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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nigeria: Concerning Library Culture or is it Reading Culture? Part1

Model, Headquarters of the National Library of Nigeria that is under construction
This past week, at the tail end of May 2017, two events happened simultaneously mid-week. One in the USA and the other here in Nigeria; both concerning one theme- library/literacy. All these happened at the time my mind was preoccupied with library development in Nigeria. While in the USA, the President of the American Library Association (ALA) Julie Todaro, Ph.D., was in the last few days of her dogged fight against congressional cut in library funding for FY2018, Prof L. O. Aina, a former National President of the Nigerian Library Association (NLA) but present CEO of the National Library of Nigeria (NLN) marked the year 2017 reading promotional ritual. And as the tweeter handle of the NLN made several tweets of the key points of his reading, I remembered coming across ‘’reading culture in Nigeria is poor’’ https://twitter.com/Librarygovng. This coincided with my blog post few minutes earlier titled “Supporting FY 2018 Funding for Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program: the Plea of a Foreigner” where I compared the excellent reading culture of the Americans with the near nil culture of reading on this side the Atlantic. You can imagine how happy I was to be so corroborated by such an authority in Nigerian and African library science scholarship. So, it is a fact that Nigeria has poor reading culture. Although, the National Librarian went on to underscore the values of reading to leadership and national transformation but I quickly interjected the tweet reads by replying to one of the tweets thus: ‘’Reading culture cannot thrive without library culture’’ https://twitter.com/adegbilero.
There I began to query myself, is there any phrase in library lexicon as library culture? What is library culture? But something told me that I might be right from the tweeter reactions I got for my tweet; the Like, Retweets and all that. But really, what is library culture? Which one do we really need, library or reading culture? I will, thus, attempt to solve the puzzle I have tasked my mind to answer.  
Culture, in its presumptuous and generic sense connotes the total way of life of a group of people. Applying this to reading or library, a very convenient and unequivocal sense may be discerned for reading culture or library culture. But if giving definitional explanation is what this writ is all about, it may as well not worth the effort you have committed to reading it this far. Howbeit, it need be said that such basic note of understanding need be resounded.
My thought of library culture sends me back to the Spring of 2016 when with four other early career librarians from Bangladesh (Shaharima Parvin), the Philippines (Rhea Jade Nabusan), Kenya (Penninah Musangi) and Serbia (Zeljko Dimitrijevic) including my humble self from Nigeria (Idowu Adegbilero-Iwari) under the prestigious Jay Jordan IFLA/OCLC Early Career Fellowship programme explored library and experienced librarianship in the USA for a period of one month. This we did, among other things, through interactions in trainings, presentations, visits to libraries, museums and archives across the states of Ohio (host state), Illinois, Indiana and Washington, District of Columbia. There and then I saw what I call library culture. 
Library culture, apart from the traditional way of life of libraries, is more rather than less the total way of life of the people or the society the library serves in relation to the library. It is obvious what gallant attitude and disposition the American society have towards libraries. The people could rarely live without libraries. A community is not complete in America without the library.
Albany Public Library
There just must be somewhere for the kids, teens, the youth, working class people, scholars, displaced people and just any human to go in the community to study, train, learn new technology, host events, learn government principles, pick up forms, explore historical events and archival events, freely use the internet, borrow books and now equipment and have fun generally. That is the nature of the modern American libraries. No wonder the libraries are no more principally about books but space for knowledge acquisition, creation and recreation. Modern information structure is hyper in nature and it is beyond what is printed in black and white. Information comes in different formats and now in different ways; and the more visual and / or handy or rather interactive the better for today’s information users. The multimedia and hyperlink nature of electronic information available through the World Wide Web on the Internet has further challenged libraries to double up on their services. These, have all been adequately and continued to be so taken care of by so many libraries in the US.
The design and architecture of libraries justifies the high premium placed on libraries.
Atrium of the Columbus Metropolitan Library
The support of the American people and government can only result in librarians’ creativity and innovation such that library users are now consider as customers who must be duly satisfied. Satisfied with comfort; satisfied with convenient services and structures; satisfied with aesthetics and beauty; satisfied with efficient and effective librarians. The library seems to always be ahead of the people, creating pleasant services to ultimately keep them coming to the library or using library services. Little wonder, that libraries now circulate (loan out) items more than books. These include: bicycles, sewing machines, mobile internet modem, and other technologies. Libraries now have space for creation and fabrication such as Makerspaces or Fablabs. Libraries have spaces for babies and nursing mothers. They possess such facilities for training and meeting. Such times for oral tradition and narratives (story telling). And as the American people sip the precious flow of library’s juicy offerings, the libraries are inundated with crowd of knowledge lovers and a reading people. Such is the library culture I meant to talk about.
A burgeoning library culture that does not leave out business, corporate organizations and wealthy elites where everyone sort of get really involved in one of the most critical sector that has remained ubiquitous across varying seasons and eras of human civilizations. There are countless endowment funds for various library projects across the country. Apart from the multi-million dollars congressional annual Federal Budget for Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) under the LSTA Acts, state governments also have annual budgetary provisions for libraries in millions of USD. These are not without endowment from foundations and corporate businesses. The Carnegie Corporation of New York is a foremost and the leading global force behind libraries, library education and librarians. Their footprints are in libraries across the US and almost all the continents of the earth. The Mortenson Company has also committed fat bags of dollars to the course of library and librarians both in the USA and offshore. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have also taken deep love for libraries with rich supports globally. This is to mention but a very few. This is the library culture I meant to say from the onset of this essay and the reason for my thesis that “reading culture cannot thrive without library culture”.
To finally delve into the value of the library to the Americans, the Corporate Committee for Library Investment (CCLI) recently described the library as “very much critical national infrastructures: ubiquitous, indispensable, and economically essential. In canvassing for federal funding for libraries, CCLI further submitted that “library funding may be among the very best yielding and most leverageable investment that Congress makes across the entire Federal budget”. Their position can be easily understood given the following mind boggling statistics:

