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What happened to our library culture?

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Bayero University Library, Kano, Nigeria

At a library in Port Harcourt the other day, I submitted an inquiry for a book authored by a late prominent writer, environmentalist – whose drama series ‘Basi and Company’ kept me glued to the television set in the ‘80s. 

Surprisingly, the person to whom I was referred, and who is in charge of archival materials, said he had never heard of that book.

Never? I was befuddled. Not long ago I met an ex-librarian in his 70s who could reel out names of books and their authors that I had never heard of, with copious narratives and even speech-marks from some of the books.

It was nothing short of amazing! At the same library, I noticed that people who came to use the facility were few, through no fault of the management. But it would appear that our library culture is quickly dying away in Nigeria. Compare that to the number of people who love watering holes.

Little wonder some librarians don’t see the need to be acquainted with the books they have in stock.

Why is it that people don’t patronize our libraries like they used to do? Does the age of the Internet have anything to do with this? Not everything on the internet is correct, by the way.

Aren’t our libraries with their culture worth preserving? The library in Sokoto when I was a lad was pretty far from the barracks and the few times I had cause to travel to use the facility, I announced with pride to my friends that I was going to the library in a cocky manner.

Looking back and in sharp contrast with the practice I see now, I think I deserve an Earldom. It’s the same story in Kaduna and Abuja.

In Abuja, I saw many folks come to read newspapers in the library and I took them seriously.

I considered every woman I saw in the library as a very serious person. No disrespect to many who don’t. But only serious-minded people care something for the pains of research.

On a visit to Ibadan not long ago and on my way to Jericho through Mokola, I saw a young lady Yetunde, busily looking for books (cheap paper backs) spread on the floor. I took her seriously and had to woo her for intellect’s sake.

No regrets! How many people can submit such effort under the cloud of a scorching sun, when there is the alternative of watching a Kardashian or Telemundo under a cloud of comfort? How do we protect our libraries from going into extinction, to be self sustaining and encourage a reading culture?.

Maybe government needs to step up a campaign to not only promote a reading culture but also to build massive buildings in a secured environment owing to the security challenge in our country.

Libraries could be considered interesting places if they provide other services. For example, a daycare center for tweens could be established to promote early childhood literacy.

Again, all local government could be mandated to have a functional library which shouldn’t be only a repository for books but a place where all immunization services can be carried out.

We need not look for places for speaking engagements when there are libraries around.

Who knows? Teenagers remembering their daycare days with fond memories may choose to go to the library as a matter of course in adulthood thereby shaping the social process of reading for others to follow.

Artist can also come into play. They could have exhibitions in the library away from galleries.

Partnership with lovers of the arts, with curators, will shape our knowledge of history. Rekindling the prospect of libraries being establishments of community focus has never been more urgent. At a time when

We cannot get milk in a hardware store so why build a Wall of China around ourselves? Milk can be found in a grocery shop and aspiring leaders must surround themselves with institutions that would make them not only great but good managers.

The library remains one such institution. Most books in the library have passed through the rigorous process of critical scrutiny by editors and publishers.

Tell you what? The ambiance in a library is good to engage in sobriety. Many times in the past I went there just so I could commune with my inner self.

Interestingly, libraries in Nigeria are about the only free public spaces left where you’re not asked to buy something, treated either as a trespasser, or as a turd with ears. Researchers are held with high esteem.

While I remember, we could also have internet cafes at the library, computer technology sections for apprentices as well, so youngsters can adapt to the technological age. 

What do you think?


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