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Background & History

History and Development of National Library of Nigeria

The history and development of the National Library of Nigeria (NLN) cannot be complete without a peep into the roles played by certain individuals and organizations, which culminated in the eventual creation of the organization. The first formal mention of a national library in Nigeria was made in 1944 in a letter dated July 3, 1948 and written by the Chairman of the Standing Committee on the Provision of Libraries to the Chief Secretary to the Government. The Committee advised the Government to establish a National Central Library in which   copies of all books   and papers   published   in Nigeria would be   deposited.   It  would  also be  a  copyright   library  which  would  stock  the  works  of  reference,  which  are  required  by serious  students  but  not  in  sufficient  demand  to  warrant their  being  placed  in  regional  or  local  libraries. It would   serve  as a  repository  and  distributing  centre  for  microfilms  of  rare  or  out-of-print books in overseas libraries (White, 1964).

This idea, was strongly recommended by the UNESCO International Seminar on Public Libraries in Africa held at Ibadan, Nigeria, from 27 July to 21 August 1953. The purpose of the seminar was to study the principal public library problems in Africa and to draft proposals for the development of public library services, particularly in connexion with mass education. As one of the results of the UNESCO Seminar, the West African Library Association (WALA) was formed, with John Harris, the Librarian of University College, Ibadan, as President, and representatives from Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and Liberia constituted the Executive Committee.

The 1953 UNESCO Seminar on the Development of Public Libraries in Africa, held at Ibadan, not only encouraged Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe to press for a national library for Nigeria, but also helped to crystallize the national library concept on Africa. Before the seminar was held in Nigeria, the Nigerian Council of Ministers — Nigeria’s first representative government — had rejected the national library concept, contending that all library matters should be relegated to the regional governments, and to local and private organisations. The Council was unable to see that while the regional governments would cater for the public libraries, it was the responsibility of the central government to establish a national library for the country.

On the attainment on Nigerian independence in 1960, the perception of the national library by the Council of Ministers, which had rejected it in 1952 had taken a nationalist turn. The Council, along with the Nigeria Branch of the West African Library Association, established in 1954, quickly accepted the Rogers Report, recommending the establishment of a national library. He  was  asked,  among  other  things,  to "consider   the  problem   of  a  National  Library   for  Nigeria".  His  positive recommendation  for  the  establishment  of  this  institution  met  with the usual fate  imposed  by limited  finances  in  the  face  of  several  priorities.  Thus, when Dr. Carl  White arrived  in  1962  as the  first  Library  Adviser,  he  met  a  situation  where  the  idea  of  the  National  Library  was  passed  over  as  a  luxury. However, national pride and Dr White’s “May Report” led to the Bill (Nigeria, 1964) which established the National Library in September 1964.

At the request of the Nigerian government, the Ford Foundation sent Professor Carl White, former Dean of the School of Library Science, Columbia University, to serve as Library Advisor to the Nigerian government on setting up the National Library of Nigeria. On his arrival in Nigeria in March 1962, Dr. White was shocked to learn that there was no budgetary provision for the newly proposed library in the first post–independence National Development Plan, 1962–1968.

The immediate personal intervention of the Governor–General, Dr. Azikiwe, and the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar, saved the day. They asked Professor White to prepare a special report on his financial needs and on the objectives, scope, and structure of the library. His report, known as the “May 1962 Report,” was accepted by the government without delay. By the end of 1962, work on the National Library had begun in Lagos, with three American librarians and Professor White as the Federal Government’s Library Adviser. The National Library Act, drafted by the Adviser, was enacted in 1964, which set the library on a legal footing, and on 6 November 1964 the National Library was opened to the public.

It is intriguing to know that the National Library, whose movement dates back from the 1940s, could only be established four years after Nigerian independence, when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had enough political clout as the Governor–General to win the support of the Prime Minister of Nigeria, who was the executive head of the government. At every turn of events in the Library’s evolution, as the political influence of Dr. Azikiwe grew, the impact of his support on establishing the Library was discernable. An astute, enigmatic politician, he saw the National Library as an evergreen tree of knowledge which could, in such a complex, pluralistic society as Nigeria, contribute to building a richer and better social order, thus serving as a principal instrument in weaving the tapestry of the country’s multi–ethnic and cultural pluralism.



