I am Dr. Nkechi Udeze, the current Director of Anambra State Library Services. I had all my degrees, Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate, in Library and Information Science. I began my career as a library assistant in Branch Library, Ihembosi before proceeding to the university to study Library and information Science. Following my return from service to the fatherland- NYSC, I was transferred to the Divisional Library, Nnewi; then to Onitsha Divisional Library; later to Divisional Library, Nnewi and back to Onitsha Divisional Library, after which I was finally transferred to the Headquarters at Awka.
At the headquarters, we have different sections which include the public services department, technical services department, administrative and e-library sections. Working at the Headquarters, I was the Deputy Director of the Public Services Department before I became the Director of Anambra State Library Board. Here, in Library Board, one must climb hierarchically before becoming a Director.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN THE LIBRARY?
Presently, we render both traditional and e-library services. Our e-library services include internet-based services, cloud services, and engagement in ICT training. Although all the libraries in our system are not e-libraries yet, the internet is accessible to those in Onitsha and the headquarters in Awka. Also in the cloud, we are making efforts to key in the information materials that are domiciled in our library so that anybody who registered in the two mentioned libraries can
access it anywhere they are, as well as see the entire library holdings. For our other libraries: the divisional and branch libraries, we are making efforts to make them render online services. For now, we are making efforts towards getting waiver so that we can recruit experts in computer operations to help those in the village access the library online via our divisional and branch libraries.
The present-day public library has moved beyond rendering only information services where users come for the purpose of reading and studying alone. A large number of our young people have not developed a strong reading culture. They only read during examinations, for those who would even read at all. The society has made it such that most Nigerians read for mainly examination purposes. In most cases, the library experiences spillover of users during exam periods. The result is that, during exam periods like WAEC, NECO, JAMB, you will see some users trying to sleep in the library especially those of them that are helping out in their families. They rarely have enough time to study so it is normal to see them a few days before the exams. The children in this category often ask if they could sleep in the library. After exams, the number of users reduces such that it is only the few who have imbibed good reading culture that keep coming to the library.
The library is a place where people can congregate and exchange positive ideas that will help them to be better people. Thus, we have auditorium and space where people can carry out their group activities. When people come here to hold their programmes, we welcome them even if we are not part of their events. We tell them that this place is for them and the books are for everybody. We often get two or three people who come back to make use of the library afterwards.
ACHIEVEMENT OF THE LIBRARY
I took over the leadership of Anambra State Library Board on December 10th, 2015. In February of 2016, we started observing International Days such as Cancer Day, International Day of the Girl Child, African Day, International Women’s Day, where we often invite experts in a particular field which we are celebrating to speak to people. We invite students as well as community members to participate. We also seek and accept sponsorship for some of the events we held in the villages, and collaborate with people to achieve our goals. Our goal is to disseminate information, educate and help people relax.
We also engage in charitable works for the people in our immediate environment. We noticed that there are people that come to us believing that we have everything. We often receive people. Often times, people come here for help due to various problems they are facing believing we are all in all.
We started the skills acquisition and created a makerspace where we keep items such as sewing machines, materials for hat making and bead making, as well as items for home economics. This is to enable people to learn and start earning a living with these skills. We have people that teach skills such as sewing, tailoring, and bakery. When staff are posted to certain sections of the library, I encourage them to learn a skill so that it will help in the library’s innovative services too. The person teaching cookery is a staff, the hat-making teacher is a PRO from the Ministry posted to us. I found out that she is humble and has values. She stayed for 3 years before being posted out. However, I called on the Ministry to allow her to remain at the library because she is useful to us and they accepted.
Another lady also was posted to our e-library and while here with us, I advised her to learn a skill which has proved quite useful. She now teaches dressmaking. As we get to know the skills that people want to learn, we make an effort to send someone for the training. We have sponsored many of our staff in this manner. These tutors are making money with these skills outside office hours as they only work from 8am to 4pm.
Furthermore, during long vacations, we reach out beyond the library and organise skills acquisition for people. We source for facilitators even among our family members and close relations too. We get people who can educate our users. A lady among us contacted her mother in Onitsha to train our staff on making beads on slippers. Those staff that learnt the skills turned out to become prospective trainers of our users. As we move on, we do everything we know that can help our users because the most important thing is empowering people. My heart desire is that people should be able to go out and tell people that they learnt these skills from the library.
