Libraries generally contribute to the intellectual development of a people in any given society. This is perhaps why the Bayelsa State government invested in Gabriel Okara Public Library, located at Swali, Yenagoa.
Just last year, the state government had to relocate the public library to its permanent site. It was built by a former governor of the state, Late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, in 2002. Before then, there was no library in the whole state.
The only libraries in the whole of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, are the Gabriel Okara Public Library, owned by the state government, Douglas Oranta Library in Nembe Local Government and the Azaiki Public Library, owned by the former Secretary to Bayelsa State government, Prof. Steve Azaiki.
At the Gabriel Okara Public Library, facilities are in a decaying state. Some books in stock are yet to be displayed on the shelves, while some facilities for smooth running of the library are not functioning. But an official of the library board told Bookshelf that work is still ongoing to ensure facilities are upgraded.
A librarian with the Gabriel Okara Public Library, Mr Don Arisimo, said the state government through the Library Board has invested huge resources in the library to ensure that the people of the state are given the best library facilities to advance their intellectual capacities, but the work will be completed very soon.
Arisimo said, “We have just moved to this place, and work is still ongoing to make the library one of the best and outstanding libraries in the country. We have not displayed some of our books on the shelves because people are working, but in some sections where work has been concluded, they have been put to use and people come in regularly to read.”
According to Arisimo, most of the books and facilities for e-library have been given by foreign donors, and government is working to install them to ensure Bayelsans and other Nigerians are given a conducive environment for studying and reading. He added that the governor has directed the library board to ensure that all the eight local government areas have a public library.
Worried by the condition of the libraries in the state, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson appointed Seiyifa Koroye, a former lecturer of literature at the University of Port Harcourt as Chairman of the Bayelsa State Library Board.
A few months ago, Koroye embarked on a tour of libraries in the state to ascertain their conditions and how government can render assistance. He said, “The first thing we are faced with is the consequence of neglect and wrong priorities exhibited by previous administrations that left our state-owned library services moribund. This is effectively symbolised by the fact that although a state-of-the-art library named after our great poet Gabriel Okara was built, the building has been neglected and allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that it will have to undergo a complete renovation and overhaul in order for it to serve as the core location for the state’s library initiatives. Nevertheless, we have moved in and are utilising some sections of the building in order to show that we are serious about delivering on the governor’s mandate to us.”
He said, “We intend to look at interface potentials where the growth of our library services will help to generate interest in other aspects of the socio-economic development of the state. For example, if the Gabriel Okara Library is fully revived, we will be able to host major literary gatherings, including a Bayelsa Book Festival that will attract international audiences and help drive tourism in the state. Already, the fact that illustrious authors such as Okara, Prof. E.J. Alagoa, and J.P. Clark-Bekederemo are associated with the state has given us an opportunity we need to take advantage of, and renewing our library services will give us a chance to do so.’’
A few privately established libraries in the state include Oronto Douglas library, established by the activist in his hometown of Okoroba, in Nembe Local Government Area, and Azaiki Library said to be the most modern library in the state, is run by the Steve Azaiki Foundation in Yenagoa.
Facilities at Oranto Dauglas are in good condition, but books need to be updated. Officials at the library declined comment, while readers commended the initiative of the founder for giving the people of Nembe a research facility.