* ‘We have mandate to improve the book ecosystem’
* ‘We need to bring glamour to book events’
* ‘Some governments consider libraries to be dangerous institutions’
By Godwin Okondo
ON Day 4, Thursday, November 18, 2021, Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2021) held a forum featuring booksellers, book club owners, and book activists for the festival’s 9th Publishers Forum at Freedom Park, Lagos. It was a ‘Convergence of Publishers, Booksellers/Dealers and Readers’ around the need to get the general public, students in particular, to develop interests in book aside those recommended in the school curriculum.
Resources persons for the two-part session included the President of Booksellers Association of Nigeria and Managing Director of CCS Bookshops, Mr. Dare Oluwatuyi; a representative of the President of Publisher’s Association, Mr. Dauda; Co-Founder of Roving Heights Bookstore, Mr. Adedotun Oyinade; Founder of Bookworm Cafe, Farida Ladipo-Ajayi; Founder of iRead, Mrs. Funmi Ilori and representative of African Library and Information Association and Institutions (AFLIA), Dr. Nkem Osuigwe. The session was moderated by the President of Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP), Mr. Richard Mammah.
While speaking on the roles being played by those in the book world, Oluwatuyi said, “One way or another, we will always come across books, from the day we are born until the day we leave this world; we continue to learn. I am a bookseller, and we don’t just exist in a vacuum; we survive along with other stakeholders in the book industry, which includes the writers, publishers, printers, librarians — we all have independent and interwoven roles we play. We call it a book chain — if any of the connectors are broken, the wheel will not turn.
“The author puts his ideas on paper, then takes it to the publisher, who gets it ready for printing and takes it to the printer, and then takes the final product to the booksellers. The publisher creates public awareness for the book. Books also have their own audience depending on the title or content. Today, things have changed. You have to advertise and promote for people to be aware of the books. Booksellers make sure the books are available where the buyers are.”
Oluwatuyi, however, acknowledged that there has been a changing dynamic in the former neat organisational process of preparing the book for readers, where it moves from the author to publsiher who takes it to the printer as he enumerated above. He recognised the new dynamic where the author now bypasses the traditional publisher, because of some lapses on the part of the publisher and market volatility that no longer respond to the needs of the author as it was before. He also noted the new challenge this short-cut has thrown up to the reputation of the author and end-users of books – the readers.
“Today, we have authors who write and publish by themselves, and take it to printers, so they become self-published authors,” he said. ”We found out that 99 per cent of these authors will not get good works to the end users, because you can’t be a jack of all trades; you’ll end up doing the wrong thing. They end up selling limited copies of the books and they meet people who fault the work they have done.
“There are bookshops in every nook and cranny in Nigeria, though some might not be well stocked. If you ask for a book and it’s unavailable, the book will be sourced and you will be contacted. We import paper in Nigeria, which runs into millions of dollars and pounds, which is an enormous sum in Nigeria, and it becomes difficult to produce enough books for the market. The government also needs to recognize the book industry, to help serve Nigerians better. If we are recognized, and given a good environment to work in (such as getting bank loans) with a very good interest rate, we will be happy. These leaders passed through school, but they’ve relegated books to the background.”
While addressing the need for diversification in the book industry, Oyinade said, “Coming to our store, you notice that the longest shelf is dedicated to Nigerian literary works. You can also find books on sports, memoirs, books written by celebrities and so on. When you go out today, you also see people hawking self-help books which shows people’s interest in such books. A lot of people spend a portion of their income buying business books. Some people feel they should only read books to pass exams.
Oyinade challenged the notion that Nigerians don’t read, saying that at his Roving Height Bookstore, there’s high demand for books and they suppy books across the country on request. He also remarked on the importance of social media in promoting and getting books to readers.
According to him, “Readers are everywhere in the country. We also do book deliveries to get books to customers everywhere in Nigeria. Thanks to social media, they can find books which have been recently published, which they can’t find in a local bookstore; so, they have no choice but to go online to order for these books. I usually challenge the notion that asserts that Nigerians don’t read, and I believe there are a lot of Nigerians who still have a lot of interest in reading. People go online to read; people are interested in the lives of celebrities which people go to social media to read about. Literary books are important, but writers should start writing on other things aside literary books.”
On the role schools and teachers play in recommending books for students, Ladipo-Ajayi said, “Are we doing enough to get children to read? It’s sad that there’s no school represented here today. I think that schools play a big role in terms of getting children to read. I run a bookstore as well, and it’s easier to sell titles in the school curriculum, books that will help students pass their examinations. If a school puts a book on a reading list, everybody’s going to buy the book because it’s been made compulsory.
“Most of the schools are not doing the work in terms of getting the children to read supplementary titles outside the syllabus. Now, it’s about encouraging parents to buy books. We’ve sent books to virtually every state in Nigeria, and now also children who are migrating abroad want to read Nigerian titles, and we are sending books to them as well. Parents won’t buy books because of the many factors like the harsh economic outlook and other competing needs. If a child tells the parents that they want a book, sometimes they need a compelling reason to buy the book for the child, and if it comes from a lesson teacher, the parents will definitely buy the book. Sometimes, when parents come to us to buy books, they go back to the child’s teacher to ask if the book is good for the child. Imagine that the school encourages them to not just buy curriculum titles, but also supplementary books? Most definitely the books will move.”
The boss of Bookworm Cafe also tasked libraries and publishers to do more by reaching out to schools to introduce new titles they can add as supplementary titles to their students.
”Also, in terms of school libraries, there’s a missing link. Normally, the libraries will engage with schools and get them to know the new titles in the market, but we don’t have libraries doing that. I’m thinking that publishers can engage the schools to get them to know that they have not just these title in the curriculum, but also supplementary ones that they can include on their schools’ reading list. I know a lot of publishers are trying in that area, but I think we need to see more books on the reading list in schools.”
A library expert, Dr. Osuigwe, was also on hand to deliver a presentation on the role of libraries to the book ecosystem. According to her, “Certain thoughts come to my mind when we translate libraries in African languages; they’ll tell you it is a house of books. A library is a place of ideas, of creativity, of history, and imaginative thoughts, and, of course, road maps to the future. A library is a place of cultural heritage, cultural changes on voices, past, present and future, but interestingly, all these are contained in books and other information resources in other formats. So that’s why I say that when you say ‘a library is just a house of books,’ it’s like you don’t really understand it.
“Some governments consider libraries to be dangerous institutions in any community. The library educates and liberates the mind. When you go to school, what you learn can be tailored according to the curriculum, but the library opens the door, and anyone can learn or gain ideas.
“I see libraries as stepping stones, as bridges between the haves and have-not’s, as stepping stones that can enable you get to the other side, even though the path is not smooth. The library is there to help you when you’re going through informal education or formal education, lifelong learning or reading for pleasure.”
CHAIRMAN of Nigerian Book Fair Trust (NBFT), Mr. Gbadega Adedapo, also lent his voice to the importance of what those in the book ecosystem do and challenged them to do more. But he also felt the gaps in the system could be fixed when government wakes up to its responsibility to develop a proper book policy for the sector.
According to Adedapo, “The responsibility of all of us in the book ecosystem is to get the books to the readers. What I want to say is that the world is changing exponentially, and the only way is to change our way exponentially as well. We’ve been talking about getting books to readers. What students like to read today are books on animals, and we have all these in the library but the librarians need to change their game. They need to take advantage of automation, taking the right tools and using the right softwares in managing the libraries. “Stakeholders need to do a lot in changing the narrative. Publishers need to think of ways to establish book clubs in their organizations. Mistrust among stakeholders is one of the problems we have today. Everyone sees others in different roles as a problem.
If we come together to face our enemies, we will surely win. The pirates are there; the government isn’t responsive. The solution to our problem is to face the government and ask for a functional book policy, so that all stakeholders know where they belong. I believe we have a lot to do to assist the incoming generation in reading culture; we have that mandate to see what we can do to improve the system.” According to the founder of iRead, Mrs. Ilori, “There’s so much we can gain from libraries. iRead turned eight years in October, and we created a space for a community library. We opened it up for free for the first one month, and we had a lot of children coming in. We had to give them time to come because we don’t have much space; we could only take about 40 children at a time. There’s much we can achieve by making money from the library. We hosted an event to help young girls develop self-awareness and vocational skills, and they will become independent by themselves. The libraries can incorporate such programmes. The library is not just a book space; it’s to innovate. Doing all these within the library space, the young people are empowered and they then empower other people.
“Aside giving children books for free, they can also sell books. The libraries should also have bookclubs. We are the solutions to our problems. How much do we invest in books, children and community? Who says we can’t have a library in our homes? We shouldn’t wait for the government to do this.”
According to the curator of Sunshine Bookclub and presenter of BBC Africa Bookclub, Princess Irede Abumere, “If we engage our libraries and demand for books, the library will be able to cater for the people. It’s also our job to keep the library alive. The government has a role to play, and so do we. We need to create a good atmosphere for a library to thrive — good lighting, no external noise factors. Doing this, people will no doubt continue to visit the library. We can go to the library, see what it needs, them write to the local council on what they should do to improve the library services, and they can also justify the funding.
“Community is also very important. If a library is in a good position and brings financial value, that library will grow. If we don’t engage the library, then it’s gone. It’s all about engagement. It’s not enough to just have a shelf of books. We also need to bring glamour to book events and invite people for these. We should continue these events and keep promoting them. Festivals like these are fantastic, because we can all learn from each other.”