There is a programme on Aljazeera showing the experiences of some young fellows in Daraya, Syria, who put their lives on the line to preserve the literary heritage of the people amidst the bombs, gunshots and agony. I came across the programme the same day I visited the library to present copies of @griotsloungetitles to the Imo State Library board. It was such a heartfelt experience. I am sure someone must be asking ‘Is there still a library in Imo State?’ Yes, there is – somewhere behind the State Assembly complex. It is a fairly serene environment, a spacious parking lot, then overgrown grasses, a disposed but un-sparklystaff, and shelves begging for books.
Did you know the State has ten other libraries spread across different urban and rural areas? But with the neglect of the headquarters in Owerri, one can only imagine the state of the ones situated in Obowo, Orodo, Aboh Mbaise, Afara, or UmuhuOkabia. The declining literacy and morality level is palpable and one cannot entirely dissociate that from the abandonment of libraries and everything a library represents. A library is more than just a collection of books. It speaks of a people’s identity and culture. It is supposed to be the verge of society’srejuvenescence. As Carl Sagan said, ‘I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how we support our libraries.’
We have learnt to talk too much about everything that is not going right but very little ingenious solution is applied towardsaddressing the over-emphasized failure of education and more gravely, the near dead reading culture. Though the light of hope is painfully flickering with every hour of neglect and insincerity on the part of government and society, the stumps of what used to be a glorious past – in some accounts – is still there, expecting that there will be some revival, whether organic or a remorseful, even miraculous, intervention of a system notoriously obsessed with unending initiation of brick and stone projects at the neglect of the things that build the social and cultural capital of its people.
It is important that those of us who are in the publishing industry, especially the new generation literati realize that, as it is loosely said, he who doesn’t know where he is coming from may not be able to tell where he is heading to. Just as watchingfootball still feels best in bars, movies more exciting in cinemas than our living rooms; reading must still feel surreal in a library. We cannot let our libraries die. We know the libraries can offer so much more than being the lorn bed of our sick literary stead. Before government bureaucracy can resolve the usual issues of modernization of library services with features as e-library, overall funding and staff motivation, individual and corporate help can be brought to the fore to update the obsolete collection of books, including authors and publishers who are expected to make deposits of copies of their publications.
Few days ago, I was debating with a friend on social mediaabout the place of paperback book in this era of search engines and explosion of content. We ended with the understanding that, perhaps, never will we discard paperbacks. The debate was premised on the idea that the internet has made information readily available to us and hence book reading as we know it will soon be obsolete and places like the library may no longer be needed. How about Junot Diaz’ description of the library as ‘a place, a practice, a tradition which encourages people to become more human and encourages people to become more connected to themselves …’
If, as the risk is real, an entire generation grows up only connecting to each other on the virtual pages of social media networks and video games, and maybe on the boisterousgrounds of betting shops and dancehalls, theirs risk being a history book sorely displaced from the shelves even before itcould get there.