This year I addressed all the heads of our branch and divisional libraries that we are going to make our library visible, so that those people who are not using the library will be attracted to the library. If we have skills at the library that they can learn and which would be of benefit to them, they would be happy. I have advised them to participate in these trainings whenever it is ongoing.
We also organise spelling-bee competitions. This is another way through which we draw students to the library. This is done every Saturday at Awka. We also engage in ICT training for children and adults in Awka and that is a continuous activity. The challenge is funding and our staff strength is low. However, before we can employ new staff the government will have to give something that is called waiver, because our library is an agency.
YOU WON THE AWARD FOR BEST LIBRARY; HOW DID YOU ACHIEVE THAT?
We won the award from Nigerian Library Association in 2018, 2019 and 2020 consecutively. When you do your work, you do not just tell them that you engage in this or that service, they have to see the things you are doing. The competition is such that as you do your work, you show whatever you are doing. If you implement new services, you show them to see what you have done. Every year, we try as much as we can to look for areas that are important that we will integrate into our system. When you are getting ready for a competition, you will try as much as you can for you to be the best and this boils down to services.
In the competition, there are things that are expected of us no matter how difficult things are. Readership is an issue so we engage in Readership Promotion Campaign (RPC), moving from school to school to encourage students to read. It is not just about writing that you went there, you have to go in there, talk to the students or pupils during the morning assembly and take pictures of you talking there – that is documentation. We have 11 libraries in our system, and we all keep at it bearing in mind the possibility that as we move through these schools, two or three students would likely change from waiting for people to write exams for them to writing it themselves.
Again, we often reach out to the vulnerable – the people that cannot come to the library. We also visit the Correctional Centres. These centres have schools; we donate books and encourage them. We tell them that being in the Centre is not the end of the world – that the person can still be free one day. When you go there you find out that some of them are in primary or secondary school while others are even in the university. We encourage them to read. We also visit orphanages and donate books to them, and talk to those caring for them. We encourage them to make sure that those that are of school age should go to school. These are the activities we document and package as we engage in them.
My interest was piqued when I saw the application form for the award in 2017, but I was skeptical about applying as I do not want to fail, so I did not apply. I however strategized and worked towards the 2018 award, we entered for the competition and won. Having seen the extent we had gone, we strategized again for us to win the second time in 2019, we applied and won again. Since I had the vision of being the first public library to win the “Evergreen” award, we worked as if we were going to die in 2020; we applied and won the best public library again, the third consecutive win is called “Evergreen”.
You know that when you force your staff to work, some who do not have the zeal to work will see you as a disturbance. Some of them nicknamed me “stress” but at the end of the day, they saw that everything turned out for good.
HOW DID THE LIBRARY MANAGE COVID-19?
That was a terrible moment for us. At the headquarters, I do not mind working alone – that has been part of me. Infact, I do not work with hours – that is, the work does not have to start by 8am and ends by 6pm. No! I am always in my office by 7:30am and I can close by 7pm but once I have someone that is desperate to use the library, we give that person the opportunity.
During that period, Onitsha Library staff amazed me. When the government announced that we are closing the library due to Covid-19, our users at Onitsha asked the staff “what will we do if you shut the library?” They called me to explain these demands because they do not want to lose our users. They explained that they do not want the library to be overcrowded and staff should share responsibilities. Therefore, we provided the necessary materials including the infrared thermometer for checking temperature, as well as buckets with water, liquid soap and hand sanitizers. We also removed alternate seats from the reading hall for adequate spacing and ensured the library was well-ventilated.
I am yet to appreciate our users enough because they surprised me too with regards to the credence they gave to us by the continued visit to the library. This affirmed to me that they know that we are in the office and will continue to be there because of them. Despite this, Covid-19 affected the number of people that visit the library. In fact, we closed the children’s library entirely because we could not control children especially at the peak of the pandemic. However, the people at Onitsha surprised me again because they took books to their homes to read, especially the professionals. Although they have started coming back but the Covid-19 protocol is still being observed.
For us here in Awka, as the headquarters, there was no way we could close the library down completely. We have quite a number of spacious reading halls here so we close one and open the other for our users while we constantly disinfected or fumigated the area from time to time. The Covid-19 really affected us however, by next year I am sure that the number of users will increase.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF THE LIBRARY?
Challenges are continuous – they have been and will continue to be. When it comes to the libraries, people do not often see it as something that is very important. If every state government paid more attention to the library, the educational system would have been better off than it is today. Reading culture has reduced drastically. Every examination, people are helped to write. This has eroded our primary, secondary and tertiary institutions today. The act of sorting was not in school when we were there. The special centers were not there then because we had value for reading. We made reading a priority.
HOW DO YOU GET FUNDS FOR THE LIBRARY?
We get funds from the government but there are some people that do come to us willingly. Some find us online seeing the kinds of things we do and show interest in collaborating with us. We do not say no – we simply ask them to provide a few things that will help us achieve their goals and ours, but funding comes from the government especially. Approval for the renovation of the Onitsha Library has been given, it is just for them to come and renovate it. It requires us to push more. If this was within our jurisdiction, we would have done it.
DIGITALIZATION OF LIBRARY IN NIGERIA
Our commissioner wrote and sent something to the governor who has given approval. We want to do something that will connect all the institutions in Anambra State to make use of the cloud library where everybody will be connected. However, for now, only registered users have to use the library resources, and can register from anywhere. They will only come for it to be activated for them to have a password that will enable their usage. The issue of digitalization is something that needs time and it depends on institutions – some are doing it gradually.
EFFORT OF THE GOVERNMENT TO MAKE THE LIBRARY ACCESSIBLE
The cloud library that the government wants to do is meant to give everyone access to information. If you come to the library, you will still have access to it. The government will be paying for internet access and so it will not cost users a dime. We are lucky to have a commissioner that is interested in library services. He is a journalist and knows the importance of information and that is why he is making every effort to see that it is achieved.
WHAT SHOULD BE EXPECTED FROM THE LIBRARY IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS
I am expecting that all the libraries in Anambra State will be hybrid so that people can access information both online and offline. We will have facilities that will always draw people to the library, even with regards to culture too. Here in Awka, we have a corner we call the “Cultural Heritage”. All the libraries will have a cultural heritage corner where the people of that community will keep cultural items instead of just disposing them. The library will be a tourism center where people will always like to go and relax and learn. The library is the only place where you do not send people away, even mad people.
STATE OF ONITSHA LIBRARY
I was formerly the head of the library in Onitsha. It was renovated when Mr Peter Obi was the governor. That should be in 2008, because I went back to that place in 2009. It is now due for another renovation. It is in the capital budget – it is not something that the agency will do. It is not within our jurisdiction. However, it has been approved – the Ministry of Housing is in charge of it. Approval has been given. The required measurements have been taken. We are waiting for them to come and do the needful. Anybody that tells you the building is bad; the person is not lying. If there is no need for a renovation, we will not have it added to the capital budget. It is there and they will do it. I believe in God that since the approval has been given, they will do it. When it is approved the next thing is the release of funds, my prayer is that they will release the funds for them to come and do it.
HAS THE ONITSHA LIBRARY BEEN CONVERTED TO A PARK?
Something was posted online about the Onitsha library and I want to correct that information. They wrote that commercial tricycle riders are loading passengers at the premises. I want to clarify that the information is incorrect. That place is not a “Keke” park. The person that posted that – I don’t know where he got his information from. The Anambra ATMC code is usually issued to “Keke” riders in the state. They did not have enough space to continue their registration. Since they knew that we have a space where people can hold events such as weddings and other activities, they felt that the library space would serve them well. Thus they spoke with the commissioner that was in charge of the library then in 2017 and they were allowed to register within the premises at that particular time. Subsequently, whenever they have need for space and there is a rush due to crowd, they use the library space for the registration, and leave as soon as the exercise is concluded. So, they do not load “Keke” inside Onitsha library.
HOW CAN THE GOVERNMENT IMPROVE THE LIBRARIES
This could be done by giving us the opportunity to employ and bring in people that will work effectively. I was employed during the old Enugu-Anambra State as a library assistant. I went for a written examination after which we went for an interview before being employed, not based on connection.
Libraries are not money-making establishments and are funded with tax-payers money. However, inadequate funds have affected the library in many ways, across the Nation. I am the immediate past chairman of the public library section of Nigerian Library Association, having handed over in November 2020. In our report, we had inadequate funds and inadequate manpower as the major challenges we face. Most libraries in Anambra State are housed in halls with the exception of Onitsha, Awka, Ajalli and Atani which are in buildings erected specifically as a library.
Some people would call for us to set up the library in their community building but would later ask us to vacate the premises. Another challenge is maintenance. It becomes a big problem when you have a building such as the library without maintenance. The library building is supposed to be repainted at least before10 years elapses.