Development Of Public Library In Nigeria


It is clear that a lot has been written on public library development in Nigeria. It is therefore deemed necessary by the researcher to embark on an extensive review of works done on this subject. The areas covered include:

a        The public library as an agency for education.

b        The public library as an agency for information.

c        The public library as an agency for rural extension

d        The public library as an agency for manpower development.

e        The public library as a cultural agency.

f        Public The public library as an agency for as an agency for aesthetic appreciation.

g        The public library as an agency for recreation

h        Service rendered by the public library

i         Circulation of materials

j         Referencing service

k        User instruction / education

l         Local collection development

m       Display and current awareness services

n        Clientele

According to Harrod (1971) “The public library is a library provided wholly or partly from public funds, and the use of which is the community but is freely available to all. A major agency of enlightenment for adults providing also for children the recorded experienced of other which will help them to grow into adulthood”.

It is good to start any consideration of the changing role of the library with what the funding father of librarianship, Malri Dedey, said as far back as 1906 as quated by Salisa (1982). He writes, “The library has lost its etymologic meaning and means not only a collection of books, but the central agency for disseminating information, innocent recreation, or best of all, inspiration among the people”.

The educational informational, cultural, social and recreated roles, of the public library cannot.


The educational objectives of the public library includes the abolition of illiteracy, enhancement of primary schools secondary and tertiary education and the provision of life long education for the working people. The public library as an agency for continuing or life long education plays a long standing role in personal achievement and continued education.

Ayalogu (1993), in a lecture delivered assets; “public libraries are organs of social democracy and instruments of personal self realization. They are characterized by their commitment to the goals of promoting an enlightenment citizenry, providing the opportunity, the materials, the encouragement and stimulation for continuing self education or life long education” public libraries provide reading materials to the needs of those struggling to gain functional literacy and also to the new leteartes who might relapse into literacy if appropriate reading materials are not made available to them. Stressing on this, Adesunkanmi (1982) asserts: “public libraries have long functioned and will continue to function virtually as informal universities. They were, in fact, among he first in the business of holding out hopes to the in selected”.

As such, public libraries become the agency for the promotion of mass education. It is known that many people who did not have opportunities for higher education, educate themselves in the public libraries regarded as the “people university”. The public library is a natural centre for all type of education efforts and lectures held in its meeting rooms are valuable means of extending education with the books in the library.

Commenting further on the educational roles of the public library Ayalogu (1993) states: “An effective public library programme grows out of an understanding of the community it serves the educational and cultural level of the people, their occupational, recreational, vocational, economic, social and geographical characteristic of the area involved. Dr. Kwame, Nkwuma of Ghana and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria realizing the pubic library as a powerful instrument of education promulgated the first public library legislation in black Africa in 1950 and the first public library law in 1955 respectively, even before their respective countries had attained independence.


The public library acquires, organizes, interprets and stores information providing materials for easy access and consultation for the society. Ready access to this information is indispensable to an individual advanceman and national development. Writing on the role of the public library in the area of information, Idoka (1988)states: “we learn from history that no nation has ever achieved significant economic and social development without basic information and education. The need for these are more pressing now than ever before owing to complexities**** of the modern world. Books, pamphlets, periodicals, films, discs and other types of library materials are indispensable tools to all levels of education from primary to tertiary and continuing adult education. Such materials are so basic again in the dissemination of information for social and economic reform, good health practices, improved agricultural methods and other vocational techniques. Libraries are one of the most effective methods of making such materials to all the people”.


At this point, it is necessary to look at the public library can play in the dissemination of information in support of rural extension services. In doing this, it may be necessary to outline the functions of public libraries as noted by the UNESCO regional seminar held in Ibadan in 1953:

a        To support and rainface programmes of adult and fundamental education;

b        To provide effective services for the children and young people including required services for schools.

c        To provide needed information and reference services;

d        To promote and stimulate reading for pleasure and recreation

e        To proceed wherever possible and as required, adequate services for special groups etc etera, in order to ensure availability of information resources on equal terms to all members of the community.

