Libraries were the hallmark of education in the good old days. Scholars and students alike depended largely on well equipped libraries for their scholarly works. The story is different today as libraries are no longer what they used to be. CHIBUNMA UKWU writes.
Growing up in an environment where some professions were singled out for special recognition, Mrs. Joy Olebuezi was not intimidated into going with the crowd. She stood out and went for a course she is passionate about; Library Sciences.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY on what motivated her, she insisted that there is no other profession that is better than being a librarian. It is for this reason she said that she has spent all her life being a librarian.
Mrs. Olubuezi who presently is the Assistant Chief Library Officer of the National Library Abuja told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY how she was introduced to reading from her childhood.
"I got introduced to reading from childhood. The secondary school I attended also helped me a great deal. In the school at the time, deduction is made from the school fees of students who registered to use the library which are given them in cash by the end of the academic session, I was constantly registering to use the library for this reason and before I knew it, I became so passionate about library that I opted to read Library Sciences in my diploma and first degree studies. Ever since, I have remained a librarian and have never regretted my decision".
Recalling the attitude of people to reading which over the years encouraged her in the library services, Mrs. Olebuezi lamented that the traits are no longer there which she affirmed, proves the allegation that the Nigerian reading culture is dying away.
"Though I am passionate about books, what has sustained me through the years as a librarian is the fact that I enjoy seeing people reading. Nevertheless, people these days no longer come to read as before.
In the past years, both young and old people even the retirees come to the library to enrich themselves with knowledge from books and newspapers, but these days, the young ones only come to read to pass their examinations while the old ones have completely lost interest in reading especially in the library."
LEADERSHIP SUNDAY learnt that this attitude has also crept into the educational system as most Nigerian students do not value reading or spending quality time in the library. This it was further learnt has resulted in a dwindling reading culture as well as poor performance during examinations.
Expressing his view on the matter, the Assistant Director, Ministry of Education, Mr. Adebayo Awonusi acknowledged that interference from various modern devices such as computer and internet were negatively affecting reading culture among students. According to him, a lot of students prefer going to the internet for browsing other than reading.
"There are many factors which are responsible for the poor reading culture of a Nigerian child. First is the interference of various modern devices like the internet. This factor has shifted the interest of our students from reading. So the periods that they would have used to read, they spend it on the internet."
He went further to identify the attitude of most students to reading which he described are not encouraging.
"There is also the attitude of students themselves to reading. With the presence of satellite television, students are forced before they do their studies. Some could watch movies on Africa Magic station all day long as long as there is light. Such attitudes do not promote reading culture among students.
It makes them to resort to examination malpractices during examination periods, while some register for examinations in centres that could let them engage in exam malpractice."
Speaking more on this, the Assistant Chief Librarian of the Ministry of Education, Mrs. Beauty Ugbodagah attributed the cause of poor reading culture to poor library facilities.
In her assessment, the conditions of most libraries in schools are appalling noting that most libraries are not adequately stored with books that are current and interesting while the building infrastructure of most school libraries are nothing to write home about.
This, she opined, would in no way motivate a student to come nor spend quality time in the library.
"Library is a place where the reading culture of a child is sharpened. However, it is unfortunate that the reading culture is going down and the state of school libraries contribute greatly to it.
The conditions of most libraries do not encourage students to come and read in them as the environments are not conducive. In most Nigerian libraries, it is benches that are used while the reading tables are in rickety shapes.
Such atmospheres are not encouraging for reading. Going by the popular statement that readers are leaders, one would get to wonder if there is still hope for Nigeria"?
Mr. Awonusi assured that all hope is not lost as the government is doing its best to restore reading culture among the Nigerian students.
"What the government is doing presently is to bring back the book to the Nigerian students and that would be assessed through the programme the President launched sometime last year.
At the ministry of Education too, there have been so many programmes such as the National Reading Competition which holds annually. These programmes are geared towards encouraging reading among the Nigerian students."
On her own part, Mrs. Ugbodagah opined that while the government comes with intervention in the libraries, that unity schools should make effort to ensure that their libraries are in good state as well as get qualified librarians to man the libraries.
"Lack of qualified librarians also contributes to the issue at stake. It takes a good librarian to master books in the library, recommend needed books to library users thereby making coming to library interesting."
Encouraging all hands to be on deck in rebuilding today's libraries, she also called on teachers to certify that library use is followed by students as are found in the school timetable.
"Most teachers in the school are not bothered on whether a child comes to the library or not. They are supposed to have library periods in their timetable and also ensure that the timetable is followed accordingly."
Also stressing the need to get people's interest back to reading, Mrs. Olebueze acknowledged the readership campaign programme which the National Libraries observe every year. The programme, she said, lasts for a week and is held in all the states across the nation.
Though the programme is initiated to encourage people to read, she however, called on the government to equip the libraries. This, she said, will make libraries comfortable and conducive for reading thereby motivating people from all walks of life even the children to enjoy using the library again.
"Government should see to it that every school is equipped with a good library even from nursery school. Little children have picture books and if their interest in books could be captured at that stage, reading culture could easily be developed in them.
Generally too, government should somehow motivate people to start coming to libraries again. In the past, people read when they are doing nothing, or when they have a break in their work places, they would rather spend the period at the libraries.
Even the old and the jobless come to the libraries to look for information, play games and meet new people. In as much as the innovation of internet has posed great challenge to library as regards to seeking information, government can still reposition the libraries such that it will boost treading cultures again," she said.