Reading Time: 10 minutes

Mahua gives an overview of the libraries and the library system of Ghana.  This is in no way an exhaustive study of libraries in Ghana. Libraries across the world are facing challenges and the activities of the public libraries haven’t been remarkable. This is evident by a survey, which shows fall in a budget for almost all parts of the world. According to the report in less developed markets, signs pointed at higher expectations for library growth. In the Middle East and Africa, senior librarians were anticipating growth of up to 4.2%. A Different Truths exclusive for the Special Issue on Africa.

About eight years back, I worked as an online UNV for an organisation called PAJAAF.  Their work was based out of Ghana and I had to do online research and write one report or essay a month on various topics given by the coordinator, a lovely lady called Anabella.  I was not much exposed to Ghana before this. But now, I seriously started taking a vigorous interest in the country and it continues.

I volunteer in a great library in Bhubaneswar and am actively involved in the library movement here. So libraries are of special interest to me.

That the libraries are of immense importance to any kind of educational system is beyond doubt. Even today, with the aggressive inroads of the digital media, the library remains extremely relevant. The tactile appeal of a book plays a very important part in a child’s development. The curiosity, the imagination and the freedom that a child experiences in a library goes much beyond the space called the library.  And especially, if the library is used as a welcoming, safe and fun space for children, their joy and enthusiasm know no bound. I cannot stop myself from sharing one of my experiences in the library where I volunteer.  Ours is an open-access library and is very user-friendly where we have our own system of arranging books.  Once a week, children from a school for the deaf and the mute come to the library and spend some time.  Invariably, one of them will discover, bring out an illustrated book on a human body and open the chapter on the auditory system.  Slowly, all will gather around her/him and they all will come and have a detailed and meaningful discussion on it.

Bakul Library, Bhubaneswar. If the library space can be made welcoming, safe and user-friendly reading habits will automatically grow among children and adults. 

The Republic of Ghana or Ghana is located along Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean in the sub-region of West Africa. It became independent from the British rule, in March 1957.  Ghana’s population is approximately 29 million and contains a variety of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. Ghana is a democratic country ruled by a president. Its growing economic prosperity and democratic political system have made it an important power in the region.

Ghana has one of the highest school enrollment rates in West Africa.  Nonetheless, about half a million children do not go to school because of lack of resources and other reasons.  All classes are taught in English. Ghanaian students have more educational opportunities than many of its neighbouring countries.  A new Education Plan with the aim of providing universal free primary education, by 2015, in line with the Millennium Development Goals was finalised in 2007.  There are present, 18,530 primary schools, 8,850 junior secondary schools, 900 senior secondary schools, 28 training colleges, 20 technical institutions, four diploma-awarding institutions, six public universities and over 15 private universities in addition to 12 polytechnics.

Ghana has also done quite well in having a good network of libraries in the country and her vision and goal is to ‘establish, equip, manage and maintain public libraries in the country’.

By 1928 there had begun what came to be known at the time as the public library movement in Ghana. The Anglican Lord Bishop of Accra Right Reverend John Aglionby opened his own library of some 6,000 volumes at the Bishop’s House in Accra for members of the Parish.

In 1946, the public library service began in Accra under the name of Aglionby Library in honour of the Bishop for his revolutionary efforts. Subsequent upon that ground-breaking effort the Gold Coast Library Ordinance 1949 was re-enacted in 1970 under the title Ghana Library Board Act (No. 327, 1970).  Following a series of bills initiated by GLA, an Act was passed in 2008 by the Parliament of Ghana to establish the Ghana National Library Service. It superseded the Ghana Library Board Act of 1970. This new Act empowered metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies to establish their own libraries. It was expected that the Act would create an environment for the improved operation of the then Board, and accelerate the development of libraries in Ghana.

However, very little effort is taken to maintain the already established libraries.  Moreover, these suffer from persistent problems like inadequate provision of resources such as finance, manpower and library materials. In view of the poor funding, very little has been coming in the form of new books. In addition to that, low salaries have also affected the recruitment of new staff and the retention of older ones.  Therefore, the libraries are not in very good condition.

Ghana doesn’t have a National Library. Though many Ghanaians think the Ghana Library Board (GLB) building is a National Library, it doesn’t meet or qualify such status. That library is called the Accra Central Library. It was established in 1956.

