Poor Reading Culture And Readiness For E-library System
ONE of the solutions proffered by experts in solving the issue of low reading culture among Nigerians is the provision of well-stocked libraries at homes, schools and strategic points across the country. The idea is that if the awareness were backed by availability of good books, many Nigerians would be encouraged to embrace it.
Prior to this time, well-stocked libraries were located in accessible places in different parts of the country. These were mainly run and maintained by the government and good-willing Nigerians that supplied the facilities with relevant books and journals among others.
While many of these national libraries still exist, their condition should be the major concern to stakeholders. For, it is not enough to say there are libraries in the country. But how modern are these facilities? Have they been upgraded to reflect what now obtains globally in this respect? And if not, are steps being taken to do so?
Nigeria boasts of an appreciable percentage of educated people, but studies have shown that many don’t have libraries at home or avail themselves of the uses of the public ones. Even students, who ordinarily should be avid readers, are mostly to be found in libraries only when there is an examination, test or job interview to attend to.
While speaking on Nigerians’ attitude to reading habit, University of Lagos Librarian, Dr. (Mrs.) Olukemi Fadehan said: “Whether Nigerians are reading or not is a billion dollar question. However, studies and practice have shown that the issue of low reading habit has been a problem dominating the literature of library and information studies for many years. And considering our population and what we see in practice, we can safely say that relatively, we still have a low reading culture.
“You may argue that we have a high percentage of educated people in the country, but then the issue of reading transcends just reading to pass examinations. Rather, cultivating the reading habit should be a lifelong affair, a way of life and something that permeates every area of life. By and large, we discover that it impacts every area of human life and development, both personal and socio-economic. And when it comes to lifelong education, it can be said that the moment the individual stops reading, she or he is as good as dead. So, reading tells you about yourself.
“I am a human being, and I need nutrients to survive and prolong my lifespan. But this is determined by the components of the food I eat. All of these combined determine and reflect whom you are, as what you live for can only be known, when you read either with the print format or the multimedia screen. However, what is most important is that you need to read with the contact of your eyes. But for those who are not sighted, the brail or other multimedia functions that appeals to the ear is used to achieve this.”
Some experts are saying that providing and upgrading existing ones into e-libraries could prove be to the missing link in the chain, as this is likely to appeal to readers, especially the young ones. But while several Nigerian libraries have been upgraded in compliance with modern demands, many others are yet to feel this impact. So, what does it take to turn a reading facility to an e-library?
“Technology requires capacity and it requires training and manpower. Training exposes people to all facets of knowledge, which will enhance effective establishment, operation and utilisation of e-resources. However, that mechanism and infrastructure need to be put in place. This is capital intensive, so we need to know that it is expensive. It has high turnover and if we want to catch up with the trend globally we must be ready for the game and the rule of the game is to devote quite a lot of money to it.
“E-library is doable. For instance, if you open our portal in the university’s library, you will have access to the e-resources. The university is Wifi-ed and at any point within the premises, you can access the e-resources once you have your pin and it’s not over-due. There is no way we can operate in the 21st century learning environment without the e-resources. The e-library is worth expanding and I want to charge government at all levels to try as much as possible to increase and catch the vision of establishing e-library facilities in local governments, states and federal levels. I also want to enjoin all institutions to catch the vision of improving on this,” she said.
On her view as to whether the provision of e-library would improve reading habits among Nigerians, the librarian noted that the precursor of e-library system is still the act of reading and the more you have that attitude to read on the print format, the more you can utilise the electronic format.
“What we are talking about is the difference in the mode of transmission and with the Internet facility, it can be transmitted to any part of the world. What it enhances is portability, which means that information resources become more portable, easily accessible. It now transcends local geographical locations, which is referred to as library without walls. To an extent, it is a desirable paradigm shift in catching up with globalisation.
“I would like to add that having e-resources is not about Google or other search engines, because they do not cater for the entity of formal education. They could only be for informal, non-formal or less serious learning. We expect dedicated databases for educational purposes. The use of Internet is desirable and I want to enjoin the government to remember that though education is expensive, we cannot afford ignorance. I am, therefore making a call for the re-establishment and re-modelling of public libraries because they are responsible to the average Nigerian and with the e-library, they can gain some form of education.”
Dr. James Raphael, who runs a free library at the Ejigbo area of Lagos and the Director General of Centre for Research, Information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD), said Nigerians read mostly for exams and job interviews or job promotions. He explained that it is mainly secondary school students that may be caught occasionally reading for pleasure.
“In February 2008, CRIMMD Library carried an independent research work on the reading culture of Nigerians – a case study of Lagos State. Our findings showed that 65 percent of adult Lagosians never read a non-fiction book from cover to cover after they finish school. The average Nigerian reads less than one book per year, and only one percent of successful men and women in Nigeria read one non-fiction book per month.
“Our study also revealed that about 70 percent of Lagosians graduated from high school with poor reading skills. Most people give reasons such as the poor economy and traffic situation in Lagos for their poor reading habit. From my experience running the library, students only come to read during exams. In a whole year, we hardly get up to 10 persons that would walk in to read for pleasure or to gain knowledge. So, I would rightly say Nigerians don’t read. The earlier we fall back to our books, the better it will be for us as individuals and a nation.
“To adopt the e-library system we need to develop improved technology for digitising analogue materials, since that is what we have presently. We need to also design, search and create retrieval tools that compensate for abbreviated or incomplete cataloging or descriptive information. We need to design tools that facilitate the enhancement of cataloging or descriptive information by incorporating the contributions of users. After that, there will be need to establish protocols and standards to facilitate the assembly of distributed digital libraries.
“It’s after all this we can then address legal concerns associated with access, copying, and dissemination of physical and digital materials to enable us integrate access to both digital and physical materials. It would be most unfair for e-libraries to be functional in some areas and not in others in Nigeria. As such, the government will have to make the National Digital Library useful to different communities of users and for different purposes, with a steady supply of electricity and Internet facility availability,” he explained.