Empowering Library Users through the Five Laws of Library Science.

Author:Opara, Umunna Nnaemeka


Can we imagine the world without libraries? Could the world have attained its present level of development without library and information services? We may still ponder: can the world attain greater heights in all developmental indices without library and information services support? To show how the library has played a key role in societal progress, let us go back to history. The world without libraries actually existed. It was in the pre-literate era when writing had not been invented. During this time, knowledge was private. Knowledge only existed in the mind of the possessor and therefore not available to anyone else except there was the need for the individual possessor to share it with someone he desired. Communication was oral and therefore there was no public knowledge in the sense of having a recorded corpus of knowledge which could be accessed by anyone who desired to. A society without libraries is one where private knowledge is predominant; where knowledge is not widely shared, and where human progress is sluggish because new knowledge is seldomly created. This is typical of the pre-literate society and the ancient times.

Once man's accumulated thoughts and experiences increased beyond the capacity of his memory to retain, he started feeling the need for a permanent means of preserving them. This was later achieved through the invention of writing. Thus, the greatest breakthrough in the development of human civilization was the invention of writing as a means of communication, because, according to Musingafi and Chiwanza (2012), writing facilitated the capturing of knowledge and other forms of human narratives and business transactions. Over time, there grew accumulated records of human experience and this created the need for a means of preserving them. Thus the library originated as a result of the need to preserve the accumulated records of human thoughts and experiences. The early libraries were more of storehouses and books and records were meant to be preserved. These libraries were merely proto-libraries, largely of archival nature, established for and by the elite to serve religious, business, administrative or legal needs (Aguolu, 1989). Though the role of the early libraries was essentially preservatory, they were used by a few for research and study. The unwritten law seemed to have been 'books are for preservation'. It is doubtful if the originators of the library as a preservatory facility for records and documents ever imagined that what they created would metamorphosed into a facilitator of human civilization.

The libraries of Ashurbanipal of Ninevah in ancient Mesopotamia, the Alexandria library by the Ptolemies, the Pergamum library by Attalus I and Eumenes II in Asia Minor, the Monastic libraries, etc. were great testimonies of the importance the elites of the time attached to the library. Though these libraries were not open to the wider society, they nevertheless played a pivotal role in the socio-economic, political and cultural development of the times.

According to Aguolu (1939), the idea of a library benefiting the masses was largely a 19th century development in the United States of America when there was a great upsurge of interest in self-education and of the desire in universal public education. In the same vein, Sayers (1957) noted that the democratic library tradition we currently enjoy had arisen in America and England only in the latter part of the 19th Century. However, the turning point in the development of libraries must be credited to the invention of printing from movable type in Germany by Johann Gutenberg in 1456, This development gave rise to multiple copies of titles and was a great boost to .libraries. It banished manual production of books, and according to Eisenstein (1979), the shift from copyist's desk to printer's workshop revolutionized all forms of learning. In the fifty years between 1450 and 1500, eight million books were printed--more than all the scribes in Europe had produced in the previous thousand or so years. In the words of the Encyclopedia Americana, "the invention of printing from movable type is the greatest single event in the history of the book". Speaking in the same vein, Francis Bacon stated that the invention of printing from movable type is one of the three inventions that have changed "the appearance and state of the world." Indeed, no invention has hard such a cataclysmic effect on society except the computer and its associated technologies. It is in acknowledgement of this that Aguolu opined that the invention of printing quickened the development of libraries of all types as it led to a wide diffusion of knowledge and of books and .journals. It promoted a taste for library culture, increased literacy, opened wide doors of learning, broke the monopoly of the rich and intellectual.

The library, irrespective of its time, and type, is not only concerned about the present, but also about the past and the future. The present, because it acquires materials to meet the present needs of its clients; the past because some materials that are acquired are of historical significance and can influence the present; and the future because the past and the present can be used to shape the future. Through its systematic collection, the library tells us where we are coming from, where we are and where we should be. It thus enables us to understand and appreciate our past and present and empowers us to plan for the future.

Libraries have been an instrument of socio-economic, cultural and political change. The library is a foyer of living ideas that permeates and animates all aspects of national life (Ikoku, 1971). According to Aguolu (1989), the library is a place where the dead may be said to be alive, that is, a place where the ideas, knowledge and experiences of great men and women, fully documented and preserved, continue to move the world although these people may be no more. In other worlds, it is a place where the knowledge seeker communes with authors--both living and dead. The library as a portent instrument of social change can be seen in communist Russia. It was said that Russia was economically rated very low in 1917 and that 70% of her citizens were non-literate. But all that changed through the instrumentality of libraries championed by Lenin and his librarian wife, Krupskaya. Together, they had admonished their country men and women thus: "We are sure that neither a single teacher nor a single school will enlighten you as much as your local library. And the most important thing, dear comrade, is that books will help you abolish the most baneful inequality, the inequality of intellect (as cited by Chandler, 1972). Power comes from the intellect and library resources nourish the intellect.

Education empowers citizens with the tools and resources to reduce inequalities of all types. No educational system can be considered adequate without an effective and efficient library and information services. Libraries are not adjunct but central to education. It is in recognition of the key role of the library at all levels of education that the National Policy on Education (2006 as amended) and the various laws establishing all tertiary institutions of learning in Nigeria provide for libraries as integral parts of these institutions. In this vein, libraries drive development. This is why in the developed, and serious developing...

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