In 2003, then NPP government planned to build a national library in Accra to accommodate what it called ‘rare literary and cultural materials’. The said library was supposed to be directly under the Presidency. Then Education Minister, Prof Ameyaw Akumfi tasked GLB to work out the modalities for the implementation of the project. And in collaboration with the Carnegie Institute of the United States of America, the two carried out the project and gave Padmore Library a face-lift. So in many respects, the George Padmore Library, which is under the GLA performs some of the functions of a National library.

There have since been attempts to get that plan actualised but to no avail. The Ghana Library Association (GLA) at its 50th-anniversary celebrations in 2012 highlighted some key topics such as Libraries as key to national development, libraries as access to knowledge and of course the illusive national library the case of Ghana building a strong library association.

One of the oldest libraries in Ghana is the Achimota School Library established in 1927.  Though this is not a public library it has a unique position.

The Balme Library was established in 1948 in the University of Ghana is regarded as the best library in West Africa. The library was named after David Mowbray Baslme, the first Principal of the University of Ghana. There are six departments and one special library for the visually impaired.

Ghana has opened public libraries in all of the nation’s regional capitals. There are more than 62 public libraries currently dotted around the West-African nation.

The George Padmore Research Library was set up in June 1961 by Dr Kwame Nkrumah in memory of Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse, who changed his name to George Padmore when he became a champion of Pan Africanism.

However, this library has seen many ups and downs and quite often is seen to appeal for support.

The library also faces many problems, which need money.  The storage facilities are not enough, the entire digital system needs revamping and most importantly special lighting arrangements and air conditioning systems are needed (which obviously are very expensive) to prevent the hard copies from decaying.  The library has been described as a “last-stop” research library, saying it was being patronised by students from various universities, professionals, including politicians and lawyers, and researchers across the world.  The library houses vital information on African Literature, History, Languages and Philosophy, among other subjects.  The Library operates under the Ghana Library Authority.

Some librarians point out that Ghana could have done better by maintaining the libraries already open and not by just establishing more. A former Education Minister under Kufour administration Ameyaw-Akumf made the following remark: “Libraries in the country had completely been run down through years of neglect. A society without a library where tourists can easily have access to information on its history and culture is a society which is not ready to inform others of its heritage.”

Apart from the well established organised libraries, there are many library networks which are funded by various ‘funds’. Prominent among them are the ALP or the African Library Project, OSU Children’s Library Fund, SLG, etc.

The mission of the African Library Project is to change lives book by book by starting libraries in rural Africa.  They mobilize U.S. volunteers, young and old, to organize book drives and ship books to start or improve a library in Africa.  They believe that by doing this they can create a ‘concrete and personal difference’ for children and communities on both continents.  In Africa, their partners range from Peace Corps volunteers to school administrators. They receive the books and organize them into libraries to serve local African communities. Along the way, the U.S. donors learn about Africa and develop closer connections to the people in the recipient communities.

The ALP saw its light when a tourist named Chris Bradshaw during a family vacation was moved by the poverty of the local people and decided to work towards ‘ending the cycle of poverty and illiteracy’.  They worked closely with the community leaders and local teachers towards building up the libraries.  In 2011, the ALP developed a partnership with the Michael Lapsley Foundation in an effort to found libraries in rural Ghana.  Each community provides the space, furniture and staffing for a library while ALP provides the books and coordinates book distribution.  The Ghanaian Members of Parliament and other Government officials sponsor the libraries in their district.  Together ALP and the Lapsley Foundation evaluate and monitor the libraries.  By this time they have established nearly 200 libraries in Ghana.

A Library movement can start from anywhere.  You just need a few books and a little bit of passion to spread the joy of reading and presto a library is there.  The first Osu Children’s Library was founded in 1990 under a tree in Accra, Ghana’s capital. Canadian Kathy Knowles was posted to Ghana with her husband, John, who worked as an accountant for Sikaman, a gold mining company. She enjoyed reading to her four children but noticed that Ghanaians did not have the same opportunities. So each Thursday afternoon, she carried a basket of books into their garden and offered story times to six neighbourhood children. Word spread and more and more children came to the Knowles’ garden. To accommodate the increased numbers, Kathy transformed their garage into a library, filled it with shelves and small stools, and looked for more books.

