Libraries are the Future, the Future is Now!
An interview with Damilare Oyedele, the Co-founder & Chief Executive of Library Aid Africa, about his organization, the importance of libraries and #libraryselfie2019 – a social media project organized by Library Aid Africa in partnership with the Goethe-Institut.
To start, could you please tell us a bit more about your organization, Library Aid Africa?
Library Aid Africa (formerly known as 'Library and You') is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to revamp libraries in Africa to increase their societal impact. The organization focuses on access to information through pragmatic initiatives, which are designed to create awareness and resuscitate libraries in schools and communities. We operate from Nigeria, with partners and volunteer presence in over 10 African countries: Ghana, Namibia, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Togo, Republic of Benin, Mali, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Liberia.
At Library Aid Africa we believe that access to information is pertinent to develop literate and informed citizens, because this equips the mind of the citizenry with adequate knowledge that will enable them to contribute meaningfully to the socioeconomic development of their immediate society.
However, access to information and knowledge is severely limited without efficient and functional libraries, which provide free and equitable access to information and knowledge for all. That is why we have focused on creating initiatives in the past few years that aim to improve the efficiency and productivity of libraries
One of your most recent initiatives is #libraryselfie. How did you come up with the idea for this project? What are its' key objectives? And how does it relate to the other work your organization does?
#libraryselfie is an online initiative designed to create awareness about the importance of libraries as spaces for reading and learning.
I came up with the idea in 2018, when I went to study at the City Library in Abuja. After taking a selfie with my phone in the library, I was thinking that actually a lot of young people have mobile phones, take selfies, and upload them on their social media platforms. So what if they take a selfie in a library and upload it online to create awareness about libraries? That very day, I drafted a concept paper, I briefed my team, we reviewed the plan, consulted and choose a day for implementation.
The main objective of #libraryselfie is to increase the visibility of libraries, particularly on social media platforms. We hope that this will result in increased library usage among young people and that this, in turn, will facilitate library development in African communities.
#libraryselfie2019 marks the second year that you have been organizing the project. How did the initiative turn out, also in comparison to the previous edition? Have there been any changes or improvements of the process?
Yes, #libraryselfie2019 marks the second year and there has been some improvement and progress compared to #libraryselfie2018.
#libraryselfie2019 took place in 6 six African countries - Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, and South Africa - thereby engaging more young people in various African regions. We were able to reach a larger number of people across Africa. Creating a continental awareness about libraries and the benefits they offer. In 2018, it took place only in Nigeria. However, we received entries from over 8 countries including New Zealand. The reach of #libraryselfie2018 brought a significant improvement which influenced our decision to increase the number of participating countries for #libraryselfie2019.
As you just told us, #libraryselfie takes place in a number of African countries simultaneously. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience of organizing a regional project? Also, how many people participated in the project this year in total? From which country did you receive the most entries?
#libraryselfie2019 is not the first project we have been coordinating across various African regions. Thus, for us, coordinating #libraryselfie2019 was possible because we have established partners in each region, who took responsibility for conducting the project in line with the blueprint of the initiative. However, it takes a lot of effort to build a responsible team of partners who share the same vision.
This year, we received over 108 entries from the 6 African countries in total. The highest number of entries came from Tanzania (23 entries in total). Kenya has the 2nd highest number of entries (20 entries in total), South Africa has the 3rd highest number of entries (18 entries in total).
Who are the winners of libraryselfie#2019 and which prizes are awaiting for them?
We have a total of 18 winners. 3 winners each from 6 countries.
See list of winners here.
Each of the winners receives: a membership card to a public library, one movie ticket and a goody bag.
What roles do you think, libraries can and should play on the African continent in the future?
The future is now! This means that libraries are essential right now, in this present moment! The truth is that the development of any society depends on the educational level of her citizens, since only informed and literate citizens are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to contribute meaningfully to the decision-making process of the government and also to develop their immediate society. As I stated before, libraries play a very important role, since they are platforms that provide access to information and knowledge for all.
At Library Aid Africa, we are using innovative ideas, combined with digital technology, to change narratives about libraries in African communities. But we do not stop here: we are mobilizing young Africans to be library advocates, who aim to resuscitate libraries in their local communities with the goal to enable access to information for all.
Over the past few years, we have been able to implement other creative ideas in partnership with different organizations. For example, we had a Seasonal TV Series designed to educate the populace about the importance of libraries for the development of society. It featured documentaries, as well as interviews with authors, librarians and publishers to discuss feasible solutions how best to support libraries.
Also, we partnered with the National Library of Nigeria to organize a Social Media Library Advocacy Awareness Program - an online sensitization that focuses on educating the online community on how libraries drive progress in line with the Social Development Goals.
More recently, we launched the "Inspire Us Collection" in collaboration with Worldreader; the aim of the literary initiative is to redefine gender stereotypes and empower women and girls through a digital collection of books. The collection, which encompasses fiction and non-fiction, includes stories that clearly portray women as protagonists, change agents, and leaders of the future.
For Africa to move forward, informed literate citizens are essential. This means that libraries have a major role to play on the African continent. However, it is sad to note that libraries are facing numerous challenges with regards to funding, infrastructure and capacity development, which stifle their full functionality and efficiency.
It is therefore pertinent for relevant stakeholders to invest more in library development in African communities. Also, library professionals need to be creative and explore new strategies to carry out their services.
Library Aid Africa is committed to library development We have pledged to be relentless in our efforts in developing and implementing creative ideas that will continue to change narratives about libraries in African communities.