The history of the rural African library demonstrates how, over time, a convergence of social, economic, and cultural issues has generated a genuine demand for an alternative to traditional information distribution for, or in many areas throughout, Africa.
- The History of Library in Africa can be said to be divided into two pre-colonization era and post-Colonization era.
African Libraries Of the Pre-colonization Era
There were libraries in Africa well before European colonization. Libraries first made their appearance on the northern fringes of the African continent during the first millennium BCE.
- The ancient Library of Alexandria is frequently cited as the most important example. South of the Sahara, African culture was predominantly oral. Over twenty indigenous African scripts and related writing systems such as syllabaries, many of great beauty, existed.
- Some of these scripts, such as the Meroitic and Ge’ez scripts, are of ancient origins, while others were invented during the 19th and 20th centuries in response to colonialism.
- The indigenous scripts are not thought to have been widely used. Arabic script was widely used in North and West Africa.
- Under Islamic influences, centres of learning were established, and from the 15th to the 19th centuries books were collected and traded throughout the Sahara and the Sahel, from Mauritania to Nigeria.
African Libraries Of the Colonization Era
libraries were set up in the 19th century in some African countries upon the necessity of colonial governments. Just a few examples. A number of special libraries existed in South Africa as industrial and research institutions.
- In Ghana, the libraries of the Education Department, Agriculture Department and the Secretary for Native Affairs were set up in the later part of 19th century (Osei-Bonsu 1988, 222) In Nyasiland (now Malawi) the first agriculture library in tropical Africa was set up in 1899 and a medical library in Uganda was set up in 1897 at Mongo Hospital, Kampala (Plumbe 1968,124).
- Kenya National Library Service (KNLS) is a typical example of those African public library services set up at the time of independence, during the 1950s and 1960s.
- As early as the 1920 s, we can find records of rural library services in countries such as South Africa and Tanzania.
- As a result of the recognition of the failure of the traditional library to meet rural needs, more recent projects have focused on the village or community library, such as the Village Reading Rooms in Botswana, the Book Box Service in Botswana, the Osu-initiated libraries in Ghana, the Family Literacy Project libraries in South Africa, the village libraries in Tanzania, and rural library services in Malawi.
- During the 1980 s, numerous agencies were set up to facilitate and coordinate rural library services across the continent of Africa, including the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Project in Zimbabwe, the Rural Community Information Centres in Malawi, run by the country’s National Library Service, and the Rural Community Resource Centres in Sierra Leone.
Trace the development of the public library
- While we can trace the development of the public library in countries in Africa and elsewhere with relative ease, the historical development of the rural community/village library is not as easily mapped.
- Tracing the first rural village library in any African country would be very difficult, as chances are it was not documented or written about in the Western literature at the time.
- We know that at some point there was a recognition by those in many African countries and outside of Africa that public libraries were not the answer, and that another strategy had to be found.
Organizations Intervention in the Use of Library In Africa
- Organizations such as UNESCO weighed in, supporting the notion that libraries should not be solely for use by the literate elite. There are numerous examples of rural service initiatives across Africa, some starting even before the 1920 s. In the late 1940 s in Ghana, the Gold Coast Library Board was developed to establish and maintain libraries in different regions of the vast country.
- One of the Board’s initiatives was the establishment of a “Book Box” service for those living in rural areas. . Initially, there was an attempt made to provide reading materials to those is rural areas by post. The Book Box service consisted of wooden boxes that could hold fifty books and be transported into rural areas.
- Eventually, the Book Box and mobile libraries scheme in Ghana took a more formalized organization, The result was five reading centres established in rural areas in Northern Ghana filled with books.
- These early attempts do represent the fact that some degree of thoughtfulness went into outreach to rural areas. However, even these efforts were based on the Colonial concept of the library, serving those that were already literate and predicated on assumptions about the types of materials that would be appropriate.
- There is also evidence that the Carnegie Corporation, best known for its philanthropic development and support of libraries worldwide, expressed concern and suggested strategies for getting books to rural areas. In a 1929 report, Memorandum – Libraries in the Union of South Africa, Rhodesia and Kenya Colony, a librarian and consultant, documents issues related to providing reading materials for “native” (non-European) peoples in South Africa, stating
“the problem of book supply to the natives is one of the most difficult of all. Standards of mental capacity and
development vary with every tribe, and no attempt has been made to provide
satisfactorily for all” (Pitt, 1929, p. 29).
- The result was a proposed system of book boxes, that would travel from region to region, possibly being housed at regional schools.
Despite their best efforts, many rural library services have struggled to operate effectively and efficiently.
- Mobile library services, which were supposed to be a creative way to distribute books across rural areas without incurring the cost of structures and staff, ran into problems as well. Vehicles frequently broke down, gasoline costs were prohibitively high, and driving in some regions was simply too risky (Olden, 1995).
- In some areas, such as Ethiopia, mobile services of various types can still be found, such as the Donkey Mobile Library.
