Reading and libraries in Ghana

Thanks to two colleagues for posting subjects very dear to my heart:

  • Kinnareads on The reader in Ghana – which talks about the lack of reading, except for school and academic related purposes
  • Multilogue: mind and matter on Community power – which talks about the libraries that the author has used here in Ghana, very personal and emotional, but important nonetheless

I can only say thanks to both authors for expressing these sentiments which do need to be talked about.

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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?

“Libraries with a kick” exhibition launched at Goethe Institut in Accra

At the beginning of 2010 the Goethe Institut launched its “Libraries with a kick” poster competition – all in an effort to promote the use of libraries and reading, but tied in with the expected  interest in the World Cup in South Africa.

Over a 1000 entries were received from all over Africa, and finally the exhibition came to Accra, where it opened at the Goethe Institut in Accra on 8 July.

Although the event started about an hour late, it was pretty short – with some good music from a local band, Big Shot.  There were a couple of speeches, introduction of the three Ghanaian winners – all male interestingly – formal opening by the Vice-President of the Ghana Library Association, Albert Fynn, and a praise poem.  All then looked at the winning posters, and formed the usual neat line for the ever popular “item 13” – refreshments!

The posters range from fairly sophisticated images to what almost look children’s drawings, but in a way that is part of their charm.

Do take a look at the online exhibition which is via the Goethe Institut link above.