§  There are 25% more public libraries in the United States than Starbucks;
§  Each year, America’s more than 120,000 libraries of all kinds are visited 1.4 billion times nationwide (averaging to about 4 million visits per day or 2,663 visits per minute);
§  Those many millions of visitors come to modern libraries to borrow books, but also because libraries do (and have for decades been doing) so much more:
§  100% of libraries offer free access to the internet;
§  97% help patrons, including particularly veterans, complete government forms online;
§  90% train children and adults in computer literacy and other online skills;
§  73% aid patrons with job applications and interviewing skills;
§  68% help users use databases to find job openings; and
§  48% provide entrepreneurs and small business owners with online resources.
      Source: CCLI, 2017 at https://www.fundlibraries.com/ccli-letter

All these point to why the library culture of the American society is ably witnessed in its people’s love for reading.
Unfortunately, both the reading and library culture of the Americans sharply contrasts with Nigerians’. There is a common saying that “if you want to hide anything from a Nigerian, keep it in a book”. It is that horrible. The Nigerian National Librarian, as mentioned earlier, had once and again echoed the obvious, that reading culture is poor in Nigeria. The other obvious I need not mention is the poor library culture. According to a report of the Librarians’ Registration Council of Nigeria (LRCN), there are only 253 public libraries in Nigeria in addition to the 25 branches plus the headquarters of the National Library of Nigeria; altogether, 279, less than the 481 branch locations of the 251 Public Library Systems in the state of Ohio alone. And to put it into proper perspectives, the 279 public libraries and NLN branches are meant to serve over 170 million people in contrast with over 1993 public libraries and 2 branches of the National Library of South Africa to serve 54 million South Africans. These are just figures (quantity) and no mention of features (quality). You may as well spare me that ado. My guess is that you will agree with me that the point has been made that Library culture in Nigeria is abjectly poor.
library development in nigeria
Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta

Save for recently reported refurbishment effort of the Isolo Public Library by the Lagos State government in conjunction with Zenith Bank Plc under the bank’s “Adopt a Library” scheme, the renascent Akwa Ibom E-Library, the Kenneth Dike Central e-Library in Awka, Anambra State, which are government efforts; and save for a very scanty private individual efforts like the only notably known Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta, Ogun State, which are all modern; it is hard to imagine the state of public libraries in Nigeria. That said, must we continue to mourn this poor culture? Certainly, NO! We must act or rather make people act and promptly too.

Continue to read from Part2 here
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