UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) and public libraries

The Public Library has been identified as a key institution in the implementation of UNSDGs 4.6 and 16.10. UNSDSG 4.6 will ensure that "By 2030, all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy"   UNSDG 16.10 will "Ensure public access to information ... by 2030".


Coincidentally, these UNSDGs are also the traditional goals of the public library. However, to achieve these goals the public library has to contend with the reluctance of government to provide access to information and, above all, the elusive nature of illiteracy



Even though the 1992 Constitution of Ghana guarantees the right to information no government in Ghana has, so far, had the courage to pass a law to ensure the right to information.


As for illiteracy, it is a highly elusive phenomenon and its eradication will be a tough job to undertake. Illiteracy is likened to darkness just as literacy is likened to daylight. In the 1950s and 60s, President Nkrumah confronted this problem head on. Illiteracy persisted despite the tremendous efforts he made, including building public libraries and instituting adult education programmes.


Interestingly, no matter the efforts put in by our governments, illiteracy persists; in fact, it is thriving! Illiteracy has thus become the malaria of the mind.


No drug has been able to tame it. Just when we think that a cure has been  found for it, malaria mutates and becomes immune to all drugs. Illiteracy behaves the same way. So far, none of our efforts has been able to bring illiteracy under control.



These days, the enemies and detractors of the public library argue that there is no need for public libraries because all the information we need can be obtained from the internet.
How many Ghanaians have access to the internet? Even if they have, how many can pay to access it?


The good news is that the public library, if properly organised, promotes reading and provides free access to information, and by extension, free access to the internet!


At any rate, can anyone use the internet meaningfully if he lacks the ability to read?


What we must know is that public libraries are the memory of the nation. They are the public learning and cultural space where people and ideas meet.


They are centres of excellence to promote reading, the culture and love for reading and life-long learning.


Whether we like it or not, books are still being printed and will continue to be printed. Indeed, the printed book will never die! And so long as books are printed there is a place for the public library.


In my view, there is no rivalry between the library and the internet. They operate side by side hence the rise of hybrid libraries. Actually, the efficacy of the public library is enhanced by ICT.


In today's world of ICT revolution, a public library that does not offer internet service is not worth its salt. Indeed, the internet itself is an electronic library! In fact, static public libraries and the internet have converged aim. Both deal with information and knowledge.


Therefore, no matter the format of information, be it e-books, talking/audio/visual books, digital, printed books or the internet data base, the library collects, organises, stores and re-packages them for dissemination.


The Singapore, Malaysia and the Scandinavian countries experience confirms the view that public libraries are of extreme importance to national and personal development. In those countries, public libraries are celebrated. In Ghana, we rather suppress them! Governments should be urged to establish and fund more public libraries in order to promote independent learning, reading and life-long learning.


Admittedly, governments of Ghana have done quite well to feed the stomach of our school children through the school feeding programme. They have even provided them with free uniforms, bags and shoes.


It is strange and regrettable that they are reluctant to nourish and feed the mind of our children. After all, is it not the mind that controls the stomach and the behaviour of our children?
We have heard it said many times that "What a man thinks so is he!" or that "Reading makes a man!"



There are those who, rightly or wrongly, regard our culture as anti-reading and anti-book. Oral transmission of information is preferred. Again, parents will prefer to borrow money for funerals and weddings than buying books for their children. It is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss the saying that "If you want to hide something from a black man put it in a book".



Fortunately, the world has taken full cognizance of the problem of illiteracy and the right to information.  A framework has been provided under the UNSDGs to guide and support nations in tackling the problem.


Specifically, UN SDGs 4.6 and 16.10 have highlighted the issues of literacy and public access to in- formation respectively. Under this  framework it is hoped that total literacy and access to information would be achieved by 2030.


The solution to the problems of illiteracy and public access to information is no longer the problem of one nation. The UN has made it a trans-national problem and has thus prescribed a trans-national solution to it.



How can Ghana take advantage of this UN initiative? First of all, it is recommended that, as much as possible, the SDGs should be internalised into our national development policies and, if possible, our laws.


Secondly, a dedicated secretariat for the SDGs should be created in the Office of the President to allow for smooth, effective, coordinated implementation of the SDGs.


Fortunately for Ghana, the Co-chairman of the UNSDGs is our own President. We congratulate H.E. the President and urge him to use his position to help Ghana achieve literacy, reading and free access to information for all by 2030.


Most importantly, being an author himself, he should be inspired by his passion for knowledge to empower public libraries to serve as the vanguard for the achievement of UNSDGs 4.6 and 160.


The writer is a former MP for Hohoe South.


Source: Ghanaian Times

Hits: 3188