In order to achieve the above noble and laudable objectives, public libraries in Nigeria must change for the better. A much more radical and dynamic approach must be pursued.


Public libraries have an essential role to play in the economic development of every nation, state and community. Idoko (1988), quoting Andrew Maurise, writes; “Nothing then is more important for making than to bring writtin the real of all these means of broad, casting our horizons, escaping from ourselves and making discoveries which literally transform life and make individuals a more valuable member of society. And the only way to do this is though public libraries”.

Public libraries are undoubtedly veritable agents for manpower and community development.


The cultural role of the public library is so broad that it can legitimately encompass its educational informational, recreational and social functions. Recreational reading is a cultural activity and a public library is often regarded as a cultural centre of a community where such activity is aimed at.

The public library as a conservator of social knowledge of a people can be used to disseminate the cultural thoughts and values of such people.

Writing about a place of the library in training good citizens and the moulding of national cultures.

Nnaji (1988:65-66) “Maintain, meanwhile, it does appear that the library can play a part in the national culture moulding through a collection of foreign classes which will enable the public to understand the culture of other lands in depths also with collection of books on Nigeria culture written by Nigerian”.

A public library should be a repository and an organ of disseminating the people’s culture. The public library can become a good tool of national development by embanking upon sustained programmes for documentation of oral traditional values and for promoting literature that promotes and guarantees national aspirations. Public libraries should support civic and other cultural organization through the provision of accommodations for meetings, lectures et cetera. The following are some of the non-book but cultural services that public libraries can offer the people.

a        Adult classes:

b        Art festivals to promote the culture of the people

c        It can organize concerts and give space for hiterestign displays;

d        It can provide accommodation for discussion and reading groups;

e        Gramaphone recitals, play and poetry readings;

f        Drama, film making film shows;

g        Group visiting, that is going around the library.

The public library traditionally exist to provide educational culture reading which is education beyond a coins, a curriculum and a prescribed reading.


A public library acquires, organizes, preserves and makes available classical literature standard or best works often and in schools and by cultured and educated people.


A public library promotes and stimulates reading for leisure and recreation by acquiring, protecting and making available light reading materials for those with simple faster especially as can be fund in novels such as thritters, mysteries, romances etcetera. Writing on public library as an agency of recreation, Parkinson (1990) asserts;

“The public library encourages the constructive use of leisure time by adults and serves as a source of amusement for children and adolescents”. Children can enjoy themselves by reading various illustrated books; listening or viewing various audio-visual materials. Such as video cassettes, films, phonograph records, slides, radio and television. Some of these may be borrowed from the public library by adults for home use.

Other roles played by the public library include that of research the Nigerian and serials sections of public libraries offer good opportunities for researchers to avail themselves of. It is noteworthy to mention here that the researcher made use of the Nigeria section of the central library Owerri in his quest for information.

One should not loose sight of the public library’s social and mass mobilization roles in the society. Therefore, in the light of the fore-going, the public library as an agency for education. It is different form and considerably more than, the collection of book represented in a bookshop. It differs for, and in greater than, such channels as radio, television or film in the dissemination of ideas. It is different from, but certainty as important as the school and the college as an educational institution. No other agency achieve quite so well the information kind of self education than the public library.


Public libraries offer a number of services to their patrons who use them for their informational, educational, recreation and cultural needs. Defining public libraries, Olamlokun (1984) write about the general services rendered by the public library, he maintains: “A public library is a free library set up to provide traditional services to every one”. He went further to say that a public library should be maintained by public funds and no fulfill its purpose.

Some services offered by public libraries includes:

a        Circulation of materials;

b        Reference services;

c        Local collection development;

d        Extension services,

e        Displays.


The quality of a library may be measured by how good its circulation system is. A library is as good as its circulation department, which appears to mean that the quality of library services may be evaluated the effectiveness of its circulation services. Public libraries therefore endeavour to make for an equitable circulation of its materials to their clientele. Brown (1989) defines circulation as the technical function of collection, control and circulation as well as the location of information and materials, library instruction on the use of card catalogue, readers advising services and instructional development.

Some of the circulation department includes; books, periodicals, maps, privates, music, microfilm and other library materials. The department maintain a record of all loans, recalls overdue items, and accept reserve for little demand. The circulation department provide information to the library for the replacement of the lose materials, supervises the provision for readers to use library stock. Writing on the functions if the circulation section of the public library.

Asile (1979) demands that more attention should be given to the circulation section and these include reading, withdrawal of worn-out books and shelving of books. It is also the function of the circulation staff to keep statistic of library use. He warns that books may be pub on reserve by the circulation department, so that they can get to every reader that needs them.

The circulation section is probably the most sensitive within the library for almost all the patrons. It is the public linage maker of the library because it deals with the major public. It is the section of the library where staff, materials and users come into contact.


          For a library to worth its taste, it must ensure a strong and will organized reference network. This is done to take care of user’s needs. To achieve this, a wide range of materials must be granted by the public library to foster effective reference service. According to Harrold (1971) in the libraries Glossary of terms and reference book, a reference work means; “that branch of the library services which includes the assistance given to readers in the search for information on various subjects. It is the personal assistance given by the librarian to individual readers needing information”.

Still stressing the meaning of reference services, Uche (1983) asserts; “a reference services is a collection of books and other materials that may not be taken away but must be studied in the place where they are kept, or a non-circulating collection of a library! She gain outlines reference services which includes:

a        The provision of adequate stock;

b        Bibliographical activities such as:

i         Newspaper clipping and vertical file maintenance;

ii        Indexing and abstracting service;

iii       Preparation and development of reading lists, select bibliographies, indexes to the collection and other reference aids which help in providing access to the library collection.

c        Participating in national and international library cooperation;

d        Well trained and dedicated staff who see references work as a challenge and share the joy of finding a solution to a serious research inquiring with the client.

According to Falunwa (1954) “every reference department should be ready to assist the library users by answering their query or questions either factual, topical and advising questions”. In theory, any library book which is referred to for information can be called a reference source. But for library purpose, reference source consist of books which are meant to be consulted and referred to form some definite piece of information and not to be read from page to page.

Reference materials include; dictionaries, encyclopedia year book, serials, bibliographical dictionaries, gazetteers, atlas, directories, handbooks and manual government and trade bibliographics and audio-visual materials. The public library’s ensure to provide the above listed reference materials and other reference services including, answering of queries, compilation of reading list, current awareness services, user education et cetera. hence, the reference section in the library clearing house for questions. In view of this, instruction to reference work and states “reference libraries in failing to provide the means for accurate management of their place and contribution in the library services run the risk of allowing their work under valued or ignored”.

Writing about reference work, Whittaker (1979) states that “the purpose of reference and information services is to allow information to flow efficiently from information source to those who need information without the librarian bringing the source and seeker together, the flow would either never tax place at all, or only take place inefficiently.

Reference services provided by the reference section can be regarded as the meeting point of all library processes and therefore a very important aspect of library work. Constraints to effective reference work. A number of factors limit effective reference work in Nigeria public libraries, they include:

a        Shortage of experience manpower;

b        Under-development of essential infrastructural; that is lack of a “working” telephone and high cost of internet services inhibits the linking up with reference librarians in other librarians in the exchange of ideas on handling of a difficult reference enquiry:

c        Lastly, general attitude of workers to government services. Reference services therefore require relatively long hours to facilitate self-help need to promote the idea of the moment instruction for students from elementary to advanced levels. It should treat each library building as one of facility with reference collections conveniently shelved separately because of it great use and restricted circulation. The librarians working in the public library should constantly review and evaluate the volumes selected.


