Visit any library in the town you live in and you would feel the stark absence of care and government as freshly as a young widow feels the absence of her husband.
This is more than a gripe against libraries. It is a deep seated concern seeing that I have been a notable beneficiary of the library as public utility.
In 2010 when ASUU, the governing body of universities in Nigeria called for one of their protracted strikes that left the gates of many academic institutions locked for several months, I found solace in the library in Umuahia, the small town where my parents lived. There I met famed writers like Jamaica Kincaid, Anne Michaels, Akhil Sharma, Jeanette Winterson, Stephen King and Carol Shields. These were writers I would never have come across if I followed the strict rigor of an academic syllabus. The books I read widened my scope of the world, introduced me to the vastness of the culture of a people unfamiliar to me. Spending time at library improved my diction and helped my craft as a writer.
But visiting the said library seven years later had me dismayed. It looked like a house whose first occupants vacated but not without picking clean the valuable items it housed. My favorite books were missing. The shelves were falling apart and any attempt to pull down books left you powdered with dust. The ceiling fans creaked with age and the library attendants looked sleepy while they discussed non-payment of wages in sad voices. It was hard for me to reconcile this run down place with its barely there aesthetics and grumpy architecture and interiors, to the place where I beat boredom to a pulp as I waited ASUU to ring its morning bell, calling us back to school.
Even though technology has bestowed on us mobile devices that carry books in their hundreds and reading has transcending the act of leafing through the pages of books, there still remain voids that technology cannot fill.
Libraries remain invaluable as a place where scholars seeking some serenity in the course of their research come to work. Busy parents can send their children over to the library during this holiday period thereby cutting down the idle hours children spend in front of the T.V. Book Clubs use the library as a place where its’ members congregate and public lectures can be held there too.
But the plight of the library is the same ill that befalls many government-run organizations: the lack of personal touch and ownership and the grumpiness of staff who feel their welfare is not the priority of their employers. That same dispirited attitude is seen in government-run hospitals, schools and even hotels.
Yearly, tons of books are published in Nigeria but their distributions never make it to the library. Any government seeking to warm the hearts and invest in its younger generation should look towards revamping our libraries and making it look exciting again, starting from their architecture to interiors and raking in books in their thousands. You never can tell what young mind would be fired up by the wealth of knowledge housed in the libraries.
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