Issues in the Nigerian books and reading ecosystem
By Richard Mammah
A quarter of a century ago, this writer, dissatisfied with the state of the books and reading ecosystem in Nigeria reached out to a number of very well-meaning confederates to put together an organisation that would help address some of the challenges they were seeing then. That project was named Synergy Educational and it ran quite strongly from 1998 to 2003.
Before Synergy and long after its coming into being there were and have continued to be efforts and initiatives of the sort even as there evidently are yet lingering and contemporary challenges in the Nigerian Books ecosystem. The challenge that continues to confront us now is to keep working at addressing them.
At the core of the challenges may however be the absence of a defining and regulating National Book Policy. While the presence of a policy document would not in itself automatically dissolve all of the challenges within the ecosystem, it would be a very helpful compass to aid their resolution. So it is most important that a lot of time and attention should continue to be put on ensuring that such a document is empannelled and inaugurated as soon as is practicable. And that would be today.
In terms of details, here are some of the issues that the document and continuing work within the ecosystem should address:
- Maximum respect for, and enforcement of the traditional book chain as much as is practicable and even in the light of new realities introduced by a shifting technological terrain. This is most important for borders setting, roles differentiation, mutual respect and concord.
- Vigorously promoting the reading culture through the inauguration of more and more book clubs to drive grassroots activity at that level. The net effect of this would be a massive boost in the productivity and functionality of citizens countrywide, the economics of the sector, and enhanced national regard for the book. The Network of Book Clubs and Reading Culture Promoters in Nigeria which was established in February 2020 has begun to do quite impressive work in this area that requires supporting.
- Related to the above is the imperative of stirring libraries’ power in the country. As an institution, libraries in their current frame have been part of the Nigerian environment for about a century. As an established group of practitioners, Nigerian librarians have been organisationally welded into the Nigerian Libraries Association, NLA for six decades, with its current membership numbering well over 5000. This is a solid bloc of well-trained professionals that can be encouraged and primed to do even more, particularly as it has to do with readership promotion. The hope in this regard is that the NLA, which has just risen from its 60thAnniversary Conference that was held in Abuja would take up the gauntlet in this regard.
- Strengthening regional big ticket books and reading culture promotional activities countrywide through the encouraging of greater publicity, networking, synergy and collaboration among promoters and stakeholders on the one hand and communities and the larger public on the other.
- Boosting the aggregate political lobby power of the sector vis-a-vis other contending blocs in the country. The truth of the matter is that more resources and recognition need to come to the ecosystem across all levels. Local governments need to invest in setting up public libraries within their areas, staffing them, regularly stocking them with books and approving resources for regular readership promotion events within the facilities and communities. State governments need to reinvigorate their library boards and pay closer attention to the ecosystem. The federal government has to come to terms with the fact that boosting the reading culture in every respect is one of the best ways of stimulating continual and guaranteed national prosperity. And all organisations within the ecosystem must commit to cooperating towards ensuring that these objectives and goals are sold and won.
Pix: National Librarian, Veronica Chinwe Anunobi and Uyo Book Club founder, Udeme Nana
Mammah is President of the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Culture Promoters in Nigeria, NBRP