‘…We need to get books back to school libraries’
By Godwin Okondo
THE Nigerian Library Association (NLA) and the National Library of Nigeria (NLN) recently participated in a virtual session coordinated by the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP) to address the place of book clubs and how to forge partnerships to boost reading culture in the country. The conversation was held on Wednesday, August 17, 2022 in a session that was part of a series of engagements expected to lead to a strong, formal collaboration among those promoting book reading at individual and organisational levels.
With the theme ‘Managing Book Clubs and Libraries in Nigeria,’ the session featured many of those behind the growth of the literary ecosystem in Nigeria, who shared their views on the state of Nigerian libraries and how book clubs can help promote reading culture and also get people interested in visiting libraries. The president of NBRP, Mr. Richard Mammah, delivered the session’s opening remarks, where he said, “This event has a history. We met at the Nigerian International Book Fair in 2021, and later in Uyo in September 2021 for the first national conference on book clubs. Many of the participants at that fora called attention to the need to do something about what they saw as the low hanging fruit and imperative of book clubs and libraries working together in the reading promotions circuit.
“This led to the setting up of our 774 Book clubs and Libraries Project Committee, to ensure we had a statistical base upon on which to proceed. We commissioned preliminary survey of the state of reading infrastructure in Nigeria, and the report on that effort was presented at the book fair in May 2022. It was a session that was notably graced by the National Librarian and CEO, National Library of Nigeria, Prof. Veronica Chinwe Anunobi, and we took to heart her remarks on that occasion. An update on that exercise and related work done in that area would be touched on in the course of our discussion today.
“The final inspirational trigger for convening this session was our participating at the 60th anniversary conference of Nigerian Library Association (NLA) in Abuja in July 2022, where it was heavily impressed upon us once again that we needed to do more work with the drivers and institutions within Nigeria’s library ecosystem. With more than two witnesses down on the table, we had to move.
“We also heard the loud calls at that historic summit for librarians and other stakeholders in the book ecosystem to do more and more to boost and revamp the reading culture, for libraries to take their pride of place in the national development process, for new approaches to readership promotion to be put on the table, and for a greater premium to be put on the work that book clubs do as part of the reading promotion process. We therefore took a cue from these and decided to have this session.”
Mammah highlighted the different roles of book clubs and libraries and also the intersection that also connects them, and how best to harness these for the benefit of readers and communities.
“One other important note: book clubs are book clubs and libraries are libraries,” Mammah continued. “They have differences, but they also have many meeting points and shared impulses. Our dream is that as we focus more on what we have in common, we would together get a lot more done, but there are some practical points that a parley of this nature can help shed light on.
“There is a need for a cooperation MoU should an external book club want to run its activities in a public library. Properly sensitising library boards to not see this outreach from book clubs as unhelpful, unacceptable and an encroachment on their dues or intrusion into their function. They are organisations that best project the interests and perspectives of the end users of book products, who make up the effective demand side of the book chain. It is therefore the logical and democratic thing for our views to be heard and taken into consideration so that, to borrow that proverb, ‘you do not shave our heads in our absence.’”
Mammah also raised possible areas of concern from both parties on the workability of forged collaborations, and ways of navigating foreseeable loopholes.
According to him, “There is need to encourage public library administrators that it is neither rocket science to start their own book clubs nor to invite help from others like NBRP’s book clubs to assist them in starting and working on their own if that is how they want to proceed. There are also issues relating to whether book clubs and libraries need to cohabit in the first place, and whether this cohabitation would not be incompatible and obscure or blunt the pristine roles of both entities. It is a hard line point which one or more people have raised.
“As you would agree with me, this is still not a fully charted territory, as far as Nigeria is concerned. This also why we particular chose our lead participants at this parley carefully and decided to invite them here today to help us navigate these contours because we know they are up to the task. Suffice it to say that we have a cross section of professionals and readers that know their onions and are very much interested in our shared goal of engendering a better reading culture in our country.”
The parley was moderated by the Chief Librarian of Federal University, Otuoke, Prof. Felicia Etim, who said, “50 per cent of the 774 local governments in Nigeria don’t have libraries. This parley is to engage investors in the book ecosystem to chart the course towards developing the 774 libraries and book clubs project.”
Director of Africa Library and Information Association and Institutions (AfLIA), Dr. Nkem Osigwe said, “I believe the purpose of a club is to advocate for a particular thing, and a book club is no different. Book clubs create opportunities to discuss common interests. The first thing is to identify passionate readers and committed organizers willing to organize events to come together and discuss books. Book clubs also spark creativity. People can form their own opinions after reading a book and think of possibilities if the characters in the book took a different decision/direction.
“The survey (we carried out) shows that there’s almost non-existent book clubs in Nigerian libraries. Why is there no synergy between book clubs and libraries? It’s important to do this to push the reading culture. People feel that libraries are only important for preparation for exams. The destinies of libraries and book clubs are intertwined, and the earlier they understand this the better for all of us. It’s better to work with the library association than as a single party. We are in a digital age, and the possibilities of getting books online exist. The library staff are paid by the government and book clubs are paid by their groups. Book clubs can also create more books from the knowledge they’ve gotten for reading a particular book.”
The President of the National Library Association, Pastor Dominic Omokaro, also lent his voice to the matter when he said, “I agree to the fact that we need book clubs. I’m looking for ways to bring back books and get (more) people reading again. I would love to collaborate with your network. Let’s make this a reality. These book clubs can help achieve the aim of this campaign if it is created and supported. We want to (campaign) take this to primary and secondary school levels to get the students to start reading again. The NLA supports the idea of book clubs and will collaborate with book clubs to get books back to the libraries, and we will make this work in Nigeria, and I also see this expanding beyond.”
The National Librarian and Chief Executive Officer of National Library of Nigeria (NLN), Prof. Veronica Chinwe Anunobi, also expressed excitement at the conversation, noting, “The mandate of the National Library of Nigeria from government is to ensure that citizens are informed. We can begin to think of what we can do with book clubs, because we can provide the space and support in other ways. This group can do great things for this country as far as reading and building the book ecosystem is concerned and I’m looking at having a reading competition next year with book clubs. We need to brainstorm and see what we can do together and we should also create a means to reach communities at the grassroots level.”
Managers of Book club projects in libraries in Lagos, Uyo and Abak also shared their experiences with the audience on how they set up their own book clubs and the success they’ve recorded so far. A member of Uyo Book Club and founder of KidsTeen Book Club that operates out of Ibom E-Library in Uyo, Mrs. Mfon Ebebe, said, “We started last year and the reception has been good. We were able to get a space to rent which we pay something little, monthly. We have children coming in, as well as parents who are in collaboration with us. We need to get to these children and arouse their interests in books and get them off the streets. I hope we get more collaborations and create more awareness for the book sector.”
The Coordinator of Abak Book Club, near Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Mary Jonas, while sharing her experience on the job, said, “We operate from the Abak library. I needed a place that encouraged reading and I approached the libraries where I noticed that people didn’t really like to come in to read. Our aim is to draw traffic to the library and people have been coming. We have had two book readings with very good turnouts. We occasionally invite students from primary and secondary schools to see how we can stir their passion for reading and I really enjoy doing this.”
Adedapo Conde who runs the PEA Foundation/Ojokoro Community Library also made presentation. He spoke about how they established the library to cater to the needs of their host community and that it is run on a volunteer model. Thereafter, the National Secretary, NBRP, Mr. Emmanuel Okoro, brought the programme to an end when he thanked everyone who contributed “for their feedbacks. I also want to thank the president for his motivation, vision and leadership. Thank you all for the work you do.”