ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF PUBLIC LIBRARY SERVICES ON THE LITERACY LEVEL OF NIGERIANS (A CASE STUDY OF NATIONAL LIBARARY ABUJA)
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Libraries in general and public libraries in particular, play an important role in all aspects of societal development especially when viewed against its users, which consist of all categories of people in the society. Public library has been defined variously. Many see it as a place built for the collection of books and other printed resources and the personnel to provide and interpret such resources as required to meet the information, research, educational, recreational, cultural and aesthetic needs of the varied users and it is usually financed with public funds. In line with the above, Gates (1976) defined a public library as “that authorized by law, supported from general public funds or special taxes voted for the purpose of administration, for the benefit of the citizens of the country, town, city or region which maintains it on the basis of equal access to all.” The idea of a public library system in Northern Nigeria started in the late 1940s with the Native Authority (N.A.) Reading Rooms. Prior to this period however, a collection of Islamic scriptures and manuscripts can be found with individual clerics scattered across the Region especially in Sokkoto, Borno and Kano which are regarded as centers of commerce and Islamic civilization as a result of their contact with the Arab world through the Trans-Saharan Trade Routes. (Aguolu 1984). These “libraries” lacked all that can be said of a public library in terms of policies, organization, personnel and services.
The first significant attention to public library was the commissioning of a study on library services in the region in 1963, by the government of the Northern Region under the distinguished leadership of the late Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello. The study was conducted by F. A. Sharr under the Special Commonwealth African Assistance Plan and the report popularly known in the
Nigerian Library Literature as “The Sharr Report”, praised the “foresight of the Government in seeking, at this early state to rationalize the development of all
types of libraries and to avoid the waste and inefficiency which follows from uncoordinated endeavor” (Sharr 1963). Following his recommendation, there was a review of the existing structures and Public Library system evolved. The first functional Public Library was the Kaduna Lending Library which also doubled as the Regional Reference Library. The Library system was organized under a Director and was departmentalized according to the various functions in the Library. While a public library system is gradually taking shape, a major political shake-up of the Northern Region took place in 1967. The once famous “giant North” was broken into six (6) states. This development led to decentralization of the Regional Library System and consequently, the former Regional Library Headquarter in Kaduna had to split its resources and assets equally among the new States. Another milestone in the history of Library Development in Northern Nigeria was the commissioning of yet another study by Rober.