A Model of the Permanent Headquarters Building
It is also interesting that in 1950, there emerged the first qualified Nigerian librarian, Mr. K.C. Okorie who joined others in the call for the establishment of a National Library of Nigeria. Thus, at the instance of the Nigeria Division of West African Library Association (WALA), which later became the Nigerian Library Association in 1962, the then Federal Minister of Information.  Chief T.O.S. Benson set up a Library Advisory Committee. This Committee had the assignment of working out plans for library services in the country and to persuade the Government to set up a national library.  Determined to ensure the realization of a dream for National Library of Nigeria, seven Nigerians were selected for training in the field of librarianship at the British Council Library, No 227, Herbert Macaulay Street, Yaba, Lagos to commence training in Dec. 1960.  They were: M.A. Wali, L.O. Gwam, N.O. Ogbeide, O. Okereke, A. Achi, Y. Adedigba; and J. A. Dosunmu.  Whilst the seven (7) Nigerians were undergoing training, which was to take 3-5 years for successful completion, the Federal Government scouted around for a sponsor of the National Library of Nigeria during the gestation period and succeeded in convincing the Ford Foundation of the United States of American to play that role.  The Ford Foundation agreed not only to finance but also to carry out feasibility study and producing a report for that purpose.  This task was driven by Dr. Frank B Rogers, the then Director of the National Library of Medicine in U.S.A., Washington D.C. in 1961. The survey report recommended a national library for Nigeria thus, backing up the recommendation of the Advisory Committee.

Dr. Rogers report was fully accepted by the Federal Government and swift moves were made for implementation.  So in 1962, while many of the students mentioned above were in the United Kingdom, Dr. Van Jackson arrived in Nigeria to begin the planning and execution of the project - the National Library of Nigeria.  He was soon replaced by Dr. Carl White, Dean of Library Studies, Colombia University, New York whose role was to marshal into a document all the elements of a blue print for founding the National Library of Nigeria which later manifested in the following sections: (i) enabling legislation; (ii) developing the collection for the Library and (iii) developing the personnel.

To support Dr. Carl White in the task of building a National Library of Nigeria, the Ford Foundation recruited a team of experts from America – Mrs. Dorothy Porter took charge of collection development; Miss Geraldine Amos was in charge of Reference and Readers Services while Mr. Michael Briggs took charge of Serials publications and official documents.  The Federal Government on its own part recruited qualified Nigerians and attached them to the experts to understudy them prior to the opening of the Library facilities in November. 1964.  They were: Evelyn Okeke, J. A. Dosunmu, A. E. Anyabo, A. E. Iwuchukwu, I. O. Soyanwo, J. O. Odumosu and N.O. Oderinde. Others were recruited after the opening ceremony.  These professional librarians were in turn supported by a team of the Administrative and Accounting Staff posted from the Federal Ministry of Information to put the library on a sound footing.

Dr. C.M. White had set up a basic collection for a growing library, laid down the schedule of duties for the foundation staff and succeeded, among other things, in getting the Government to pass the first legislation which was enacted in September, 1964 and cited as the National Library Act. 1964.

Indeed the Ford Foundation has had very great influence in the creation and establishment of the National Library of Nigeria.  This partnership between the Federal Government and the Ford Foundation spanned over a period of nine years from 1962 – 1971.  During this period, three advisers were sent by the Ford Foundation to Nigeria – Dr Carl White 1962 – 1964; Miss Priscilla Taylor (later Mrs. Harris), 1964 – 1966; and Mr. Philip Rappaport 1966 – 1971.

Following the departure of the last Ford Foundation specialist and adviser, Philip Rappaport, the first indigenous Chief Executive Officer of the organization, the  late Prince (Dr) Simeon Babasanya Aje, was appointed in 1971 and on his retirement in 1986 Alhaji Mu’azu H. Wali, the second Chief Executive of the establishment assumed office from 1986 – 1999.  Mrs. O. O. Omolayole became the 3rd Chief Executive Officer from 2000 – 2004 while Dr. L. N. Ikpaahindi assumed the leadership of the organization in acting capacity in 2004 and was subsequently confirmed the 4th Chief Executive Officer from 2006 – 2010, Mallam H.A. Jato was appointed on 14th February, 2011, Professor L. O. Aina became the 5th Chief Executive Officer from August, 2016 to 2021, on exit of Prof. Aina, Dr. Mrs. Kalu was appointed as Acting National Librarian from August 1, 2021 to September 1, 2021, while the current National Librarian/Chief Executive Officer, Professor Chinwe Anunobi was appointed on September 2, 2021.

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