Basic literacy, besides being a fundamental human right, is also a foundation not only for achieving education for all but, more broadly, for reaching the overarching goal of reducing human poverty, one of the institutions with a mandate to do this are libraries.
In the case of Ghana, the Ghana Library Authority (GLA) formally known as Ghana Library Board has as its mission to promote a lifelong reading habit among Ghanaians especially the youth and a vision to establish public libraries throughout the country. The idea is providing access to modern public libraries within easy reach of not more than eight kilometers. The Authority seeks to support formal and informal education through the provision of reading materials such as books, periodicals and other non-book materials.
The G LA was initially set up in 1950 by a Gold Coast Ordinance Cap 118, and later revised by a Ghana Library Board Act 1970, Act 327 as the only institution mandated by law to establish, equip, manage and maintain public libraries in the country.
The GLA has an impressive stock of books dating from the Gold Coast era to present, written by local and foreign authors. These books are made available to any patron of the libraries for no fee charged. The Authority also has archived newspapers and periodicals dating back to the 50’s.
The Authority has a reference and lending sections located in all the ten (10) regional capitals and some districts of Ghana. The lending section allows its patrons to borrow books and take them away to read at home, read newspapers, periodicals, as well as use internet services for a small fee. The reference section on the other hand is designed mainly to serve the academia or people who are researching or looking for rare books on certain topical issues.
“In the absence of a national Library, the George Padmore Library assumes the position of a National Library”, says Mr. Guy Amartefio, the Greater Accra Regional Librarian. “It was built by the late Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, first President of the Republic of Ghana, in memory of a close associate”. George Padmore was a Pan- Africanist who…………... ” The collections at the library include archives on both local and foreign cultural, educational and political campaign groups, journals, newspapers, books, pamphlets, and publications by social and anti-racist organizations between the 1960 and 1990”.
Major collections relate to the” Caribbean Artists”, “The Black Education and Supplementary Schools”, “The Black Parents Movements”,” The New Cross Massacre Campaign”,” The International Book Fair of Radical Black”,” Third World Books” and “The Accompanying Book Fair Festivals, 1982 – 1995”.
It also serves as the repository of the country's literary output and makes available for use by the present and future generations, a natural collection of ideas. The library also compiles the Ghana National Bibliography (GNB); and serves as the National Agency for ISBD. Thus, it assigns the ISBN, ISSN, and the ISMN to Ghanaian publishers.
International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) is intended to serve as a principal standard to promote universal bibliographic control. Its main aim is to provide consistency when sharing bibliographical information.
The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) represents a single volume such as a novel, a monograph, a specific title within a monographic series or a specific issue of an annual or yearbook. The International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) is a code which identifies the title of serial publications.
International Standard Music Number (ISMN) is a unique number for the identification of all noted music publication from all over the world, whether available for sale, hire or gratis. It is designed to rationalize the processing and handling of notated music and respective bibliographical data for publishing houses, the music trade and libraries as well.
The two systems are complementary and can be used together on the same publication. On an annual, for example, the ISBN will identify a specific volume (for example 1996 edition, 1997 edition) whilst the ISSN identifies the title and stays the same each year.
The George Padmore library is the African wing of the GLB. In addition it houses the following special collections: “Letters of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah”,” Noma Collection”;” Bureau of African Affairs Collection”; “Former Drama Studio Collection”; “Local Language Publications”;” Back Files of Periodicals” and “Newspapers”,” Microfilms and Microfiche Collection”; and” George Padmore's Personal Collection”.
In spite of the significant role that our public libraries play in the educational system, they are increasingly finding it difficult to attract the target clientele (the youth) to patronize their facilities. This is because most of the things the Authority wishes to have at its disposal can’t be seen and since most youth are into entertainment and wants to move with the times, they will always want to entertain themselves in every environment they find themselves through the use of the internet.
“Chronic under-funding is also a big problem that the GLA has faced over the years”, underscores the Regional Librarian. Allocation of funds to the GLA is so scanty that not much can be done by way of new infrastructure as well as maintenance and repairs of existing structures and equipment. It is a common sight to see some of these libraries stocked with dusty old books. The cost of purchasing Encyclopedia, Dictionaries and General Books alone can exhaust the allocated funds. Yet we forget as a nation, that whatever we read or knowledge we seek through books are things we can find in our public libraries for a pittance.
A visit to some of the libraries reveals a sorry state, as most of the buildings are crying for either total refurbishment or painting.
The Authority also loses staff because of poor remuneration and general poor conditions of services. With this problem; most people find it unattractive to work under such frustrating conditions. This has led to a persistent shortage of qualified staff. It is surprising to find people still working for the GLA, thankfully, their sweat and sacrifice is paying off as they have been migrated unto the Single Spine Salary Structure this year (2011).
With the advent of information and communication technology (ICT), The GLA, however, needs to be innovative in solving the looming problems that confront the organization. The Authority needs to create a data base of all books published in Ghana online. A well documented online data base of books published in Ghana and an efficient link to where it can be found provides an authoritative gateway to the GLA and as well serves to advertise the nation’s cultural heritage through its authors.
A social media system should be developed whereby a pool of African academics will be harnessed for the advantage of the Ghanaian youth to communicate with. The system should be developed in such a way that those who will have access to the system will have to pay a token fee to enable them enjoy the system.
We as a nation also need to address the perennial problem of our oral tradition. Our public libraries should not only serve the intellectuals or those in schools. The chunk of our citizenry is those who cannot read and write. All must therefore go to the aid of the GLA to resolve the problem, by commissioning social anthropologist and researchers to chronicle most of these for posterity.
Public libraries should be user friendly to this category of people. Documentaries depicting our cultural heritage, history and folklore should also be documented on CD’s. Weather information for farmers, fishermen and hunters should be packaged for them to access. I doubt whether our diplomatic missions even have libraries. We cannot go on as a nation relegating our libraries to the background .They are essential tools for our quest for socio- economic development.
It is also expected that budgetary allocation to the Authority will be increased to meet their basic needs. Lets us hope that with the oil find, some money from the proceeds will be used in developing our public libraries into efficient vibrant institutions that will provide the informational needs of all sectors of our emerging economy. Any money spent on developing the human resource base of this country will not be an investment in vain.
(The writer is a National Service Person working with the Information Services Department)