Friday, May 11, 2012

‘Hold governments responsible for dilapidated libraries’

NLA President, Prof. Lenrie Aina
In this interview with MOTUNRAYO ABODERIN, the President of the Nigerian Library Association, Prof. Lenrie Aina, calls on various governments to set up a special body to manage public libraries.

Could mass failures in public examinations be linked to the dearth of public libraries?
Yes. There is no doubt that the absence of standard public libraries in Nigeria is one of the major factors responsible for mass failure in public examinations, especially West African Senior School Certificate Examination. Students are only exposed to one form of imparting knowledge, that is, face to-face lectures in the class rooms, unlike in other climes, where students are exposed to a variety of methods of imparting knowledge. A standard public library is expected to have a variety of formats on any topic which could be in form of slides, videos, online platform, etc. These are provided by public libraries. Students go to the library and study the topics covered by the teacher in the class at his or her own pace and at a convenient time. Also, through the library, a student can read a variety of books on the same topic covering all sides. A student that has access to such a library will definitely perform better than those not exposed to such facilities. This is why Nigerian students who study under the difficult conditions in Nigeria excel when they go for further studies in developed countries. I remember when the statistical social for social sciences software emerged in the 70s, I learnt it without going through any formal class. I was a postgraduate student at the City University, London, and I needed to use the software to analyse my data. All what I did was to go to my university library’s audio-visual room, where I found that instructional materials for using SPSS was already in slides and I was viewing each slide on the projector to know how to use it. Afterwards, I became an expert in the use of SPSS. It was as easy as that. An apprentice can supplement his training by learning the skills for his trade in the public library by using audio-visual materials. This is our dream for public libraries in Nigeria.

Would you say governments have neglected public libraries?

So, how can they be revived?
Even though the governments at both national and state levels are cutting down on the number of parastatals but I believe that governments must set up a special body in their ministries of education. The mandate of such a body should be the development of public libraries in Nigeria. This body can partner the NLA. One of the few states in Nigeria that I think takes development of public libraries seriously is Anambra. Although it is yet to reach the optimum but it is far ahead of other states in terms of developing public librates.

Should the government be solely in charge of these libraries?
No, but it must provide the leadership. Wealthy individuals, corporate bodies, etc, should be involved in the development of public libraries.

As the president of NLA, have you made any plea to governments to resuscitate public libraries?
Yes. In all my public speeches and writings I have always advocated for the development of public libraries. My thesis is that as long as public libraries in Nigeria are not well developed, we shall continue to witness mass failures in public examinations. Also from the point of view, librarians and the state of public libraries as we have them now, will continue to have a negative effect on our profession. A well developed public library will attract the patronage of the society. It is such a patronage that will raise the profile of the librarian, and then the society will begin to appreciate our usefulness. To demonstrate the need to develop public libraries, the NLA has just set up a committee on the revitalisation of public libraries in Nigeria. The mandate of the committee is to prepare a blue print that will be sent to the federal, state and local governments.

How will you describe their response?
Well, the response has been very slow. Again, I will like to mention that Anambra State is leading the pack in responding to our pleas.

How can the government revive the reading habit of our students?
The answer is straight forward – provide reading materials for members of the public including pre-school and school children, artisans, etc. The public library is the vehicle for making reading materials available.

How will you describe Nigerians’ attitude to reading?
Poor and that is why we are pre-occupied with rumours and speculations. The facts on any issue are there. It is only for us to pick the right material and read.

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