Qualitative engagement of Nigerian students and librarians in the analysis of deviance in library utilization.

Author:Ikuomola, Adediran D.


The main aim of every university library is to provide access to both print and non-print collections. Accessibility therefore calls for proper planning and conduct between library staff and patrons. Going by the important role libraries played in modern day learning, the relevance to universities cannot be overemphasized (Wu and Liu, 2001). However there are quite a number of challenges facing libraries across the world and most especially in Africa where a lot of archival materials are either missing or stolen from the shelves. These among others are some of the deviant and criminal activities entangling libraries over the years (Nwalo, 2000). A number of studies have examined cases of criminal and deviant activities in the library from the perspective of the Librarians neglecting the users (mostly students) perspectives and the implication on library utilization in recent times. This has created a gap in knowledge in knowing the dynamics of deviant activities from a more holistic perspective. Though, generalizing about academic libraries, and more specifically about usage, is problematic, this study is limited to some selected Libraries in Nigeria. In Nigeria academic libraries serve widely diverse constituencies that encompass the university community, research institutions, and colleges, technical schools to private and public users. Some are small and large, rich and poor located in rural and urban environs but most fall somewhere in between-small-to-medium-size and moderately funded (Unagha, 2009). The diversity of purpose makes it difficult for characterization. Similarly trends in library usage may differ not only in terms of available materials, services provided but also in terms of security and behavioural components of the staff and users, overtly and covertly. These factors may be more pronounced for large research libraries than for smaller ones. By implication behavioural trends will have the tendencies to impact on library personnel as well as the frequency of patronage on library space, but each of the trends applies to a whole realm of academic libraries in varying degrees.

Globally, library design and usage have become a dynamic and ever-growing enterprise that requires more strategic, constant and dynamic management skills (Worpole, 2004). Inadequate financing and the increasing number of students in Nigerian universities have also put much pressure on state owned libraries (Ogunsola, 2004). With the increasing number of students gaining admission into higher institutions in Nigerian, libraries are likely to be faced with a number of problems. One of which is the increasing number of deviant activities occurring in the library. This implies that most libraries in the country are behind in the modern trend of library operation, utilization, security, and continuous restructuring of library space. Lorenzen (1996) and Holt (2007) like most scholars on library abuse described the most common forms of deviance relating to theft of physical materials; theft or alteration of data; and theft of money. In earlier research, Ewing (1994), identified other deviant behaviours to include breaches such as non-return of items by borrowers, theft of library equipment, personal theft (from staff and users), verbal and physical abuse against staff and users, and vandalism against library buildings, equipment and stock destruction, all of which can directly or indirectly affect library services. Similarly studies have shown that most libraries in Nigeria are also aging and need expansion, insufficiently equipped with poor arrangement of books, shelves and information technology (Ajayi, 2000; Ogunsola, 2004). These are also considered among the top threats to the success of higher education in Africa (Nwalo, 2000; Goldstein, 2006, Emmanuel and Sife, 2008).

Specifically in Nigeria a number of research have investigated significant changes in academic library facilities planning in terms of differentiation of storage and user space, dispersal of special formats and equipment, and accommodation of nonlibrary functions, retention of existing facilities, tighter programming, increased security cum protection of rare and special collections (Abifarin, 1997; Bello, 1998; Momodu, 2002; Ajegbomogun, 2007; Maidabino and Zainab, 2011). These literatures emphasized more on how best to secure library materials, with much searchlights and stereotypical focus on patrons as security threats. Justifying this assertion, Maidabino and Zainab, 2011 in their study of Collection security management at university libraries, noted that balancing access and security in Nigerian libraries is a necessary task (p.16). In the same vein, behavioural conduct and misconduct of library users were highlighted from the perspective of the librarians and not the users. Thus neglecting two possibilities that: (1) the library can also be a threat to users (2) the users can be security threats to themselves. These shortcomings prompted the need for this study to examine deviance in library utilization through an all inclusive narratives of both students (users) and librarians (service providers).

Similarly the study incorporates several years of observations of students' compliance to rules and regulation and behavioural misconduct into the study.


The study comprised of sixty respondents (forty-five students and fifteen librarians) from three universities in South-West Nigeria: the University of Ibadan (U.I), Ambrose Ali University (AAU) and Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba (AAUA). Data collected was purely qualitative, based on five years of observation and in-depth semi structured interview which lasted for over a three months period. The one-on-one interviews took place outside the libraries. They were recorded and lasted between 30 and 45 minutes. Prior to the commencement of date collection frequent visit were made to ascertain regular seating positions and frequent users of the library. All librarian participants for the study were above 24years of age, while student participants were all above 17 years, but not more than 33 years. They were encouraged to talk freely and share examples, from their personal and library experiences, from which the major themes of the findings and discussion of the study emanated. In the interview, research participants were guaranteed that this information will be treated with utmost respect and that their privacy will be protected. It therefore follows that in the analyses of the interviews with respondents on their personal experiences and narratives, names have been excluded to conceal their identity.

Discussion of Results

The major and most worrisome deviant behaviour in the selected libraries for the study was described as 'stealing of personal effects'. This was linked to the increasing use electronic devices in library, most especially cell phones; since the arrival of the General System for Mobile Communication (GSM) in Nigeria in the 1990s (Blake, 2004).

Insecurity and incessant stealing of personal effect in Libraries

According to all the librarians interviewed, the GSM revolution created a number of problems, from operation to security of students and staff cell phones, and other electrical gadgets:

...stealing of phones became rampant with the flooding of the Nigerian markets with less expensive phones from Asia. Students and staff were able to afford varieties, which are often displayed carelessly on the reading tables. After much reading students often take a short walk within the library, on returning to their tables their phones are stolen; only for them to run to the library staff or security for help (Staff/Ibadan/ Interview, 2013).

Corroborating the above, a female student noted that every now and then a phone is being misplaced or stolen in the library:

In 2012, my friend lost her phone in the library. She was preparing for a test on this particular day, after reading for an hour she took a doze off, only to realize her Nokia phone was no longer by her side. She came to my seat only to inform me about the incidence, we both reported the incidence to one of the librarians, but nothing could be done (student/Ibadan/ Interview, 2012).

Going by the incessant reportage of missing and stolen cell phones, library officials have made it a habit to always inform students verbally and through inscriptions on lockers and shelves to be very careful with their expensive items. In all three libraries observed, it is boldly written that valuables should not be kept in the open lockers or on any shelves. Precisely in Ibadan and Ambrose Ali universities, it is written food items and valuables should not be brought into the library, 'valuables are kept at owner's risk'. In Adekunle Ajasin University, an open shelf with many lockers; is kept at the entrance of the library, for students to keep their bags, with the warning 'at owners' risk' only academic staff are allowed into the library with their bags, but must be checked when going out of the library premises. The security measures in place to safeguard students' properties can be described as poor. However there are much emphasis on securing the books and properties in the libraries. This is evident in the rigorous checks on students and non library staff whenever they are going out of the libraries.

In Adekunle Ajasin University, respondents were of the view that students' personal effects are not safe in the library. This is captured in a statement by a second year student (Interview, 2012): 'Placing valuables in the shelves placed outside the library is a foolish thing to do'. Another also narrated how she lost her wallet in one of the lockers:

I remember that morning I left home early in order to secure a comfortable...

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