Libraries exist within the formal and informal sectors of the learning ecosystem. They are very important to learning in schools and in the different communities where they live all over Africa. They are critical for achieving an inclusive, equitable, and quality education where no one is left behind including those who are in employment and cannot attend school full-time and/or are taking online courses. They are also critical for those who have fallen through the cracks of the educational system as school dropouts at various stages of their educational journey or out-of-school children.
Before School Age
Public libraries introduce preschool children and late-school starters to the world of books and learning. Early literacy development is expected to start at home. However, in communities where parents and caregivers do not have sufficient funds to buy age-appropriate books for their children who are yet to start school and/or may not be literate, the public library serves the children adequately by providing age-appropriate books and running story hours programmes where children learn and begin to understand words. In a survey for English-speaking countries in Africa recently run by the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA), it was discovered that public and community libraries in Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone run programmes targeted at helping children learn to read in order to read to learn as it is clearly understood that it is the necessary foundational building block for inclusive and quality learning in school, future academic achievement, and lifelong learning. This has the potential of reducing the rate of children who drop out of school due to their inability to keep up with what is taught in the classroom. Some libraries such as the City Library Abuja, have gone further to run a programme for out-of-school children. The library staff read to the children, help them to be comfortable around books and provide writing and painting materials for them. This invariably leads to their acquiring basic literacy skills, such as the recognition of letters and words.
Libraries in tertiary institutions serve not only the students but also the faculty members who need to be kept up-to-date on current best practices in the various disciplines. This drives quality education as the library assists lecturers to update their knowledge so that they do not depend on their old lecture notes year in and year out. The library in tertiary institutions also provides online and offline materials that drive research for all members of the academic community.
As the concepts of openness and knowledge equity become more accepted in sub-Saharan Africa, academic libraries in the West African region are establishing open-access institutional repositories where lecturers openly share their lecture notes and articles published in different journals for easy access by students and their professional colleagues. This makes learning more collaborative, richer and equitable as all within the community, especially the students, have access to the library’s repository and resources even when they cannot afford textbooks or need to search for research projects in order to build on already existing knowledge. Such repositories, which can be found at https://www.internationalafricaninstitute.org/repositories exist in Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) http://dspace.knust.edu.gh/, Asheshi University, Ghana https://air.ashesi.edu.gh/home, Afe Babalola University, Nigeria, http://eprints.abuad.edu.ng/ Federal University Oye-Ekiti, Nigeria, http://repository.fuoye.edu.ng/, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, http://ir.library.ui.edu.ng/handle/123456789/243, Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Senegal, among others.
Libraries in African secondary and primary schools provide curriculum-based texts and supplementary reading texts to all students who cannot afford the necessary learning materials. School libraries also serve as study spaces for those who wish to read during their free time. The libraries in these schools help to grow the reading culture among young adults so that they can achieve more academically. Libraries in these schools also provide literature and fiction resources that open the eyes of students to a better understanding of the world. The UN SDG Book Club African Chapter plays a role in this aspect as the Book Club recommends books that children can read to sharpen their understanding of the SDGs and of how the Goals can be achieved at different levels by all. The library tells the children what books are recommended for each SDG and tries to get these books into the hands of parents who can’t afford them.
In formal education, libraries are also used as learning labs for students who need to learn research and information literacy skills. These skills will help them find the information they need for their studies online in a safe and skilful way. This boosts the quality of education as students are equipped to search for more knowledge and not only depend on what is taught in classrooms.
In the Community
Public libraries have a standard non-discriminatory policy that allows everyone irrespective of status, age, or creed to come in, and access learning and informative materials that lead to lifelong learning which has been recognized as being essential for a productive workforce, improved quality of life and a high sense of self-worth. They also offer conducive learning spaces for those who need to study independently for school and external examinations. Since 2012 when NITDA provided computers and internet access to the National Library of Nigeria and some public libraries across Nigeria, these institutions have been the go-to places for those who wish to acquire basic digital skills and/or access e-learning platforms for further studies. The Ghana Library Authority also has a learning app that allows its members to read e-books, listen to audiobooks and watch educational videos. The library also runs a Read2Skill programme through which one can study courses in Project management, UI/UX Design and Data Analytics amongst others. These initiatives by public libraries make learning more inclusive and closer to people who cannot afford the time or who do not have the opportunity to be in the formal education sector.
Public libraries excel in driving informal education for all within their communities. In the Greater Accra Library, children’s section, one can walk in and learn embroidery, patch-making, collage, papercraft and poster design for a token fee. The Enugu Library Board, Nigeria, teaches young people how to make shoes without charging although the learners are encouraged to come with the materials. This was introduced as a project by a participant in AfLIA’s Leadership Academy. The Sapele Public library, Delta State, Nigeria, brought learning and education closer to fish farmers in the community by teaching them how to have higher yields, introducing them to online resources for their field and showing them how to access credit from banks. This was another project by a participant in AfLIA’s Leadership Academy which was carried out in collaboration with a bank in the community.
Finally, libraries of all types in West Africa have come to realize that education is a lifelong venture and that they have definite roles to play in ensuring inclusive, quality, and equitable education for all.
- Nkem Osuigwe PhD is the Director, Human Capacity Development and Training, African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA) with headquarters in Accra, Ghana.
She has served as the Head of the public library system in Anambra State Nigeria, and as a Director of Nigerian Book Foundation. She is an ardent advocate for open knowledge as a pathway for inclusivity and boosting innovative solutions to development challenges that bedevil Africa. She sees the continuous development of human capital as the key to the progress and prosperity of Africa and believes that libraries of all types as core institutions that provide access to life-changing knowledge, opportunities and 21st century skills development are the future of Africa and should be in forefront of advocacy, provision of services and skills for the transformation of Africa. She has been the project lead for AfLIA’s projects with OER Africa, NBA South Africa, and Wikimedia Foundation. She represents AfLIA in the management team of the UN SDG Book Club, African. She recently won the global award of the Wikimedian of the Year 2022, (Newcomer category).
She has been Chapter Chair, Nigerian Library Association as well as a 2nd Vice President of the association at the national level. She had also being Vice Chair and Chair, Public Libraries Section, AfLIA. She has served as mentor for Cohort 1 & 2, International Network of Emerging Library Innovators, sub-Saharan Africa (INELI-SSAf) and AfLIA Leadership Academy (AfLAC). She schooled in University of Benin, University of Ibadan and Abia State University. She has published articles in academic journals, in blogs and magazines and book chapters. She has also edited a book as well as served as the editor of an academic journal. She tweets through @librarian_nkem on Twitter and shares her views on LinkedIn and Facebook as Nkem Osuigwe.
Nkem Osuigwe represents AfLIA on the management committee of the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter.