me to be more serious in what I am doing,” he added.
Further enquiries at the library revealed low patronage in the use of the facility. But this could not be confirmed by the administrative head, who was reportedly not on seat on the day of the visit. But names from the attendance register at the security post, where personal belongings of visitors were kept, indicated that only 10 people had been to the place as at 2.30pm. Although some people, who came with their own books, were seen reading under the trees, it was not clear why they shunned going into the main building.
However, there was an indication that lack of electricity in the library makes the room as hot as hell. To worsen the situation, the generating set that serves the facility has been out of use for lack of fuel. Above all, the only air conditioner in the reading room at the administrative section looked deserted, an indication that it had not been used for years.
The e-library facility on the first floor of the building, which was provided with the support of the Universal Service Provision Fund, was empty. Computer sets lined up the hall, with no user in sight. It was gathered that the e-library facility developed technical faults, and the officials barred users from the area.
Reacting to the poor state of public libraries in the country, a seasoned librarian, Egbuka Ernest, admitted that both state and federal government owned libraries have not been properly equipped with books. He said the acquisition of reading materials determines the strength of a library, noting that most public libraries in the country are deficient of these documentations.
Egbuka, who has worked for the past 30 years as a librarian, described the National Library of Nigeria as a professional library, with experienced librarians attending to visitors. He explained that some books in the ‘acquisition room’ cannot be accessed by visitors because they have not been brought into the public domain.
“If Soyinka’s books are not there and they are not in the ‘acquisition room’, then, it means that the book is not there. Once the book leaves the acquisition room, it would be catalogued; once it is catalogued either in the database or the card catalogued, you will not have any problem seeing it,” he said.
He said Nigerian authors should be encouraged to write books that are pertinent to Nigerians to make up for the shortage of books in public libraries. He suggested that a rebate should be introduced for foreign books as well.
“Knowledge is power. A society that lacks knowledge lacks progress,” he said.
He said the use of ICT tools does not threaten paper works. According to him, the primary source of information, secondary source and tertiary source of information comes into play during academic research.
“When you talk of authenticity, originality and reliability. If you Google, who is that authority? Is that authority authentic? Is that source original and reliable?”
Egbuka recalled how some law students of an undisclosed university failed en-mass two years ago because they depended on Google and materials from the internet for their academic work.
“When you get a book that has passed through the primary, secondary and tertiary sources of information, you will find out that every authority authenticates that. When you quote that source, you know your fact is reliable. Those who rely on sources from the internet might not pass the test of authenticity and originality of the source of the information,” he argued.
He said the monographs in the libraries are reliable, an authenticated sources of information for researchers. Despite the importance of public libraries to national development, visitors to the National Library of Nigeria, Lagos, said the facility lacked adequate funding that would enable it meet up with the voracious demands of the new age. Similar concern was expressed by the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational Institution (NASU), who warned that the decline in the funding of public libraries, especially the National Library of Nigeria, could be a drain to the nation’s aspiration for a literate society. The union said the derelict state of these libraries could be blamed on paucity of fund and implores the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) to intervene in their funding.
On assumption of office, the Director general, National Library of Nigeria (NLN), Prof Lanre Aina, had vowed to introduce innovations that would enhance the efficiency of public libraries in Nigeria to attract more patronage.
With the declining user satisfaction of public library services, Towolari said updating public libraries with modern reading tables, electricity, and new books would win more people back. According to him, services like free wifi for visitors within the premises and e-books should be made available.
A study by Adegbilero-Iwari Idowu, Librarian, Medical Library, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, advised that the views of the service users should be sought to help inform the debate about the library’s performance. “Satisfactory service cannot be provided unless the views of users are considered. Also, users’ views about the services they use should be sought regularly and systematically to inform decision makers about what services should be provided.”
He said public libraries should organize sensitization programmes to attract more users, including those with no formal education. He maintained that adequate fund should be provided by government for the smooth running of the library and should ensure that the allocated funds are used for the intended purpose.