Public libraries in Nigeria do give user instruction or user education to their clientele to assist them to retrieve whatever information they need quickly without wasting much of their time. Ishola (1980) writing on user education maintains; “It behaves as a national policy on user education, which makes it possible for its nationals to be introduced to the use of library and information even to schools”. The average user is not only frustrated, but is working under the false notion that most of what he needs can be found with one or two standard indexes and by middling through the card catalogue. Ishola further stated that if the advanced nations that have developed through effective use of the library and information are still investigating and organizing researches for users education, can we pretend that we can afford not to think that should be done in Nigeria.

Increased provision of user instruction by public libraries has therefore tended to strengthen rather than dispel the myth of reader-self sufficiency.


The public library is characterized by its comprehensive collection and presentation of local and regional literature unlike the academic library. the public library collects in the widest sence literature which are relevant to its region and strives to satisfy the individual interest of its numerous clientele.

Ukeli, Ukely (1974), describes library collection as; “the resources with which a library give its services? This goes to show that collection development is highly necessary both to achieve educational goal and the specific objectives of the library. writing on this topic Njoku (1980) declares; “there is probably no type of library in which selection of stock is more important than in the public library where the collection save the dual purpose to enrich the curriculum and at the same time meeting the individual needs of the public”. He also stated that there should be a continual up-to-date stock in libraries following a particular pattern;

a        The need to keep up-to-date with new titles and editions;

b        The fact that new courses will mean additional books;

c        The increased involvement will necessitate providing more books;

d        The need to fill the gaps;

e        The need to replace worn-out, withdrawn or missing books.

The public library is for the benefits of the community that established it, therefore, to on its collections are local history collections, music scores depicting the culture of the people and the art of the people. In most public libraries in Nigeria, there are sections for Nigeria collections (Nigerian).


Some of the library departments display their materials to inform the library users and their community about their new arrival. This may be books, journals or magazines. Hawthrone (1980) in his book public libraries for everyone stated; “Among the many treasures of modern world, the greatest to be found is books. All the wisdom of the age, all the fables fair and fact have interested and delighted the minds of man since civilization first began are available for our pleasing or our profit in the books that line the book shelves of the world”. The aim of display is to make the library an exciting and attractive place and to perform a kind of current awareness. Library displays involve exhibitions of books as defined and it is a component part of the extension act in a library. it includes:

a        To inform readers of all library facilities under each subject or disciplines;

b        To allow for better public relation between the library and the public;

c        To allow for full exploitation of books and materials.

Another service rendered by public libraries to the public is services to the disadvantaged which includes; the prison inmates, patients in the hospitals and old peoples homes as well as rehabilitation centres. It also provides for the blind by providing tapes and long playing record for them. In order to bring library services to the doorstep of communities who resides faraway from the existing libraries, there is the mobile library service (provide by public libraries) which call at service points at schools, local government headquarters, hospitals and other institutions. This is a form of extension service.

Concluding, service (1985) enumerated the important of library service especially at the national level. He states: “the importance of library service must not be over-reading habits of the society”. Moreover, a well structured economic development plan needs a reasonable and articulated library system and an active academic community to nurture its success.


Among all the libraries, the public libraries has the most heterogeneous user to satisfy. In theory, its clientele extends from the youngest child to the oldest adult, form the wealthiest citizens to the most economically disadvantaged citizens and form the most highly educated to the most culturally deprived citizens. It has to acquire materials for such a wide cross section of the society and make its services available to them.

Users of the public library include the following:

a        Children;

Young people;


1.15.1         CHILDREN

Some children like in crowded slums or in communities where there is no adequate electricity in the homes on dark evenings. Therefore, in the library, reading should be encouraged. Umo (1991) says that “certain services should be provided by the library so as to enhance the reading habits of children”. In this statement, he maintained that teachers, librarians and parents are today very much concerned about the poor reading habits of their children. The cry to develop real library interest among the people has resounded in the nooks and corners of the country in the classrooms, even in places of work. The cry has evoked questions in the minds of those who care for the all round development of these youths.

