Nigerian scholars who have visited libraries in foreign universities, especially in Europe, America, Asia, and even in South Africa, will fully understand the cliché that “the library is the heart of the university.”
University libraries are not mere giant buildings housing volumes of books and where academics study, they serve many other useful purposes which are central to teaching, learning and research in the university system.
Particularly in the present information age, which has seen a phenomenal change in their activities, libraries have increasingly become a more important section of the university.
Modern libraries function not only as the destination of information access for the academic community, but also the center for information literacy, income generation source, and internationalization for the university.
Studies have confirmed that there is indeed a positive relationship between quality libraries and universities’ productivity and reputation.
According to the UK’s Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL), “For an individual university, good quality library resources can help attract and retain academic high flyers and contribute to the prestige of an institution.”
Furthermore, SCONUL added that “Universities which invest in their library see a return in terms of the quality of the grant applications they are able to make, and ultimately therefore to grant income.”
It should therefore not surprise anyone that the universities with well-funded libraries have consistently been in the top rankings of the world universities. For example, the 2014 report of the Association of Research Libraries shows that Harvard University spent $117,316,662, Yale University spent $84,665,297, while the least funded university library in the United States for the year was Howard University with $9,684,825.
State of the Nigerian university libraries
Unfortunately, this is not the case with the Nigerian university libraries. Apparently, the libraries demonstrate the decrepit state of facilities in the contemporary Nigerian university system.
Besides the obvious reality that most of the libraries cannot fit into the present digital age given their failure to operate efficient virtual systems, they also fail in their traditional function of acquisition of required academic texts.
A study conducted by Doris Onuoha and Mosunmade Subair of Babcock University reported that most undergraduate students in universities in the South-West identified “lack of relevant books” as the most significant problem they experience in their libraries.
In their study, Emmanuel Baro and Joy Asaba revealed that the situation is so bad that some university libraries do not even have internet access at all, let alone creating a functional virtual library.
According to Dr Kabiru Abbas of the Department of Library and Information Studies, Bayero University Kano, Nigeria’s university libraries are plagued by “old and analogue operational tools that characterized university libraries in Nigeria such as; lack of effective finding tools, poor ICT infrastructure, poor ICT skills among personnel, obsolete equipment and outdated information resources in their stock.”
Efforts at rebuilding the universities to meet international standards have not been totally successful because of poor funding and poor policy implementation.
Although the government’s policy stipulates that ten percent of the university budget should be allocated to the library, the management of the universities has not shown sufficient commitment to this. Sadly, according to Dr. Abbas, the small allocation to the library is also diverted “to other areas not critical to the library development.”
According to Dr. Grace Nok, a Senior Librarian at Ahmadu Bello University’s Kashim Ibrahim Library, the finances of the libraries are further worsened by “the effects of global economic depression, and local currency devaluation continue to water down whatever budgetary provision is made for academic libraries in Nigeria. Many academic libraries in Nigeria have not initiated viable income-generating strategies to supplement government funding.”
The Nigerian universities have benefitted from international donors through partnerships with the National Universities Commission. One of such is the National Virtual University Project, which was initiated in 2001 and supported by the UNESCO, Japanese Fund, MarArthur Foundation and OSIWA.
The project was designed to revolutionalise the Nigerian academic libraries through digitization. Unfortunately, the project did not materialize just like many other promising projects in Nigeria.
In 2012, the NUC announced its plan to revive the project with a budget of N500 million by subscribing to about 7,000 electronic journals and books. However, the problem of erratic power supply, poor skills of personnel and maintenance culture have remained a challenge towards sustaining the project.
Library experts seem to have a consensus that revitalizing the libraries is dependent on massive funding and rightful spending in the areas that are very critical especially capacity building and infrastructural development.
According to Dr. Abbas, there is the need for “massive ICT infrastructure deployment, training and retraining of staff, increase budgetary allocation to the libraries, overhauling the libraries by mapping necessary gadgets such as CCTV Camera, Scanners, Barcode Readers.”
For Dr. Nok, “The need for staff training in digital library applications cannot be overemphasized. The success of automation in the university library depends, to a large extent, on the ability of staff to facilitate and implement the process.”
Furthermore, she suggested that: “Proper, frequent, and regular in-house IT training is a necessity if the maximum benefit is to be gained from the automation of library services and, most importantly if the operations of the automated systems are to be independent of any one librarian.”