Library What?

While I’m on Fiction Series break till February, thought I’ll share a series of thoughts I’ve had. Here goes the first one. If you find any of them interesting, please share in all the avenues you can.



I had just rounded off a telephone conversation with my friend, Dipo a few years ago while he was studying for his Masters degree on that evening, when the sun had become a distant red and hazy object in the horizon. It was an hour earlier in The U.K. where he was and this was how the call ended “I’m going into the library, we go yarn (talk) later”. Now, Dipo studied for his first degree in Olabisi Onabanjo University (then Ogun State University) and as strange as things strike you, it struck me out of the blues that my friend had never made reference to going into the library all the while he was in OOU.

Once you notice these things, you are sort of tuned in and you notice more things about them. I realized that when I had conversations with friends in foreign schools, the library formed an important and in fact crucial resource in their academic endeavors. In stark contrast, even at Masters level, the library played no such role for those of us here. I recall what my library card was for in Unilag – a part of my course registration process, that was all. Once we had finished course registration, the library pass was stowed away somewhere my eyes never fell on, in obscura. The few people that went to the library after that did so for the quiet, and not to use its resources for study. I studied computer science, so excuses could be made for me that I should have been spending more time at the computer center (that one is another story) than the library. It is noteworthy that Unilag is one of the prime institutions of learning in Nigeria, yet its library was not in any position to be a resource to the students. When one takes this in context, we realize what must obtain in the other institutions spread across the nation. I had conversations with friends that graduated from universities around the country and the story was the same from Lagos to Abuja to Port-Harcourt and all the places in between – the libraries were comatose and the only real research tool available to students was the internet.

Fast-forward if you will to a couple of years after I graduated and the writer in me had emerged. I’m a fan of the Epic Fantasy genre of fiction, and I read that genre across cultures. One of the sub-genres of Epic Fantasy is the Quest/Adventure fiction and I struck on the odd idea of comparing two fiction works in this sub-genre across cultures and time spans. The Odyssey is a classic Greek work of this genre, written millennia ago in Greek and has been translated to English. D. O. Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irumole was also published in 1938 in Yoruba (the first book to be published in an African language) and translated to English by the Nobel Laureate himself, Wole Soyinka. I wanted to see points of congruence, and points of divergence based on the cultural contexts and the times in which these works were written. The task then was to lay my hands on these books. I had assumed I would easily find them in any of the public libraries in Lagos. I could not be more wrong. Try as I may, these books were not found in university libraries, the National Library and so on. I had to go on extensive searches with private individuals to get the books. I’m having a similar ongoing experience gathering research material for the Kiriji War. The same gathering material on the history of Lagos. Thankfully today, unlike back then, there is twitter. I have been able to get some wonderful material by simply asking on twitter.

This however does not take away from the fact that the library system in Nigeria is in dire straits, unable to live up to what it should do. In reading Dan Brown’s books as well as that of one of my recent favorites Elizabeth Kostova, one cannot but see the crucial role that libraries play in preserving history and creating the platform for the distillation of new knowledge. Some would argue that the digitization drive by companies like Google and free online wikis like Wikipedia are removing the need for physical libraries. This view would be deceptive to say the least. Digitization is limited, and handicapped by copyright issues, a constraint that libraries do not have. There are also texts that in their original form might not be able to go through the digitization process without damage. Only the protected environments afforded by libraries can preserve these documents. Wikis are great tools, but communal user generated information cannot be relied upon for accuracy and completeness. The copyright issues also limit what can be put on a wiki.

Having said these, one wonders why the libraries in Nigeria are in the state they are. Reading Professor Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country, I saw that the libraries were fully functional and an integral part of the intellectual as well as not so intellectual space in their day. The decline and decay therefore were not inevitable. Below are my thoughts on why the Nigerian library system collapsed

  • First, schools became insistent on students buying all the books on their list of books, up to the point where students were punished for not being able to buy books. And once teachers and lecturers ventured into writing books, it became mandatory to have their books. This enforcement of list of books buying negated the need for libraries. As a student, if books are amongst those that are listed for a subject I am taking, and I am unable to afford these books, I should be able to access them in libraries. But schools have become more interested in selling books, than passing on the knowledge in the books.
  • The second point ties into the first, though it is not totally fallout of it. The nature of the assignments and tasks given to students by their teachers determine the types and extents of resources the students draw on to solve the problems. Where the teachers scope their work within the books they have written and/or sold, or in such a manner that the students can easily go online and lift things, they will. As is expected, once I can solve the problems from one source, it follows that I will not expand my search to other sources. It is the job of the teachers to design tasks in such a way that students will need to reference material that is unique, original, wide and varied, in order to break new frontiers. This did not happen to me in school, and many students, from primary to tertiary institutions had and are still having a similar experience. Our teachers simply did not task us in a way that would require the kind of research that would need the resources of a library.
  • The third is a lack of respect for referencing. A friend got this shocker when she was doing her MBA in UK. They were given an assignment and she did all the necessary work employing both the internet and library as resources and then submitted. Her lecturer told her she failed even though she answered correctly. She was confused and understandably indignant. How could she have been correct and yet failed? When she probed further to find out why, she was told that she failed because she did not reference the sources she quoted. I am unsure if this would happen here in Nigeria.

The above reasons do not require any monetary investment or governmental sanction to change. They are attitudinal and have grown into a culture – a culture that is leading to a decline in the depth of intellectual discourse and research and paving the way for the attempts to propagate ideas by being the loudest voice. This culture is imbibed right from nursery schools and continually reinforced in us as we progress through primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. And once a culture is all we’ve known all our lives, it take a rude shocker like my MBA friend had to break. But these can be changed if we are truly serious about reviving our library system. It is not impossible, neither is it out of our reach. It will take a concerted and coordinated effort from stakeholders within the educational system – teachers, lecturers, parents and students all working together.

However, it would be unrealistic to deny that there are things that are not dependent on individual attitudes, but that of those in authority.

  • A key reason our libraries are in disuse is the lack of relevance. I mentioned two books I was searching for earlier – one a Greek classic and the other a Yoruba classic. It is criminal that they could not be found in libraries here. We need to stock our libraries with relevant books, classics and on the cutting edge of modernity alike. This will cost money undoubtedly. Systems and funding must be put in place for the regular acquisition of new material for our libraries. It is said of the Library of Congress that they strive to have a copy of every book ever produced on earth! We might not be able to attain these lofty heights with our libraries, but we should at least try. Even where a book is out of print and no longer sold in the market, I should have the confidence that I can always find a copy of such a book to use in a library near me.
  • The state of the books in the libraries is appalling. We need to modernize the storage and preservation methods in our libraries. I should not pick a book from a library shelf and have a termite invasion of my person. I would then rather stay at home
  • A closer cooperation between authors, publishers and libraries should be fostered. This will enable the libraries get as much of the works produced within the Nigerian space as possible. Even if I do not know where to buy Teju Cole’s book, or do not have the funds to buy it, there should be copies in a library that I can at least read.
  • Schools must be mandated to have libraries that stock several copies of all the books on their list of books and more. The compulsion with students buying all the books on list of books must be dropped. It has to be mandated.
  • We must collect and put books that tell our unique history as a people in our libraries. There are documents, maps and books about Ottoman history I cannot see except I go to the libraries in Istanbul and in some cases other places in Turkey. That should be the case with our own history too – I should not be able to get more research information on Nigerian topics from foreign sources. I should find the best experts and resources in our libraries
  • Our library system must be redesigned to encourage book clubs and membership drives within the library’s location. Without people coming to use the resources, the library will go into decay. While the specific experts that man the library are important, it is equally important to understand and harness the collaborative nature of doing things today and engender a sense of true ownership of the library as resource for the people.
  • Digitization is key for the future relevance of our libraries. There is not much more that can be said of this

All the above will require a firm commitment from the authorities and all the stakeholders in the business of sharing and acquiring knowledge. Government, parents, schools, teachers, students, authors and publishers. Everyone has a role to play in the revival of the library culture in Nigeria. It is my hope that we will share this and it will ignite the fire in the hearts of those who read to start something where they are. Nigerians go abroad and use libraries to the fullest as shown in the story about Dipo my friend and countless other similar stories. I am absolutely certain, that if we can collectively revive our library system, it will serve us well, and the quality of education we acquire will be significantly improved.


17 thoughts on “Library What?

  1. Dully noted.. The bane of our problems lies more in the focrum of focus of todays youth… The focus of many youths have diverted from the library to the “studio”, from intellectuality to criminality.. Well it seems a fall out of the attitude problem, our leaders show us daily that crime pays, uneducated musicians tell us “book no be way”. The intellectual issues faced by our present day society is only a tip of the inherent decadence of the Nigerian Social political and Economic systems as a whole, these problems are deep rooted and going viral everyday.. I only pray we have more Soyinka’s, Fashina’s, and TL’s amongst us..
    Thanks for this write up

  2. Tunde,am not a writer but if I start mine,it wld be part 2 and I don’t intend to bore anyone with my story cos you have said it all and done justice,Do we still read in this part of the world?few people in this generation still read,things have gone really bad that even the few books in Nigerian Libraries are not utilized,we go to libaries and see books with so much dust like its been left there for ages,it is so sad the level of decaydence in both our cultural values and educational values,bad habbit of not reading have graduated into a culture and we see most young people in this categories,people find it very difficult to read this days,some people can chat on d fone for 24hrs for to read for 30mins is such a big deal,while some people can watch TV/Movies for 24hrs but also find it difficult to read,like u said,things can be changed but the change will start by having that right attitude and by cultivating the habbit of reading even if its a book in a month…,Thanks Tunde,this is really a wonderful piece.God help our country Nigeriam

  3. I can say d issue of plagerism is well handled in my ex-school BU,but even at that there are lecturers in dat school that will award u marks just for buying their textbooks.. Very pathetic!! The Nigerian library fallout can’t be pointed to one but all as u stated,hopefully there will be a change soon. Starting from me

  4. I think another reason our libraries are loosing value is cos most people do not go to school to study what they are passionate about anymore. If you are passionate about something, you would go all out to find info about it, read and even discover new things about it…Like the way u searched for those books. People just go to school to get a certificate and get a job in a bank or oil company. Its all the the money really, not passion

  5. TL, you’ve stated it all. I really hope and pray that things will turn out for the better. Its just so sad that things are turning out this way.I actually experienced the same thing especially when I was writing my Long Essay in my final year. Had to spend nights at the cyber-cafe sourcing for materials.May I suggest that you if its possible, please find a way to get this article in the newspapers and any other means by which people can wake up to this reality before its too late.

  6. Hmm TL, its a serious matter in Nigeria. Not only do we need to revive the reading culture and have relevant books in our libraries, but we also need to have a respect for books.
    Back then as an undergrad in Uniben, library registration was also important during clearance, & one can say that the library “tried” with respect to the books & resources available. But you find cases of important pages torn out of books by some unscrupulous student, or a book gone missing, with no record of who had it last. This was in spite of the fact that a photocopying centre existed in the same library & one could copy a limited amount of pages of some books for use. I happened to catch a student tearing a page from a textbook one day, & when i asked her “if previous readers of that book had torn pages out, would it still be relevant to you?” She only gave me a dirty look & walked away mumbling under her breath about “aproko people who don’t know how to mind their business & wether it was my father that built the library”. It was sad, I tell you. As an avid reader I love the atmosphere in a library & the wealth of knowledge available in books, when you can actually find them. One can only pray that in the nearest future our government finds the need to focus & invest in education & stock up our libraries to the point of relevance. Well, as you said in your write up, thank God for twitter & online resources, but nothing is comparable to holding a book in your hands, flipping the pages & smelling that musty paper smell….*sigh*.
    Thanks for this piece TL, God bless you. Please readers, share as much as you can, let’s get the word out there.

  7. “I should not pick a book from a library shelf and have a termite invasion of my person. I would then rather stay at home”- very true! The taught of researching in a Library these days doesn’t cross my mind as I can already fathom the bad state these books would be in. Regardless, each one of us, in our various little spheres of contact, can put all our energies to bear and be the change we want to see in our Libraries today. Excellent write up TL, thanks for being a voice that must be heard!

  8. Maybe its about time individuals start to own libraries and equip them and open them to the reading public. Tunde dear, you could be our foremost o! Since you read every.

  9. I agree with all you said but I don’t agree that you can get away with not putting up a reference for your project or assignment. I can remember failing a course in my yr1 in Unilag because I didn’t put up any reference. Most of my lecturers ll even go check up your reference before checking if you actually got the question right.

    • That probably only happened in your school. I didn’t even know about references until my final year when I had to write my seminar & project. The formula for passing in my school was & still is “la cram, la pour”. No one ever asked me about references until my final year.

  10. i truly understand where you’re coming from and i love ur analysis. i read this article and think you did more than justice to the topic
    i want to have a library of my own when i get the chance to by God’s grace. i’d really appreciate a personal library and a get together book club where ppl come together and discuss the books they’ve read and how we can help one another in the writing world
    i loved going to the library way back in primary skl. wen odas loved playing, i just loved to indulge into the fantasy world of enid blyton and so i guess the loads of foreign books and literature ive read in time past is part of what affected my write up like the one on my blog
    the likes of shakespare and Jane austen…
    a little of american history too…imagine that.
    and too many movies
    but i was given chinua achebe’s things fall apart some years ago and i realized african literature also has lots of interesting facts and so wen i studied GAS or was it GST in my early stages of uni, i was entrilled to observe so many interesting facts abt d nigerian society, beliefs and history
    it was so funny and interesting and it vexes me that we dont have enough resources in our libraries that fuel this passion
    well abt d referencing thing…maybe bcos of d course i studied in lag sha but u had to reference ur project and even given assignments to earn more marks. even Wikipedia gives references to where it gets its info from and u just need to get a good link to get access to their library.
    a lecturer told us abt a password for the online library in skl and told us to ask if we needed those resources.
    i didnt need them tho but i had to read various articles on them cos there’s so much junk on the net.
    science gets updated by the moment
    and so, i do agree with ur points.. i remember a particular book we were forced to buy that time in skl and by the time the test questns came out, 90% of the questnd were from the book!!!!
    imagine that
    sso pls tell me how a student would pass if that book wasnt bought
    the man even insisted our names must be on d book..LOOOL
    well, i do hope we can get to the stage in this country where a relevant source such as the library would be fueled up by enough funds and attention instead of paying so much attention to the music industry that has refused to be censored and our younger generation just go with the flow. not even paying much attention to the lyrics and yet, these re the ones reigning. this same ppl re being used as nigerian ambassadors. pls tell me how a nation will develop like this?
    so much attention on the wrong places and things hereby leaving the other important aspects to suffer.
    let me stop here for now!!!..looool…i have written so much
    im a silent reader. ive actually read ur series but i dont comment and i know u myt nt acknowledge ppl who don’t..#not taking it p that u didnt upload my article tho..loool#
    but i tot i’d drop by and say hi…
    ive been accused of being a critic but i try not to be one except my opinion is asked…but sometimes i just cant hold it

  11. Actually, Out of 100 you re 40% right. i am coming from an angle of improvement and development which has made me scored you below average.
    I graduated from a school where you dont jus dub from the internet and do someother additional research to prove your point, to be on the safe side you proof write and make references and its in nigeria. i have not seen the airport before sef…. then while i was using a public library the problem they had then was returns from borrower that are selfish they want want possess other peoples possession. I will say if they introduce back into our educational system reading, composition and writing which is called comprehension the libraries will be a good place to be equipped. we that we are talking why dont we donate our past used text books that are not useful to us anymore to the local libraries around us or to your alma mata. it will be a grateful deed to help the younger ones.
    i think ill stop here.

  12. You have said a lot Tunde, most times why we go to the libraries is for the quiet and tranquil environment. When I say libraries, I refer to like 85% of the libraries we have in Nigeria. We can also help and do our small part though like books donations e.t.c. This article is for awakening and it’s a clarion call.

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