2.15.2           YOUNG PEOPLE

The bulk of the users of the public library are made up of youths who are either in the post-primary institutions, tertiary institutions, newly employed or school leavers without jobs or school drop-outs. Their use of the public library especially during holidays and examination period is born by their desire to pass examination of for relaxation. Egor (1989) discussed the clientele structures and characteristics in public libraries through the study of the registration form. He asserts; “once the characteristics of the clientele are classified, the appropriate divisions and sections of the library will be bitter placed to evaluate their contribution to the services and to the place for the better future of the clientele”.

Some of these users who fall within the category carry out research for their projects, terms papers or thesis. Many come to read for their forth-coming examination while others visit the library to read the daily prayers.

2.15.3         THE AGED

This group of users of the public library are mainly professionals-Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Judges, Engineers and Businessmen. They come to the library in order to keep abreast of developments in their fields.


In 1967, the American library Association (ALA) in on of its publications, stated the functions of public libraries. Again, at the seminar on library managements, organized by the university of Ibadan and the British council in 1872, it was considered that the public library should perform the following functions:-

a        The modern public library should provide printed and audiovitual materials to meet the individual and group needs of its community for information, education, self-realization, recreation and cultural growth and for assistance carrying out their duties as citizens and members of the community.

b        They cater for the unemployed to continue the education

c        The provide materials for those with primary school education to avoid lapsing into illiteracy.

d        They assist professional people to keep abreast of development in their fields.

e        They provide research materials for who may need them.

f        They assist in adult programme by providing suitable reading materials.

g        They provide the arts and culture of the community;

h        They provide cheap reading facilities.

i         They encourage our young people in the formation of a life long habit for reading, not only to pass examinations, but also for recreation and development of the mind.


The bulk of the public libraries finance come from the state government who provides funds for their establishment and realize the important role libraries play in the educational advancement of the society that donate land, buildings, furniture, books and money.

Commenting on the budget for public libraries, Obi (1995) states that: determination of the amount is usually based on expressed needs which are justified by services offered or projected by the public library”.

Other sources of revenue for public libraries include donations form oversea organizations, money realized from photocopying, bindery and reprographic services.


The United Nations educational scientific, and culture organization (UNESCO) seminar on the development of public libraries in African held in the university college Ibadan in 1953, was a good thing that happened to public library development in Nigeria because it went further to state that; “professional public librarians should as far as possible adopt the knowledge acquired during professional training to local conditions in Africa and should use all suitable techniques for increasing the use of books and other materials for information”. The above statement clearly points out that Africa librarians should bear in mind that their environments have particular problems of which he should be conscious of the problems militating against public library development in Nigeria include.

a        Finance: Since public library development in Nigeria include: grossly inadequate since there are other projects competing for government funds.

b        Lack of support: another factor is lack of support by the majority of the populace. Where the community in which the public library is located is largely comprised of illiterates, it is difficult to get enough public support. Thus, people will tend to support other essential services like hospitals, markets in place of library service.

c        Mis-use of library materials by users: There is the tendency for people to abuse any free service and such abuses constitutes services problems to public libraries. Mis-use of library materials may be through pilfering, mutilation overdue, thus deflecting the stock and making library materials unavailable to users.

d        Inadequate of trained staff: There is inadequacy of trained professional librarians to manage and organic the different sections in the public library.

e        Lack of adequate publishing houses; compounding this issue is the fact the the Nigerian publishing industry is still at low state and owing to the fact that the few existing ones do not obey the national deposit law there by denying public libraries the opportunity of acquiring new collections.

f        There is little support from the government who do not place library services on their priority lists.

g        There is also this problem of import duties and levies placed on imported books which make it difficult for public libraries to place orders for them. There is also the problem of foreign exchange and the Nigerian postal system which don’t deliver orders placed with them promptly.

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