Renewing library services for a new generation: A Bayelsa initiative

The Gabriel Okara Library, Yenagoa

While the governor of Bayelsa State, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, has touted the expansion and sustenance of state-run educational institutions as a keynote objective of his tenure in office, his outspokenness about some of the problems and obstacles that have confronted him in achieving this task has generated notable controversy in some quarters. As a consequence he has embarked on the determined advocacy of his initiatives to transform and strengthen services allied to the educational sector with impressive zeal. In no area of endeavour is this more obvious than in the strategic efforts that he has announced towards reviving, improving, and, in fact, completely overhauling library services in the state. The appointment of Seiyifa Koroye, a dynamic and respected former lecturer in literature at the University of Port Harcourt as Chairman of the Bayelsa State Library Board, suggests that the governor’s intention to build a positive legacy in this sector is based on genuine concern and effective study of the problems involved.

Koroye who, in his effort to undertake the mandate of renewal, has embarked on a tour of existing library services in the state in recent times, has described the task given him by the governor as both challenging and necessary. According to him, when the governor laid out his vision for the sector to him, he was impressed not only by the passion with which Dickson expressed his desire to see library services restored and institutionalised in the state, but also by his clear grasp of the extent of commitment that will be needed to overcome the problems that will confront the library board.

According to Koroye, “The first thing that we are faced with is the consequence of neglect and wrong priorities exhibited by previous administrations that left our state-owned library services moribund. This is effectively symbolised by the fact that although a state of the art library named after our great poet Gabriel Okara was built, the building has been neglected and allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that it will have to undergo a complete renovation and overhaul in order for it to serve as the core location for the state’s library initiatives. Nevertheless we have moved in and are utilising some sections of the building in order to show that we are serious about delivering on the governor’s mandate to us.”

Koroye has also commenced this mission by appealing to existing libraries in the state, sponsored by private individuals and organisations, to cooperate with his board to articulate a vision for the revival and effective utilization of library services in the state. He has said that the board would, as a matter of urgency, create a database of existing services and communicate the information therein to the most appropriate target audience in the state, especially among the younger generation to encourage them to use these services.

“This will be our own priority for now,” he said, “because it reflects an important objective that has been identified by the governor who has asked us to examine the potential for establishing community libraries in every local government headquarter and in every community where a tertiary educational institution exists.”

In pursuing this mandate, Koroye and the staff of the state library board have also visited all existing community libraries, including one in the remotest location established by the late activist Oronto Douglas in his hometown of Okoroba, in Nembe Local Government Area. They also paid an extensive visit to the most modern library in the state, which is run by the Steve Azaiki Foundation in Yenagoa.

“What we have seen convinces us that there is enormous potential for reviving the use of library services in Bayelsa State, as a viable and effective tool for developing the state’s participation in the new information order even in remote rural communities”, Koroye said. “This is one of the key objectives that the governor has asked us to achieve.”

The board chairman, however, noted that his view of the mandate given to the library board encompasses a wider set of parameters than simply improving and expanding the neglected existing services.

As Koroye noted, “We intend to look at interphase potentials where the growth of our library services will help to generate interest in other aspects of the socio-economic development of the state. For example, if the Gabriel Okara Library is fully revived we will be able to host major literary gatherings, including a Bayelsa Book Festival, that will attract international audiences and thus help to drive the development of the tourism potential of the state. Already, the fact that illustrious authors such as Okara, Prof. E.J. Alagoa, and J.P. Clark-Bekederemo are associated with the state has given us an opportunity that we need to take advantage of. Renewing our library services will give us a chance to do so.”

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