LABAF 23.0: Preserving libraries and resource centres in Nigeria – Opeyemi Ajao

The Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF) continued on Thursday 18 November at Freedom Park, Lagos with the theme “A Fork in the Road’”. The programme had its ninth Publishers’ Forum in conjunction with Quramo Publishing with the first session beginning at 10 am. The synopsis of the event, a convergence of Publishers, Booksellers/Dealers/Writers/Readers on new strategies for effective, wide distribution of books across Nigeria, part of the programme dealing with the issue was the sub-theme: Distilling the proposed National Books Distribution Company, Library Bill of Rights; and the rising number of Book Clubs across the country. 

The theme of the second session of the event was “Role of Library and Resource Centres in getting Books to Readers” and was moderated by Mr. Richard Mammah, The President of the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters (NBRP), who led the opening session and introduced members of the panel and spoke of the terrible state of libraries and resource centres in the country and called on stakeholders to unite in bringing back the glory days when it was fun to walk into one without regrets. Following his speech, he introduced members of the panel such as Nkem Osuigwe (African Library Information Association Institution (AFLIA), Gbadega Adedapo, (Chairman, Nigerian Book Fair Trust), Princess Irede Abumere, (Convener, The Sunshine Book Club), Amara Chimeka (Publisher, Purple Shelves), Funmi Ilori, (Founder/CEO, i-Read Mobile Library) and Ademola Adefolami, (Writer and Literary Activist).

The first to speak was Mrs Osuigwe (via Zoom) who spoke of a passion of book chains in the country as well as books being translated in different languages. She described a library as a place of ideas, creativity, history and imaginative thoughts, culture, past, present and future and information as well involving social changes and movement. She condemned politicians for trying to suppress the freedom of ideas because they considered the libraries as dangerous, whereas the library is a place of ideas. She expressed sadness that the government did not deem it fit to provide palliatives to the country’s creative industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“The government did not consider giving palliative to the creative industry. Libraries are stepping stones that will get you to the other side and provide you with a formal and an informal education,’’ she said. She considered libraries as sources of information and showed her support for them and resource centres who gave their disapproval of having their books pirated by persons and suggested buying them from bookshops. 

She mentioned her first visit to a library in Enugu where different types of books including, the Bible, Quran, Encyclopedia, etc. were available. 

“Reading can help a person to either judge and get more personal,” she said  recalling how Professsors Chukwuemeka Ike and Orimolade ensured that books and other materials were available. She also mentioned the challenges she faced as the chairman of the Anambra State chapter of the National Library of Nigeria, which were the difficulties of buying books and resource materials, libraries not engaging enough with stakeholders, and non-applications of grants from major organisations. She however commended some non-governmental organisations for donating books to some libraries and schools. She asked what the future may hold for libraries as well as writing and book-making including the possibility that children could gain access to libraries when it came to books and viewing them as a reality. 

Mrs Osuigwe advised parents, celebrities and corporate firms to invest in books and give to children from a certain age upward as well as donating to schools.  

Thereafter, Mr Adedapo gave his own thoughts about libraries as resource centres and the interest of children in reading books about animals, tools, software, materials and social media. He stated that interest may vary and called on stakeholders to change the narrative (a child or adult losing interest in going to the library to read). He urged publishers to establish book clubs in each parts of the country. 

On the issue of piracy and the failure of the government to establish a policy to tackle it, he called on book publishers to approach the government in creating one and ensure that a law against it was put in place. He hoped to see people having a passion for books as well as a book ecosystem. 

Others who spoke at the event included writer, Ms Ilori, who spoke on the role of books in the lives of children and also repeated calls by Osuigwe in advising parents to invest in books and calling on parents to set up book clubs. She spoke of libraries as vibrant spaces and the interest in English and the indigenous languages and demanded for an inclusion of indigenous books in the country. The rest that followed included Adefolami, who spoke via Zoom and asked if there would be a synergy between libraries and book clubs as well as getting books to a library for the ecosystem and believing that writers were at the mercy of publishers. 

Both Abumere and Chimeka believe that the country was struggling with illiteracy and mentioned the lack of glamour to promote events in libraries and non-involvement of libraries in getting books to schools. 

Towards the end of the session, the panel urged those in the education sector and local government councils to be involved in expanding the lifespan of the libraries within them and ensuring that they were kept alive as well as bringing glamour and promoting events and the preservation of the reading culture.

The session came to a close with a goodwill message from Prof. Abioye who commended the organisers for bringing attention of books to new readers and a closing remark by Pa Oluoye.


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