The state of the Nigerian public library is decrepit, a new survey has confirmed. But there’s one data point for optimism; there’s a growing number of book clubs in the country, most of them operating outside the formal system.
Stakeholders say that book clubs should be ingratiated into public library institutions.
In other words, libraries need reading programmes to make them into living, breathing beings.
Reading Spaces, Raising Readers was the apt theme of an inspiring conference which addressed these challenges in Lagos recently.
Powered by the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP), the seminar switched on the lights in all the abandoned thought rooms in our minds where we’ve lost faith in the power of raising readers.
Top on the agenda was the presentation of the report of a NBRP’s preliminary survey of the state of public libraries in the country.
Richard Mammah president of the two-year-old Network, set the tone for the conversation by asking: “Why are we doing this?”. Founded in 2020 the NBRP, geared towards aggravating book clubs and reading promoters across Nigeria, has established a presence in four geo-political zones out of the six in the country. In six months between November 2021 and May 2022, the survey, which is a sort of a pilot phase, covered five states: Abia, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Lagos as well as the Federal Capital Territory. At the close of the exercise, stakeholders in the book clubs, reading promotions, library and books ecosystem were invited for the report presentation session that took place on the grounds of the Nigerian International Trade Fair. Mammah, a passionate reading promoter, answered his own question: “Facts are sacred, data is king”.
While the survey captures only a sixth of the country’s number of states, its catchment area is significant in terms of the country’s geography. The states covered have a total of 81 libraries, whereas, “Nigeria has 316 public libraries” according to prior research, (published 2021) by Felicia Etim, the widely regarded professor of Library studies who also led this NBRP survey. That means that the six jurisdictions host over 25% of the total number of public libraries.
Professor Etim’s report is gloomy.
Only 41% of the public library buildings were reported in good condition. 57% are in poor condition and 7% shut down.
Only 19% of the public libraries have book volumes over 5,000 and mostly obsolete.
35% of the public libraries have working computers, but with no funds for internet and e-resources subscriptions.
54% of the public libraries have generators as alternative power supply but hardly have funds for fuel
The survey identifies 19 book clubs in Lagos State, but less than half of them are involved with the state’s library system. In Rivers, none of the six book clubs engaged by the survey has any relationship with any library in Rivers State.
NBRP is particularly interested in extension service. A key objective of the survey is to find out “which of the country’s 774 local government areas is in good condition, with accompanying book clubs, readership promotion and literary activities”.
Etim declares: “There is an urgent need for policy makers to enact a policy that put library development on top of government agenda all over the country. There is need for appropriate reading spaces for readers who will become good leaders. Book clubs and public libraries must make an effort to collaborate for the common purpose of enhancing the reading culture”.
Indeed, the NBRP is following up the session with an online event on August 17, 2022, which will feature Professor Etim with the National Librarian Professor Veronica Chinwe Anunobi as well as the new president of the Nigerian Library Association, NLA, Dominic Omokaro in a discussion around ‘No Library without a Book Club’ campaign.
A communique of the event, released by the NBRP, states as follows:
- Desirous of the need to conduct a contemporary analysis of the state of reading infrastructure in Nigeria at the moment as a veritable plank for planning and executing impactful reading promotions activities in the country, the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Culture Promoters in Nigeria, NBRP undertook a preliminary survey covering Abia, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory across the past six months. At the close of the exercise, stakeholders in the book clubs, reading promotions, library and books ecosystem were invited for the report presentation session that took place at the Nigerian International Book Fair 2022. The session ended with the following resolutions:
1. Stakeholders appreciate the place of data in planning for enhanced fortunes within the Nigerian books ecosystem and applaud NBRP for undertaking this initiative.
- Going forward, stakeholders also called attention to the need for more area-specific focus to be paid to the question of ensuring greater inclusiveness in libraries and reading spaces development in the country through examining concerns like the demographic spread of end users (children, teenagers, adolescent, youths, adults and the elderly) and whether existing offerings adequately serve them properly and respectively.
- To make more materials available to users and in a cost-effective manner too, Nigerian public libraries should explore the use of open source tools, Open Educational Resources, OER materials and books that are openly licensed.
- Against the backdrop of emergent research findings, including that contained in the current NBRP preliminary survey, there is a need to further interrogate the current nationally branded data regarding the total number of public libraries in Nigeria, which has been put at 316 with a view to either validating or updating it. Along this line, stakeholders welcomed the expressed desire of NBRP to proceed on to undertaking a full country survey on the state of reading infrastructure that spans the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory and encourage that everything be done to ensure that it is successfully conducted.
- Stakeholders affirm that it is most important that enhanced public-private-NGO partnership in relation to the establishment, effective utilisation and management of public libraries in Nigeria be encouraged. As a practical step, they call for fitting synergy operations that would see libraries opening their doors to book clubs to use their premises as venues for their reading promotions activities as much as is practicable.
- Stakeholders encourage that revamped and innovative measures be introduced to get books to end users through the use of mobile libraries and similar expressions to bridge the current gap in readily accessing materials in distant communities.
- Stakeholders also endorse the NBRP 774 Book Clubs and Libraries Project, an initiative to ensure the establishment of at least one book club and library in each of the local government areas in Nigeria and call for cooperation across all levels to see this come to fruition.
- Stakeholders also affirmed that the NBRP should facilitate the development of a framework for setting up book clubs, which should be made easily available to the general public. Mentors should also be recruited and deployed to provide guidance for those that intend to setup new book clubs.
- The importance of collaboration across the book value chain was also reiterated. Stakeholders affirmed that being a shared ecosystem it is imperative that they work together for the common good of all and the nation.
- In addition to the work being done on the state of reading infrastructure, it was also agreed that a survey be equally carried out on the quality of human resources in the public library system in Nigeria in order to ascertain existing limitations and gaps and move to correct same through training, retraining and improved roles-fitting.
- Stakeholders present at the session also lent their voices to the broader thrust of NIBF 2022, namely addressing challenges with book piracy and affirm their support for the Copyright Bill presently before the National Assembly as well as efforts to ensure the coming into being of the long-overdue Nigerian National Book Policy.
Notable participants at the session included the National Librarian/CEO, National Library of Nigeria, Prof Veronica Chinwe Anunobi; Lead Presenter of the Report and Chair of NBRP’s 774 Book Clubs and Libraries Project, Prof. Felicia Etim; report reviewer and Director, African Libraries Institutions and Associations, Dr Nkem Osuigwe; Mrs Grace Samuel of the Universal Basic Education Commission; President, Booksellers Association of Nigeria, Mr Dare Oluwatuyi; Founder, Uyo Book Club, Dr Udeme Nana; Secretary General, Committee for Relevant Art, Mr Toyin Akinosho and the President of the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria, Mr. Richard Mammah
General Secretary, NBRP
Noah Ibitoye is the programme officer of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA)