Dashed hopes and dreams of a Ghanaian Librarian (2)

We wanted to provide a good children and mobile library service. Admittedly, our adults had lost it so far as reading was concerned. There was need to save our children from becoming victims of the non-reading culture. 

I dared to put forward my views on the issue but the politicians and government officials either did not see the need for it or, at best, received it with nonchalance. The cynicism of some of them was glaring and not in dispute: “We are in a digital era so instead of building and promoting public libraries why don’t you buy computers for the children.” 

Such unguarded statements were made as if the contents of printed books and e-books were different and separate. What these cynics must know is that we are in an era where the modern public library must of necessity combine and blend the traditional and digitised library in order to survive and remain relevant.

My idea of a stand-alone children and mobile library was, to some extent, quite innovative. It was greatly influenced by interactions I had with the user and environmentally-friendly children library systems of Singapore and the Scandinavian countries. 

The idea was to start from Accra and gradually extend the concept to other parts of Ghana. The 26A Patrice Lumumba Road Library was conceived as the Focal Point for the Children and Mobile Library System. It was supposed to be an information hub that could give and derive strength and power from other children and mobile libraries nationwide. 

The need for children libraries in Accra is overwhelming. Formerly, there were children libraries located at Kaneshie, Osu, Teshie-Nungua Estate and the Central Library between the Supreme Court and the Bank of Ghana. All of them collapsed except the Central Library and Osu ones. Meanwhile, the population of Accra has more than quadrupled.

 The idea was to restore and revive the Kaneshie and Teshie-Nungua Estate libraries. Build a new library to serve Nima, Mamobi/New Town/Kokomlemle, Airport Residential and 37 Military Hospital areas. Another library was to be located at Adenta to serve Adenta, Madina and their catchment areas. 

Predictably, we could not cross the “no money” and bureaucratic hostility barriers. So far as government funding for these projects were concerned, our ideas and efforts died at birth. 

But during these difficult days, the Ghana Library Authority received assistance from GIFEC, SSNIT, the French and USA Embassies, Huawei Corporation, DrPlonski’s Books for Africa and the Daily Graphic. 

The Rotary Club also offered to renovate and refurbish the Osu children library. GIFEC was the star benefactor. These overtures from private and semi-autonomous governmental organisations gave us hope that all was not lost.

Instead of depending on government for non-existent help or fold our arms in despair, we decided to venture out and diversify our approach to library development. 

I became keenly aware of the fact that the private sector could be a willing partner and ally in developing public libraries, especially children libraries. We explored this area with zeal and hope. 

The first big opportunity came with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of SSNIT. Someone (name withheld for now) whispered to me that SSNIT was sponsoring projects to commemorate its 50th anniversary. 

It was not too difficult to approach SSNIT because the Director-General had a soft spot for libraries and at any rate it was already giving some assistance to the Authority albeit in an uncoordinated fashion. 

This issue was discussed by the Board and it was agreed that we should “cast the net”. I submitted a draft proposal to the Board which was discussed and approved. 

We submitted the proposals to the Director-General of SSNIT and then crossed our fingers. 

We undertook persistent follow-ups and they in turn kept assuring us that our proposals were being considered. I sympathised with Mrs Eva Amegashie (Head of Corporate Affairs of SSNIT) and her staff who liaised between the SSNIT Board and the Ghana Library Authority Board because they had to contend with my frequent visits and “harassment”. 

Finally the happy news came. On July 22, 2015, SSNIT sent an approval letter to the Ghana Library Authority. An amount of $3.9 million (not cedis) was allocated to the project. 

It was certainly unprecedented in the history of Ghana that a semi-autonomous government body would fund a library project with such a huge amount. 

Almost immediately SSNIT set up a company, Trust Lib. Ltd, under the chairmanship of Mr Daniel Kwabla-King to execute the project. The Project Consultants were Urban Development Consortium and the contractors were Zaproze Ghana Ltd. 

The execution of the project was delayed for a few months because somebody laid claim to the land on which the project was to be built. 

We were rescued by President Mahama and his Chief of Staff who intervened and on May 12, 2016 restored the land to the Ghana Library Authority. 

That intervention was a rare display of sense of justice and fairness which the Library Board appreciated very much. The Minister for Education, Prof. Jane NanaaOpokuAgyemang, cut the sod for the Project on July 15, 2016.

 By January 2017 when the Board was dissolved, the library building had been completed. It was left only to be furnished and equipped. You will see this magnificent, elegant and ultra-modern library building at the Airport Residential Area, on Patrice Lumumba Road near the Gold House in Accra. You cannot miss it. 

It is an understatement to say that I am terribly disappointed that almost four years after the library building was completed, it has not been furnished and open for our children to use. 

This is a typical case of “So near and yet so far!” 

The opening and operation of the library has remained a dream and a dashed hope! Will it ever be opened for use by our children or government may decide to use the building for something else? You know in this Ghana anything can happen!

The Board undertook another impressive project adjacent to the main Accra-Dodowa road around Frafraha/Amrahia area. 

This project was funded in its entirety by a private Ghanaian company (name withheld for inability to obtain permission). 

The project was estimated at about GHc6million. Again the participation of a private company in providing library infrastructure was unprecedented. 

But it proved beyond doubts that private companies and individuals are willing and ready to partner the Ghana Library Authority to develop public libraries in Ghana. 

The project consists of a library building and three two-storey staff bungalows. It is a beautiful and imposing project strategically located to serve areas beyond Adenta. 

The library building was successfully completed and we were negotiating with the company to help equip and furnish it when the Board was dissolved in January 2017. 

The library is yet to be opened for use almost four years after completion. The area from South Legon through Adenta to the new settlements on Dodowa road has no public library. 

This new library was meant to partly solve the reading problem of the area. I am afraid the children in this area will have to wait for unknown period to have access to a library. Has the library building become a white elephant? Is it another dashed dream and hope?

The writer is a former Chairman of Ghana Library Authority Board

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