As a developing country like Ghana, there is the need to pay critical attention to the rate at which citizens are committed to accumulating and using information from various sectors without relegating the role of libraries.
It is highly significant for the government to pay some special attention to what the libraries could bring on board to drive the development agenda, especially linking their roles to the development agenda of the country.
When Mr Samuel Bentil Aggrey, the President of the Ghana Library Association (GLA) took his turn to speak at the Association’s 8th Presidential Inaugural lecture on May 4, 2017, on the theme: “National Development through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – The Role of Libraries,” he made a passionate appeal to resuscitate the deteriorating Ghanaian Libraries.
Mr Aggrey said it was relevant to appreciate the roles of the libraries in the country and mentioned the promotion of universal literacy, comprising digital, media and information literacy and skills, with the support of dedicated library staff.
He said the libraries also helped in closing the gaps in access to information as well as helping government, civil society and businesses to understand local information needs better.
“Another critical role of the libraries include; the provision of a network of delivery sites for government programmes and services.
“The libraries also assisted in advancing digital inclusion through access to Information Communication Technology (ICT) as well as serving as the heart of the research and academic community besides preserving and providing access to the world’s culture and heritage,” Mr Aggrey added
Outlook of the Ghanaian Libraries
Mr Aggrey, who is also a Senior Assistant Librarian and Head of University of Ghana, Accra City Campus, identified five categories of libraries in Ghana, which included; National, Public, Academic, Special and School Libraries.
Quoting the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science 2010 on National Libraries, He said it was supposed to be “the official repository of printed work, the general access library, information bibliographical centre and the centre of coordination, planning and stimulation of the entire library system of the people.”
According to the President of GLA, Ghana has no national library to play the above stated roles although neighbouring African countries like; Togo, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Somalia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Cameroon, Mali, Chad, Southern Sudan, Kenya, and Nigeria all have.
On the Ghanaian Public libraries, Mr Aggrey said they provided wide and varied responsibilities ranging from promotion of individual development, commerce, socio-cultural advancement, and technical progress.
He said they also offered traditional library and mobile library services to deprived and distant communities in their catchment areas.
Quoting the Ghana Library Board (2010 unpublished manuscript), Mr Aggrey said the main purpose of the Public Libraries is to “ensure the development of the individual’s social and intellectual capabilities and the creation of a well-informed society for national development”.
He noted that the period of 1950 to 1975 saw the high rate of attention given to the public libraries earning it the description, ‘Golden Age for the public libraries’, which increased the operations of these libraries in the regions in Ghana.
He said the period after 1975 to date earned the description, ‘the sunset of public library services’ as virtually every success achieved, started to dwindle with the reduction in the presence and operations of public libraries.
Mr Aggrey said the projected increase in professional staff strength from 35 to 500 by the year 2000 has suffered defeat with 12 professional staff as at 2017.
He however commended efforts by West Blue to collaborate with government in an attempt to establish 60 e-libraries in commemoration of Ghana’s 60th anniversary celebration and hoped that the image of libraries would improve.
Touching on academic libraries, Mr Aggrey said the country was blessed to have academic libraries, which were supporting the mission and vision of tertiary institutions of learning.
According to him, they served as places where students, lecturers, and researchers sought information for academic pursuit, such as research, teaching and learning, databases as well as other needed resources for knowledge development.
He said: “They have qualified staff, automated services, good ICT infrastructure, good web presence, expanded physical library space, increased collections including electronic materials and they have formed a consortium (CARLIGH) to handle among other things their bargaining rights.”
This condition is however not the same as that of the polytechnics and the colleges.
Mr Aggrey noted that although some of the colleges and polytechnics subscribed to electronic materials and had qualified staff, there were large disparities between them and the universities, which needed to be addressed.
He said apart from academic libraries that seemed to be recovering and improving strongly with funds from student user-fees, fee-paying students, institutional commitment; the rest were not in a good shape.
On the Special libraries, Mr Aggrey said, they were within institutions or organisations as an integral part of the entity. They served the information needs of their parent organisations to enable them achieve their aims and objectives.
“I am referring to libraries in the Ministries, Departments, Corporations, institutions including the private and non-governmental organisations,” he said.
According to Mr Aggrey, these libraries were not faring well because their conditions of service could be as good as the institution or organisation.
“Only institutions performing well continue to support them but the majority of parent institutions have turned a deaf ear to their libraries”.
On the School libraries, the President said they operated in institutions of learning from nursery to pre-tertiary and had the goal of contributing to the intellectual development of pupils and students to building their skills in reading.
He expressed dissatisfaction at the state of school libraries saying, “Many schools in Ghana do not have libraries and those which have are virtually collapsed”.
Mr Aggrey lamented that those that existed were converted to classrooms or ICT centres.
He said, “They have no trained staff to handle the libraries and the teacher- librarians seem to be over-burdened with classroom work and cannot combine their core teaching with library work.
Library hour, reading hour, dictation, debating time are not being enforced on school timetables,” Mr Aggrey added.
He was worried about the future of the country if the trend continued and called on the stakeholders to step in to ensure that the goal of libraries were restored in the schools.
Mr Aggrey urged libraries to collaborate with stakeholders for the much-needed support in revamping and expanding their current infrastructure to befit a knowledge management hub saying, “We cannot do it alone and we must engage our stakeholders”.
He said the National Library concept must be established by government through the enactment of a law in consultation with all relevant stakeholders saying, “This is an embarrassment locally and internationally”.
Mr Aggrey called on government to resource the public libraries with the much-needed funds, materials, infrastructure and if possible place libraries as a special unit under the Presidency.
“All districts and towns must have a public library and all schools must have this requirement of a functional library established with a professional library staff,” he said.
Mr Aggrey noted there was the need to revisit the teacher-librarian concept and make it work this time round with a well-defined job-description and conditions of service.
“The Association is revisiting the issue of establishing a National Commission on Library and Information Services (NACOLIS) to regulate activities of libraries,” he hinted.
According to Mr Aggrey, a committee is working on a proposal to engage the Ministry of Education on the way forward for the NACOLIS, which he believed would assist in the improvement of the library.
He also called on every organisation to have a functional library to support its activities.
“Government must put in place the relevant policies for compliance and enforcement. The Association will help in this direction by providing the technical and professional support for such libraries.”
He recommended the coming into force of a National Information Policy on libraries, which he said would go a long way to give support and create the right legal as well as professional environment to flourish.
Although most libraries in Ghana are a pale shadow of themselves, Mr Aggrey said it was the hope of the association that the acceptance of the SDG’s and working at them through advocacy and support from government would rebrand libraries as a major stakeholder in achieving national development.