AINA SET TO MODERNISE NIGERIAN LIBRARIES, IMPROVE READING CULTURE
Prof. Lenrie Aina was elected the President of Nigerian Library Association (NLA). The current Dean of the Faculty of Library and Information Science, University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Kwara State is a Fellow of the association. In an interview with EMMANUEL AGOZINO, the first, after his election some months ago, he offers his views on revamping the nation’s library system and the reading culture. He also speaks on sundry issues, vital to the growth of reading culture among others. Excerpts.
Congratulations on your new election as President of the Nigerian Library Association (NLA). What will be your priority now that you have been elected?
Well, thank you. My first area of priority is to make all Nigerian librarians computer-literate. The reason is because we know that it is the ICT now that guides our profession. Because of that, I strongly believe that it is incumbent on all librarians to be computer literate. That will be my major priority. The reason is to ensure that we have librarians who can meet the challenges of modern information management.
As was evident in the build-up to your election, some stakeholders may not know you. Can you please give a brief biography of yourself?
Is it possible to tell an over 50 year-old person to give his biography?
Yes – to some extent.
Well if that is the case, my name is Lenrie Aina. I was born on December 28, 1950s in England. My early years were spent in England. But I later came back to Nigerian with my parents in 1955. I had my primary school in Ibadan and in Ikare in Ondo State. Then I went for my secondary school education in Ijebu Igbo. When I left the school, I worked briefly with Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER), Ibadan, between 1969 and 1970. Then later, I entered University of Lagos for a BSC degree in Chemistry and graduated in 1974. I did my National Youth Service in Abuja after which I went to University of Ibadan for post graduate Diploma in Librarianship which I did in 1976. And after that, I was employed as a librarian at the University of Ibadan that year. Two years after, I moved to the Department of Library, Archival and Information Studies as lecturer. Then in 1979, I returned to England for my Masters Degree, came back in 1980, to do my PhD in University of Ibadan, in 1986. By 1989, I moved out of the country to Botswana where I got a job at the University of Botswana as a senior lecturer. It was in that country that I became a professor after spending 18 years in 1998 and I relocated back to Nigeria in 2007. However, when I was in Botswana, I was an active member of the Nigerian Library Association. For instance, between 1981 and 1983, I was the Chairman, Oyo State Chapter and I have been participating and kept my membership in its activities. Eventually when I now came back in 2007, I was still very active. So that was how when the election was coming up in 2009, some members of the association came to me and encouraged me to run. I contested the election in 2009 but because of one thing or the other, the election could not hold. It was postponed to 2010. So, eventually when I contested the election again, I won. Since then we have been trying to see what we can do to reposition the entire system. Librarianship is a very important profession and that is why we want to make sure that Nigerian librarians are also well positioned to meet the challenges of modern era.
So, was it your background that spurred you to veer away from chemistry to librarianship or what actually inspired you?Thank you. Remember that I mentioned that I worked with Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research in Ibadan before going into the library field. And when I was there I was able to have access to all newspapers published in Nigeria. So that made me to be information conscious at that early stage of my life. That time we used to attend quiz competition programs. And any time I was in the program, I always won. It was so much so that I started sensing that there must be something on information in my life. Again if you ask me, I will tell you that I knew I was going to end up a librarian because of the way I was very close to information. So it was these that actually inspired me when I got to University of Ibadan after my first degree to study librarianship.
Considering the library as a veritable source of information and advancement of knowledge, can you compare librarianship today with what it was at that time you ventured into the field?
The truth is that what we have today is far different from what we had during my school days.The profession has changed completely. I remember when I was going into librarianship, one of my friends was asking why should you, after a BSC in Chemistry, end up arranging books in the shelf. But when I got into the profession I knew that there is much more to what he was thinking. However, the beauty of librarianship is that you have access to information from all over the world. Once you want any thing, you know where to search for the information. For other profession, it is not like that. Even now with the advent of ICT, Internet and other forms of information technology, it has even made it easier. So as a librarian, one can always answer any question because he knows the sources to search. That is why I said that my priority will be for all librarians to be computer-literate.
Many would easily blame corruption in government and leaders for the spate of the bane of development in the land, does that affect the Libraries too?