- Some of the difficulties encountered in establishing and operating rural reading rooms in Tanzania and Botswana. Botswana’s Department of Non-Formal Education sought to create 300 reading rooms in villages around the country in the 1980s. It was extremely difficult to get these programs off the ground due to difficulties in acquiring space and commitment (Sturges and Neill, 1998, p. 182).
- The inability to obtain reading materials in Tanzania’s native language, Kiswahili, had major consequences:
History of Libraries in Nigeria
- The foundation for the establishment of libraries in Nigeria was laid in the 1930s, when the government founded the Nigerian Division of the West African Library Association (WALA). At the time, the association’s efforts and activities were aimed at establishing a National Library.
- Around 1959, there was also a library in the Eastern region. This region had developed a five-year strategy to construct regional and mobile libraries with over 1600 books at the time.
- After the Nigerian government established a Library Advisory Committee in the 1950s, the Nigerian Division of the WALA was renamed the Nigerian Library Association (NLA) in 1962. The Library Advisory Committee was successful in developing plans for library services in the country, as well as convincing the government to establish a National Library.
- This became a reality after the country attained independence. Prior to this, the Ford Foundation of America had collaborated with the Federal Government by providing funds and the necessary expertise for a feasibility study.
- This led to the appointment of Dr Carl White, a distinguished Scholar/Librarian. Dr Carl arrived in Nigeria from the U.S in 1962 and he was pivotal in setting up the necessary technical personnel for the National Library.
- The National Library Act, which became the National Library Decree No 29 of 1970, was passed by the government in September 1964, and it was the first library-related law.
- As a result, the National Library of Nigeria was established. It was a grade parastatal and the country’s top library.
- This library serves as the nation’s collective memory, intellectual repository, and data bank for the learning and remembering process.
- The National Library is also known as the vanguard of library development and information services delivery, advising institutions, organizations and MDAs at all levels of government on library development.
- Prior to the establishment of the National Library, UNESCO released a document in 1962 which it stated that each region of Nigeria should be responsible for the creation and regulation of the activities of local public libraries in Nigeria.
- The National Library is also noted for being at the forefront of library development and information services delivery, providing library development advice to institutions, organizations, and MDAs at all levels of government.
- Prior to the founding of the National Library, UNESCO issued a paper in 1962 stating that each Nigerian region should be responsible for the construction and regulation of local public library activities.
The development of libraries in Francophone West Africa
Much of the library development in Francophone West Africa was centred on Dakar. French
colonization of Senegal started in 1659 with the establishment of a trading post in St Louis, but the French presence was exercised through chartered companies which failed to establish administrative institutions. Thus the history of books and libraries in the French West African colonies dates from the 19th century (Sène 1992, 306), which saw a new wave of French colonial expansion in West and Central Africa. It is known that by 1803 there was a 3 municipal library in St Louis, which had probably been established a year or two earlier.
The library served a twofold need:
* Professional (scientific research and administration of justice)
* Recreational (boosting the morale of homesick colonists).
A second library was set up in Gorée in 1855 (Maack 1981, 11–16).
- Collections of scientific books were formed during the 19th century, as well as collections of legal works and archives. Archivists played the leading role in these early colonial libraries.
- The emphasis was on libraries in the service of the French colonial administration. The latter half of the 19th century saw increasing interest in the scientific study of the peoples and resources of the various colonial empires.
- Research institutes were set up not only in the capitals of the colonial powers but also in the colonies.
- During this period a few influential conservatives, who had followed the French government’s elitist training programme and passed the examinations admitting them to civil service positions, played the leadership role in Senegal’s libraries, often combining library and archival roles.
- The first permanent research institute in French tropical Africa, l’Institut Français de l’Afrique Noire2 (IFAN, French Institute of Black Africa), was founded in 1936.
- By the 1950s there were a number of academic and special libraries in Dakar.
- The University of Dakar was opened in 1959, and IFAN was incorporated in it as an institute.
- With assistance from UNESCO, the first library school in Francophone Africa, the Centre regional deformation des bibliothécaires (Regional Centre for the Training of Librarians) was established in Dakar in 1962. In 1967 it was renamed École de bibliothécaires, archivistes et documentalistes (EBAD, School for Librarians, Archivists and Documentalists) and integrated into the University as a professional school (Maack 1981, 193–195).
Aim of the French development aid
- It was intended to promote libraries and reading for the population, but due to the lack of jobs in public librarianship, it had to concentrate on preparing students for other fields such as research libraries, documentation centres and archives (Maack 1981, 221).
- The promotion of the French language and culture was central to French development aid. From 1959-to 1975 a number of French cultural centres were set up with circulating libraries.
- The aim was to increase access to French books and to encourage African authors to write in French. French policy towards its former colonies in Africa was to tie them as closely as possible to France, politically, economically and culturally.
- This was made easier by the relatively amicable transition to independence.
- There was little political pressure to change so the policies of the colonial government were continued in the newly independent countries.
French influence on library development in its former African colonies is immense and pervasive. It persisted well after these colonies became independent, thanks to development aid and programmes aimed at promoting the French language and culture.