By Sailu Bah
“Gambians need to develop a reading culture which is lacking in the country partly due to the high illiteracy rate. An evidence of this is that few people in the country make use of the services offered by the national library. ” said Mrs. Matilda Johnson, Deputy Director General of the Gambia National Library Service Authority (GNLSA), in an interview on the 23July 2014 at her office at the National Library in Banjul.
Mrs. Johnson said the people who make use of the National Library mostly are the students who only come there when they are on exams because the place offers them a quiet environment for reading. “They come here in groups and once their exams are finish you seldom see them in the Library,” she added.
The Deputy Director General of the National Library Service lamented that few adults find time to come and subscribe to the Library and make use of its facilities.
She said the importance of such a facility as a national library is the development of the country by developing the human intellect and raising awareness cannot be overemphasized. “The library is a very important institution where people can go and read to develop their reading skills or a reading culture, make research on academic or other issues, career counseling or research on how to improve on one’s profession, prepare for exams, etc,” she said.
The Library Service Deputy Director said there is a section in the Library called ‘Gambiana’ which contains information concerning the Gambia from the colonial era to date. She said most of the books or materials in this section are written by Gambian authors or experts. “It is one of the most interesting sections in the Library of which people coming from abroad do visit to make some research about the country,” she disclosed.
On plans to address this challenge, Mrs. Johnson said they are trying to develop the culture of reading by starting to train school teachers and librarians who will also encourage the young children at school to develop interest and engage in reading.
Mrs. Johnson said the Library Service Authority is planning to engage in an intensive public awareness campaign and will be organizing a “Library Week” with such academic activities that involve children in writing poems, quiz competitions and debates among others. She said they also plan to start a ‘Children Magazine’ and to undertake activities such as street shows, T-Shirts, Banners and Flyers to inform the people about the importance of the Library. She said they will be utilising the media such as the radio, TV and newspapers in this awareness raising drive.
Explaining the history of the national library in the Gambia, Mrs. Johnson said it was first established by the then Anglican priest, Bishop Daley, in 1944 as a library based on subscription. This library, she said, was not opened to the public and was limited to few people.
Later in 1946, she said, the British Council established a public library at Clifton Road, which is now called Independence Drive, where the National Museum is currently located. She said it was in the early 70s when they handed over the management of the library to the Gambia Government and which later constructed and moved to a new library complex (its present location) that was opened by the former president Jawara on the 15th December 1976. She said the British Council was one of the sponsors who supplied the library with books and keep it updated.
The first Gambian Librarian, said deputy DG of the Library Service Authority, was Ms Sally P.C. Njie, who served from 1976 to the early 80s and handed over to Ms Mary Faye as Chief Librarian, who also upon retirement was succeeded by the current Director General, Mr. Abdou Wally Mbye.
“The library was directly under the Ministry of Education, but now stands as an independent Authority and the name has changed from the Gambia National Library to Gambia National Library Service Authority,” she noted.
Explaining the management structure of the Authority, she said the institution is now headed by a Director General, who is assisted by Directors, Senior Librarians, Assistant Librarians, Senior Library Assistants, Junior Librarian Assistants, Library Clerks, Data Entry Clerks, , Procurement Office and support and ancillary staff.
Mrs. Johnson said the Library is operating in both Banjul and Brikama with 45 members of staff under the Authority, adding that there was another Branch in Basse which was closed due to some constraints.
“We were also having 2 mobile van libraries with one going to the North Bank of the country and the other to the South Bank. Right now the vans are no more in operation because they are not conducive to the climate here,” she revealed.
On how they work, she explained that the Library operates from Mondays to Fridays, starting from 9am to 7pm, and on Saturdays from 9am to 2pm, adding that the workers have two shifts, namely the morning shift and the afternoon shift.
The Authority, she noted, gets its funds to sustain its operation from the Government of the Gambia and from which they pay the salary of their staff. They also receive donations from the friends of the Library i.e. the Gambians and non-Gambians living in the Diaspora, who help them with either cash or books, adding that they also get books from Timbuktu, Macmillan and ABC bookshop.
On their operational constraints, the Deputy Director General noted that they do not have scholarships for the further training of their staff to enable them to become professionals. She said the Library needs degree holders as well to enable it to further deliver professional and standard services.
“We do conduct in house training for our staff, but this is not sufficient. Our staff needs further training up to university level,” she said.
Another challenge highlighted by Mrs. Johnson regarding their operation concerns the borrowing of books which, she revealed, is face with problems. She said when they give out their books it is always hard to get most of them back or that sometimes when they are returned, they come back in a bad state or condition.
“Managing a library is very expensive as you need to be constantly buying books in order to keep it updated. So funds are a big problem to us,” she disclosed.
She also noted that the Library is situated in a flood prone area and that they are appealing to Government to allocate a better place for them to relocate the National Library.
Mrs. Johnson concluded by inviting people, adults and students alike, to develop interest and maximize their use of the facilities being offered by the National Library. She announced that the annual subscription fee for adults is only D60 and D15 for children. “When you pay this annual subscription fees, you can take any book of your choice for reading for not more than one week and then you return it back to the library, then if you wish to take another you can,” said the Deputy Director General.
The National Library is located at Percy Pye Lane (behind Gambia Senior Secondary School) in Banjul and opposite the former Senegalese Ecole Francaise.