We Lack Good Libraries – UNILORIN DEAN

In this interview with SUCCESS NWOGU, former President of the Nigerian Library Association, and currently the Dean, Faculty of Communication and Information Science, University of Ilorin, Prof. Lenrie Aina, blames the dwindling fortunes of the education sector on poor library system.
How would you describe the state of libraries in Nigeria today?
We have a poor library system. What we have mainly are just reading rooms. We just create a room and put some books there and call it a publiclibrary. Whereas, the standard all over the world is that public libraries should support the education system of any country. In our own case, though we spend so much money on education, we tend to neglect the libraries.
When I was President of the Nigerian Library Association, I was so worriedabout the pathetic state of public libraries in the country that the body set up a committee in 2011 to see how public libraries could be revitalized. The state of public libraries in Nigeria, according to the committee’s report,is unwholesome.
Why should the country invest in libraries?
It is important because in academics, we want to know what others have done so that we do not repeat the same. In doing that, we have to see what others have done all over the world and do something new. You can only do that if you have access to up-to-date literature. Solutions already proffered can be adopted, rather than trying out old experiments.
Who should a public library cater for?
It is supposed to serve all categories of readers. Today, there is no public library in Nigeria that serves, artisans, and the majority of the masses who cannot read or write. It should cater for all kinds of people; educated or not, a farmer, rural person, professor, or politician. That is why it is sometimes called the University of Life.
Public libraries should also serve all kinds of readers, including kindergarten, toddlers and school children, especially during evenings or atweekends where volunteers employed by the libraries will read story books to them and then ask questions. They should have documents and books on various subjects taught in schools. It could be in the form of video films and slides on any subject, book or topic, like ‘Macbeth’ or ‘As You Like it’ by William Shakespeare. There should be a copy of a video set or slides that teach people new skills in particular subjects. People should explore the library.
Do we still have standard school libraries in Nigeria?
I am not aware of any standard public school library in Nigeria. A standard school library augments the role of a teacher in the classroom. It should have all kinds of information resources, including slides, audio and video materials on topics taught in the classroom.
What about the National Library?
It is well structured to perform its role. However, because of limited funds,it has been handicapped. A national library is the depository of a nation’s information and knowledge. Yet in Nigeria, the depository law is not enforced. The massive National Library of Nigeria headquarters building in Abuja, which commenced several years ago, is yet to be completed because of inadequate funding.
How then should the libraries be set up?
We should stock them with vital documents and materials for professionals, politicians, policy makers, and so on, like we have in the United States. Public libraries in Nigeria are poorly staffed. Even when you advertise, librarians simply take such an offer as a stepping stone. Nobodywants to work in the libraries anymore because the offer is poor.
What about libraries in tertiary institutions?
The hallmark of any university is having an up-to-date library. The government’s commitment to libraries in Nigeria is very negligible. Among the over 120 university libraries in Nigeria, one can hardly list up to five standard libraries that can meet the scholarly needs of a university community. As the President of NLA between 2010 and 2012, I was privileged to know the state of university libraries in Nigeria.
Globally, the ranking of a university depends, to a large extent, on its library. A highly ranked university will necessarily have a quality library. Thelibrary is the intellectual heart of a university system. It is the repository ofinformation and knowledge.
In the past, the National Universities Commission made it mandatory for federal universities to spend 10 per cent of the budgets on their libraries. Unfortunately, many of the universities in the last 20 years have ignored this directive. The environment is not conducive in many of these libraries.
Are you saying that there is no standard university library in Nigeria today?
One of the libraries that you can reckon with in Nigeria is that of Covenant University, Ota. It has excellent services, materials and resources. How many libraries in Nigeria can boast of one tenth of what Covenant University library has? I was ab.braries in Nigeria that boast of 10 or 15 journals published within 2013 on display. But if you go to a normal university library abroad, you will not see any journal that is published more than a year ago.
What are some of the reasons for the poor states of the libraries?
The government is trying. Given the large population we have in Nigeria, they want to establish as many universities as possible and expand access to education, so the money that goes round becomes small. In the early 70s, we had standard libraries like any other part of the world. But as time went on, when they expanded more universities, the standard went down.At that time, we had good administrators in the university system who believed that the universities will be measured by the nature of the library they have.
So the libraries were well maintained. But nowadays, most of these administrators do not care about the libraries. They just spend money on things that are not of immediate need to the university. You see them driving all kinds of cars, traveling out of the country regularly, neglecting the most important facilities: libraries and laboratories. To some extent, university administrators also take a share of the blame because they do not care. They spend the monies that accrue to them on things that are of no benefit to the university system. The available money given to the universities by the government are not properly utilized. In the 70s, funds to universities were properly utilized. But today university administrators are not focusing on what I consider important facilities in the universities.
What about public libraries?
The constraints can be linked to a large extent with how the society perceives libraries. People do not see libraries as essential amenities. But if we have a standard library in a community, it serves many uses. I will blame the community for the poor state of public libraries. Every school should have a library attached to it, especially primary and secondary schools. If you see a library at all, it is not well furnished and funded. With the problem of inadequate classrooms, they will just convert the library to the classroom. Whereas abroad, the school library is just next to the teacher. When he is free, he goes to the library because he knows that he can get a lot of materials from there.
What are the solutions?
The problem in public libraries can be solved if the communities, local governments, states and federal governments are passionate about improving the library system. Library provides information. Lack of information can be very expensive. So the government must focus on improving the libraries. People, associations and groups should also focus on providing libraries for their communities.
With this, they will be able to encourage the government to complement their efforts. The administrators should commit themselves to developing libraries in tertiary institutions. The students, academic and non-academic staff should embrace the library as their baby and ensure the university spends money on its libraries. Surprising rather than spending on libraries,they are engrossed with webometrics ranking of universities.
Does it mean that webometrics rankings are not essential?
No serious university anywhere in the world will focus on webometrics, because what it measures is the presence of a university on the internet, that is “the good, the bad and the ugly” content. Nigerian press should stop reporting these rankings. In the Nigerian context, the rankings have no value if the university libraries are not enriched with adequate library stock and first class services. The universities put all kinds of things on theweb and they are measured and people say this university is number one or two.
That is just a waste of time. We should stop wasting money on things that are not important to the university system. Other countries don’t do that. People may complain that the Federal Government is not adequately funding the universities. What about the ones they get? Even if government triples its funding, they will not use it wisely.
The cheering news, however, is the “Bring Back the Book Project” of President Goodluck Jonathan. At least, there is a signpost that the government is concerned. It is hoped that library development in Nigeria will be a by-product of the project. I also believe this will be the beginning of Nigeria having a high information society readiness index, as one of the parameters of an information society is free and rapid flow of information.

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