The library grew organically and soon she hired a University of Ghana student, to read to the children and trained her housekeeper, Joanna Felih, to be the first librarian. She called her refitted garage the Osu Library after the street where they lived. Before long, 150 children were lining up each week to explore the magical world of books.

Kathy wanted to create a more permanent structure before she left Ghana. She tackled the problem creatively by buying a 40-foot shipping container for US$1,200, moved it to a donated patch of land and converted it into a library. Then she decorated it by colourful wall hangings inside and planted flowering shrubs outside. On November 13, 1992, the first permanent Osu Library opened. Its volunteer board of directors has since renamed it the Kathy Knowles Community Library.

After returning to Canada, in 1993, Kathy continued her efforts.  Working with dedicated volunteers from their Winnipeg home and strong support from Ghana, OCLF has built seven additional libraries in Greater Accra. OCLF has also given assistance and training to 200 smaller libraries in Ghana and has supported projects in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, and the Philippines.

Spreading the joy of reading remains the cornerstone of all OCLF libraries although many quickly become centres for community development. Activities include free literacy classes, arts and crafts, cultural dancing and drumming, theatre, sports festivals, feeding programs for needy children and high school scholarships for deserving library members.

Libreria is Ghana’s first subscription model library dedicated to providing readers with high-quality African literature as well as contemporary international content. The founder, Sylvia Arthur, saw the need for a carefully curated fictional and non-fictional collection of African, African diaspora, travel writing, current affairs and children’s literature for interested Ghanaians.

Libreria also organises talks, games and performance sessions to engage book lovers from all parts of Accra. In addition to providing the latest and best books which readers identify with, Libreria looks to stimulate and maintain active reading for kids through several fundraising events.  According to them, they “want to give children in Ghana the opportunity to fall in love with reading by giving them access to contemporary, culturally-relevant books that entertain, enlighten and inspire through the Libreria Children’s Library, Accra’s only lending library. In addition to providing the latest and best books, we will also offer storytelling groups, book clubs and reading groups, one-to-one reading, workshops and classes to stimulate, cultivate and maintain literacy and active reading.”

Street Library Ghana (SLG) is a volunteer-driven, social enterprise based in Ghana, which aims at promoting better life opportunities for children and youth in vulnerable communities by addressing literacy and education issues.

SLG offers a cost-effective, less intimidating, and welcoming library concept in rural communities to reach vulnerable and underserved children to provide them with access to quality literature. Modes of operation are by mobile van, book kiosk, book chest for community and schools and digital access. The street library model also involves deployment of trained staff or local/international volunteers to actively engage children in activities such as mentorship and leadership training, reading and educational exercises.

Due to the community of people targeted by this program, a “street” library is considered to be the best approach. When set in a building, a library often seems intimidating for less educated people. A mobile library set outdoors, in a friendly and informal atmosphere, makes books more accessible and visible to the whole community and facilitates interpersonal exchanges and relationship building. This helps to swerve the barrier imposed by “genuine” libraries while keeping the same impact. The first permanent library kiosk was completed in 2013 in the community of Anoff-Damang, Eastern Region. The kiosk differs from a regular library building in that its purpose is to house the book collection and provide an inviting and accessible hub for library activities, with shaded seating placed around it. The architect-designed structure is to provide a permanent space for the community to conduct library activities on a daily basis, greatly enhancing local children’s access to reading material and learning opportunity.

In this short write-up, I have tried to give an overview of the libraries and the library system of Ghana.  This is in no way an exhaustive study of libraries in Ghana. Libraries across the world are facing challenges and the activities of the public libraries haven’t been remarkable. This is evident by a survey which shows fall in a budget for almost all parts of the world. According to the report in less developed markets, signs pointed at higher expectations for library growth. In the Middle East and Africa, senior librarians were anticipating growth of up to 4.2%. And in Asia experts predicted a 2.8% increase in budgets.

A few years back I was talking to a senior librarian from Canada, Shainoor, who was telling me that according to her the future of the libraries in the developed countries will depend on how well they can utilize the libraries as community spaces. Slowly this is becoming true for the entire world.

References and PC

  5. Wikipedia for various topics
©Mahua Maharana

 Photos sourced by the author

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