Bridging The Gap In The Reading Culture With Private Libraries
In spite of the dwindling reading culture in the country, some notable Nigerians like technocrat, administrator and a former presidential candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party, Mr. Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode; former, notable academic, Dr. Edwin Madunagu; Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Communication Technology, Dr. Tunji Olaopa; and founder of Juli Pharmacy, Ikeja, Prince Julius Adewale Adelusi-Adeluyi can boast about standard private libraries.
The private library is either part and parcel of their residential buildings or offices. Onosode’s library is one of such good private libraries in Lagos.
It is situated at the back of his residence. A private library, Onosode says, contains mostly books of reference, books to which you want to refer from time to time. “I didn’t go out to deliberately set out a library,” he points out. “I acquired books because I was interested in the titles and overtime I had what is in fact, quite a respectable study.”
Onosode says that recently people used to come to his study, even from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to access some documents that they did not have in their library.
But how big should a private library be? According to him that depends on how much space the prospective library or house owner has. You can’t have more books than the available space can accommodate. “What actually constitute a study (or any library for that matter) are may be three things. First, you have the titles, that is the books themselves.
They have to be relevant, they have to be up to date. At the same time, you have to have representative titles that go far back into history. “Second, the way that the container, the shelving is done is very important.
If books are not properly arranged, not only will they deteriorate more quickly but they will also not be as attractive. “Third, there must be adequate sitting and reading space. Desks, tables, chairs indeed, a good place to sit and read in case you don’t want to borrow the books, must be adequately provided for.”
A study, according to him, is therefore a personal thing and it is constructed based on the taste and the financial resources at the disposal of the owner.
Another notable Nigerian with a private study that used to be opened to the public is Madunagu who was running the Calabar International Institute and free Public Library, for Research, Information and Documentation (CIINSTRID), a non-lending but free library before it ceased to exist for financial reasons.
Any service that cannot be rendered free of charge was not rendered at CIINSTRID at all. “That was why the library was closed down because I cannot continue rendering the service free for financial constraints.
This place has been made to run from support from individuals and organisations until the source dried up four years ago,” Madunagu says.
He discloses that as long as a library is owned by a private individual whether it is meant for the public or not, it is a private library. Some of the books there include, Che Guevara: A Revolution Life; Jefferey Aecher: A Prisoner of Birth; The Socialist Feminist Project, Edited by Nancy Holmstrom; Massy Denton: American Apartheid.
There are books and documents loaded in 49 sacks, documents and books that cannot be accommodated on the shelve. There are bound newspaper copies dating from 1940s or earlier and The Guardian from the first day of its publication to date. “My pain will be that I was compelled to stop the services I was rendering free to the public.
The predominant readers were students from University of Calabar (UNICAL), their teachers and other students also come here; they constitute the largest segment of readership.”
There is hardly any information that one cannot get in his library. “I won’t say people can not help to run this place but what are the conditions for helping.
First it should be free. You won’t attempt to influence it. It should be based on your belief and confidence in what is happening here,” he says.
He regrets the decline in the reading culture of students in Nigeria. “Even today (Thursday) few hours ago, the son of a comrade of mine who died recently just got his West African Examinations Council (WAEC) result only to discover that the result can make his father weep in his grave. This is a guy who spends most of his time on the computer and the telephone.
When the computer revolution was becoming popular, Professor Chike Obi wrote that he regretted that he would not be able to think again.”
He says that it is not that we should not embrace the computer revolution but there is the need to mitigate its negative effects on human beings. “Students now spend time on computer, telephone, these are the things that take their time instead of reading their books. Computer should be introduced at the middle of the university education.”
For Olaopa, “Learning is a philosophical framework not only for understanding the universe and one’s mission within it, but most importantly, for understanding who you are and how you are able to embark on the mission of life. The world of books is just one path of unceasing learning that had to be taken,” he confesses.
As Olaopa explains, learning enriches the consciousness of the learner in a manner that enlarges his bearing not only towards himself or herself, but also, most significantly towards others who are like and unlike him or her.
He recalls that many types and fields of knowledge have stood him in good stead in his pursuit of distinction and wisdom in life as a professional and public intellectual. “One of the most unfortunate, but quite significant dimensions of our national predicament is the galling lack of reading culture,” he points out. Learning is critical to our national renewal and Reconstruction, and many generations, including this one need to take their cue from that.
Many young ones desire greatness, but are not adequately prepared to achieve their plans.” Not many Nigerians know that Adelusi-Adeluyi has a queen size study on the very top of his pharmacy.
The calibre of dignitaries that have appended their signatures to the register shows that it is a classical study place. He notes, “The older you become the more you should read.
There is the tendency for people to expire with their knowledge, and to be dogmatic if they are not updating themselves with modern development. As the hands of the clock is clicking, you have to follow it.”
Adelusi-Adeluyi, a lawyer and pharmacist says that he is usually invited mostly for seminars in Spanish and Portuguese either to be guest speaker or chairman of the occasion. “They call me the ultimate chairman, permanent chairman. It is because I am good in various subjects.
Glory be to God.” When he was living in Europe, he found out that the more knowledgable people are, the more powerful and comfortable they become.
So, he decided that he was going to have a book virtually in every subject on earth. That was how he started accumulating them. He explains that he his not reading to acquire any degree or Ph.d, but to free himself from the shackles of ignorance.
By 1978, he had books on virtually every subject, reading far and wide. ”It is fantastic when you become a friend to books. Some people have passion for becoming billionaire in cash. I have a passion for books. That makes me good in every subject.”
He admits that reading is his second nature. For him to be relevant in today’s e-world and e-marketing, he keeps equipping himself with the latest technology.
With the invention of the Internet and the ipad, he says, one can read on the computers and phones. “I am more interested in getting ideas because ideas don’t die.
And if you remove areas of ignorance as a person, you know more about yourself and your knowledge will set you free. It is like people who like art works; they have carvings, they even go to museum, but here it is books.
Everybody who seeks knowledge will do it here, whatever the subjects.” He is equally worried that the reading culture in most African countries has waned or virtually disappeared. “In fact there is a global observation that if you want to hide an information from a black man, put it in a book. Because they know that they will not read.
Black will be better if the reading cultures were to return at all levels.” He discloses that in those days, the reading culture was very high. “I think the problem started in the late 70s, and certainly from the early eighties of the last century.
Attention seems to have veered away from the traditional virtues in the society. In those days, your parents will tell you that he has nothing to bestow on you but the good names.”
He says that depending on the Internet alone is inappropriate. People still need to buy the books to augment whatever information they get on the Internet. “I am always looking for information.
If you go to the e-world updating is important, whether in the field of Chemistry , Philosophy, Agriculture and Neurology. The white man is always reading but a black man is always buying,” he says.