Managing disasters in university libraries in South East Nigeria: preventive, technological and coping measures.

Author:Ugwuanyi, Richard N.C.


The dramatic increase and the unprecedented damages caused by disasters in recent past have become a cause for national and international concern. Over the past decade, the number of natural and human induced disasters have relentlessly risen and had considerably inflicted unquantifiable strife and injury on their impeccable victims. The unpredictability of their occurrences, how they occur and which one occurs, first has been a great concern to individuals and organizations world wide. Disasters are situations whereby environmental phenomena or armed conflicts produce stress, personal injury, physical damages or economic disruption of great magnitude. They are regarded as an overwhelming ecological disruption, occurring usually on a large scale.

The sporadic hits of disasters in different segments of the society have not exempted libraries, especially academic libraries where a great amount of national wealth is stocked. In a world of copious digital technologies, university libraries have enough shares of disasters. University library disaster has to do with any event that directly or indirectly affects the smooth administration of a university library by disrupting its normal services to its users. It is an unexpected event which puts library resources or collections at risk. According to Alegbeleye (1993), disaster occurs in a library when any event causes a sudden removal of records and documents from accessibility and use. He further argues that libraries are very prone to disasters. Man-made disasters include armed conflicts, wars, terrorism and fire while natural disasters encompass floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes.

University libraries have remained the incontrovertible seats of wisdom, and the basis for cultural continuity and knowledge dissemination. The endemic damages by disasters in libraries, whenever any of them strikes, leave the affected library in a deplorable condition. No matter how the threats appear, or how they influence university libraries, the ability to safeguard and preserve their collections should be uppermost in their policies. The key to achieving this goal lies in preservation management that enables long-term planning and reasonable decision making.

Disaster management encompasses all management issues necessary to deal with incidents that threaten library buildings, collections, services and human lives. Since university libraries of today are technology-driven, many nascent disasters are evolving. For instance, changes in energy systems and lack of electricity supply endanger traditional library materials, just as digital materials are useless without energy supply. No university library is immune to these disasters; depicting that any of them could befall any university library any moment since it is totally inescapable without appropriate control measures.

It is stating the obvious that university libraries in Nigeria are poorly funded. These libraries depend solely on government grants for their survival and development. In the face of poor funding and uneven development of university libraries across the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, disasters both natural and man-made appear to be another major threat to the existence of these libraries. In almost all the university libraries in South-East Nigeria, there have been reported cases of mutilated and stolen books by delinquent users and also cases of volumes of books damaged by rainfall. It becomes imperative from the foregoing that a study on disaster management be carried out with a view to identifying the preventive, technological and coping measures that are in place for disaster mitigation in university libraries in South-East Nigeria.

Objectives of the Study

The specific objectives of this paper are to:

  1. Ascertain the types of disasters that occur in university libraries in South East Nigeria

  2. Examine the extent to which preventive measures for disasters have been in university libraries.

  3. Determine the extent to which technological measures for managing disasters have been applied in university libraries in South East Nigeria.

  4. Identify the coping measures for disaster mitigation in University libraries.

Literature Review

An Overview of library disasters

Libraries like any other organization are most likely to experience disaster which are likely to result in their loss of expensive, precious or even elusive materials. International Council on Archives (ICA, 1997) classified disasters into natural and man-made. Natural disasters are those caused by natural phenomena such as earthquakes, hurricane, cyclone typhoon, volcanic eruption and drought while man-made include, water leakages, fire (including arson), explosion and impact, terrorist action, war and armed conflict. Some of the water related disasters include: flood, resulting from heavy rain or high tide caused by hurricanes, typhoons or overflowing rivers due to heavy rain or internal sources. The external sources include storms that could cause a linkage of water from the building or localized external flooding that seeps into the building. The internal sources include accidental discharge from internal plumbing such as the internal sprinklers, burst water pipes and overflowing sinks. For instance, Bolger (2003) reported that in 2000, the Central Library, Forth-worth, Texas was struck by a powerful tornado, causing over N1.6 million worth damage to the library. "The library's 50,000 volumes and archival materials sustained water damage and there was another problem of cleaning up the shattered glasses, resulting in non-resumption of normal library services until three weeks later. According to Adedibu et al (2009), rain storms destroyed many books in the library of the Forest Research Institute of Nigeria, Ibadan in 1988.

Fire disasters appear to be the most common disaster in libraries especially accidental fires due to electrical faults, cigarettes, carelessness by either library staff or library users. Some cases of fire disasters in libraries include, fire outbreak at the Department of Theatre Arts of the University of Ibadan, South West Nigeria, and its library in 1995; the 1990 fire incidence which engulfed the Alafin Oyo palace library (Nigeria) (Ajala and Adekanye, 2007). Also, Jimoh (2004) reported the more recent fire incidence at the Federal Polytechnic, Idah, North Central Nigeria which burnt down the institution's library (arson by protesting students). The most serious fire disaster was suffered by the Academy of Science Library in St. Petersburg which in 1988 lost 300,000 books with a further 3.6 million volumes damaged (ICA, 1997). The Royal library of Alexanderia established in the third century B.C., was destroyed by fire first in 47 B.C. during the time of Julius Caesar and again in 373 A.D. (Ngulube, 2004).

In the time of war and armed conflicts, library and library resources usually are exposed to severe risks. The library resources are deliberately burnt, destroyed, stolen or vandalized. Adedibu et al (2009 reported the damages done to the various libraries in Eastern Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) and lamented on the intensity of the destruction. On September11, 2001, terrorists bombed the world Trade Centre and Pentagon libraries in the United States of America, destroying records, books and other documentary materials. Also, the National Library and Archives, a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical document including the Royal Archives of Iraq, were turned to ashes in 3000 degrees of heat on 14th April, 2003 during the United State's invasion of Iraq. (Buchanan, 2003). Akussah (1991) in his study of traditional library and archival materials in Ghana reported that even though there were many attacks on these libraries, terrorist attacks were minimal.

Earthquakes are caused by movements in earth's crust. According to Adedibu et al (2009), out of the three library disasters that have occurred in Ghana, one of them is the 1939 earthquake which destroyed the Aglionby library, Ghana. Other cases of earthquake in libraries and archives include the National Archives of Mexico which was damaged by the Mexico earthquake of 1985 and the San Francisco City Archives in U.S.A. damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 (ICA, 1997).

Biological agents like insects, fungi and rodents cause damages to books and other library materials particularly in tropical Africa (Alegbeleye, 1993). There are over seventy varieties of insects that have been identified as enemies of library materials. The most common of these pests are cockroaches, silverfish, termites and moths...

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