They are right. I have traveled far and wide. I have been to more than 40 countries of the world. The problem of Nigerian is corruption there is no doubt about that. It pains me that when one says that he is a Nigerian outside this country, the way people look at him is always negative. That is what corruption has done for Nigeria’s image. But I always tell my colleagues outside this country that if you want the best people in Africa, they will find them in Nigeria. However, I think information has a role to play in correcting that negative perception. That is why many of us in this profession are in support of the Freedom of Information Bill. Because one of the things it will do will be to reduce corruption.
Now, almost everybody say the general reading culture in Nigeria is low. Some say it is because of the economic situation which makes many unable to afford books, others refer to piracy which makes many publishers record losses and scare them away from publishing enough materials. What is your response?
Well, I won’t say that it is because of the economic condition that the reading culture is low. I think there are other contending factors. For instance, when I was growing up I remember that in our neighborhood those of us who had television sets were very few. So there was nothing competing with us. But today, a lot of things compete with people. Students don’t even have time to read their books because of many things. So what we should do is to encourage students to balance up. In many homes today, parents take their television sets outside the room because they don’t want their children to be watching movies. So I don’t think it is because of the economic condition. Rather, I think it is because of other competing factors. And I think we should let the young ones know that reading is the best thing that can happen to anybody. They should aspire to have access to information through books and through other things.
As President of NLA, how do you want to project the body to greater height during your tenure?
Thank you very much. The first thing that I did when I was campaigning was that I told my members that I want to make them better librarians. So I am more interested in how I can fulfill that promise by making them have all kinds of skills. As you know, there are many library skills now and many other opportunities. So I want to be sure that many of us have the skills that is needed to perform as a librarian. And, more importantly, I want Nigerian librarians to be proud of their profession because it is a noble profession. As you know, this is one of the professions that are marketable anywhere in the world. So I will ensure that we keep pace with the latest developments in other parts of the world. I also want to organise a series of capacity-building trainings – workshops that are aimed at developing librarians. Then, we have a journal that has not been doing very well. What I will do is to see how it can be properly revitalised so that it can become one of the instruments of dissemination of information to those in the profession and to others.
What has been your challenge as the President of NLA so far?
Well, the greatest challenge is that Nigeria is a very big country and librarians are scattered all over the country. When I was campaigning for the NLA Presidency, I went to all the states of the federation. Now that I have been elected the President, many of the state branches would invite me for one thing or the other. So, one of my greatest challenges is that I am invited to many places all over the country at the same time and I always try to honour these invitations. In the last two weeks for instance, I have been to Lagos state, Ondo and some other places and I am planning to go to Delta state. Although I am happy about it, and I pray that God will continue to give me the wisdom and power to serve the body effectively because that was what I promised them during my period of campaigning.
Lets go back a bit, how was the universities and reading culture in your time?It was fantastic my brother. It was the best part of my life. I was at the University of Lagos from 1970 to 1974. And in the whole university we were less than 3000 students. At least if I don’t know somebody by name I knew him by face. We know almost every body and we were taken care of very well, especially those of us who did science. There is nobody in my class who didn’t have one scholarship or the other. Everybody has a form of assistance. I used West German scholarship when I was at the UNILAG. Talk of food, we ate good food. Things were just beautiful and we had good teachers who were very dedicated unlike now that many of our lectures are not dedicated. You could see it in them that they wanted any student to make it. And that is what has really made us what we are today.
What will you like to live as legacy?
Well, in any situation you find yourself especially in your profession you should ensure that people can say this is what this man did when he was there. One thing that I have always loved to do is to mentor the younger ones. And I keep on doing that. I have many types of friends all over the country. Because I try to mentor and I believe in team work. Again I am always happy when people are successful; it gives me joy to see people who are doing well in their profession. So, all my life I want to make sure that I help other people to achieve their aspiration. I want to be remembered for that.
What is your philosophy at work?
I take life very easy because I strongly believe that wherever one finds himself, it is God that made it possible. And I can tell you that I am very humble person although it is not good for one to blow his trumpet. I am not arrogant. I treat everybody equally because I take every human being as having something to contribute to society. I don’t look down on anybody. If you are a messenger or a cleaner, I believe that there is something that you can offer. God has given me the talents to get the best out of people. There is no person that was created that does not have something to offer. So what I do is to see how I can help people to make the talents come to pass. That is my work philosophy.