Education: a view from Ghana – Do libraries really play a role?

Virtually all my working life has been in libraries – or closely associated with them:  academic, special, public, cultural, and now academic – if you want to “typecast” them!  And all in West Africa – Nigeria, then Ghana.

I admit that I have not worked in school libraries, though quite a lot of the work I did while at the Ghana Library Board involved liaising with basic schools and key local players in the education sector, and this was during some of the worst economic times in Ghana’s history.  What was the impact of what my colleagues and I did?  To be frank, I don’t know.  We really didn’t measure what we did, except to record traditional library statistics of books borrowed, and membership.

Has the situation changed since I left?  I would hope so, but I frankly admit I don’t know.

It seems to me that “libraries” are considered a “good” thing here in Ghana, at least from the point of view of politicians and the media.  That is, of course, when they decide to think about them and/or talk about them – which is not very often, in my opinion.  Certainly it seems that the word “libraries” is coming up a bit more frequently in the state owned press – at least as far as my personal impression is concerned.  But has this translated into anything more than lip service?

The Ghana Library Board has been in existence for more than sixty years, and it is certainly the major set of libraries serving the needs of the general public in Ghana.  But how many people even know of its existence, let alone use it?  I suspect that the vast majority of users are either children in basic education, or older secondary level students studying during holidays or for remedial classes.  Of course I could be wrong.  So yes, it does support education at some stages at least for some people.

But are those who don’t patronize libraries any less educated?

As for the community libraries, I would imagine it depends on the outreach that is done by those who running these facilities, plus the commitment that the originators have to their continued usage.  With the exception of a few that I have heard of – the Kathy Knowles Libraries in Nima and elsewhere in Accra and Friends of African Village Libraries in the Upper East of Ghana come to mind.  In these libraries there are literacy classes, reading camps, drama and music groups, among a range of activities going on.  There are stories of success, but who has heard of them?

Does anyone shout:  “I owe part of my success at school/college/university due to my reading and using the library”?

These are all positive, are they not?  But again I ask myself, and others, what is the impact of all this activity?  And is it measured?  And who cares anyway?

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7 thoughts on “Education: a view from Ghana – Do libraries really play a role?

  1. We don’t measure because we don’t really value nor understand the role of libraries in education, in the arts, in entertainment etc. It’s a really sad situation.

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting. I do agree that there is a lot of PR to do in support of libraries, and in this environment it is pretty hard, with so many competing priorities.

  2. Great post, and I would echo Kinna’s response. Even here in North America libraries face funding cuts all the time because we don’t truly measure their value or worth and understand what they do and how they benefit. I think they are certainly valuable, but possibly only if marketed correctly so that people know about them!

    • I do appreciate your comments, and replied to Kinna, more or less in the same vein as I would to you. What is sad is seeing students – even good ones – who have never used libraries when they come to university, and at least where I work, it can be a bit of a shock.

  3. Regarding Community Libraries, I was impressed by the opening hours of the one at Tafo (supported by the Friends of Tafo http://www.friendsoftafo.org .) It- opened to provide space and books during after-school hours. I was not impressed by the ‘selection’ (!) of titles at Apirede Community Library – though it has pioneered internet links http://www.wirelessghana.com/node/3.
    The following comes from the Diary of my visit to Ghana in 2009, when I spent some time at one of the other libraries on the Akuapem Ridge:
    ‘A young woman was on duty in the Amanokrom Community Library when I dropped in, and was, I think, keeping it open during ‘Civil Service’ hours. The shelves were solid but insufficient, and many books were ‘stacked’ sideways because that ‘saved space’. Every book, every shelf was dusty. It appeared as if a substantial number of books had been shipped in from Ohio, from, for example, Cuyahoga Country Library, or from ‘Miss Mary Jo Maximovich of Akron’. Some came already classified with a colour code. (Yellow Readers, for example, were for Classes 5 and 6.) African authors were represented in the Children’s Section by a good number of Mactrack titles, including books by Barbara Kimenye and Lauretta Ngcobo. ‘896’ was the class number for ‘African Literature. That section included work by Lawrence van der Post and Isak Dinesan and there was a copy of African Game Trails by Theodore Roosevelt! However, my brief search did turn up Isidore Okpewho’s Tides among the Red Readers! And, to lift the mood, the library held some classics that every Ghanaian Library should have. These included Richard Wright’s Black Power (donated by ‘The African Studies Institute at Haverford’) and Africana edited by Appiah and Gates. In a corner lay the tangled remains of a dozen or so Apple PCs; monitors, key-boards, cables, dust. I was told they had ‘never worked’. The librarian said she attended annual training programmes with others working in community libraries. Nobody made use of the library while I was there.

    • Thanks once again for the comments and links, which I will follow-up on. I tried getting lists of community libraries from Books for Africa, or at least the ones they sent books to, but not much joy on that. The Ghana Library Board also doesn’t seem to have the information in a readily shareable format. Lots of questions too re who does the training for community libraries? and who funds them? or helps promote them to local communities.

  4. I remember visiting this community library close to the Osu Salem school. (Now the Noble House Chinese restaurants sits right by the former compound. The library isn’t there anymore. Sad. But I have fond memories of it. I think Kathy Knowels Library is also in osu, close to the parliament House and Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence

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