When I was in primary school, the children’s library was just a trotro ride away from home. We would walk to the main Korle Bu Station, board a trotro to Bishop Station in Central Accra, and walk the rest of the way. Sometimes, we would walk the whole way back home as 10-year-old kids, crossing the Korle Lagoon in all its polluted glory.
It all started in class three (3) when the book boxes started arriving in the classrooms. It was a small box mainly of Ladybird books, brought around during the Reading Period. By the time I had gone through those precious books, I wanted more. So, walking across the
bridge and back from the children’s library was not a big deal. They had books then and with the right contacts, like my friend Nii Kpani and I had, we could go down to the storeroom, where lay buried the treasure trove of Asteriixes and Tintins waiting for transfer upstairs.
I got a membership card, started borrowing and returning every week. That got me through a decent range of books, so much so, that I could recognise a Ghana Library Board book from a mile away. There were some in my class who were also avid borrowers. One day, I saw a book I did not recognise. It looked new, it was a recent edition of a famous children’s suspense author and was securely jacketed in sturdy transparent plastic.
It was a British Council Library book. It made the books I was used to look old, neglected and uncovered. And now, I wanted to go there and see what happened there.
So, one day, I went across to the library on Liberia Road. I could not even get in, because I had no card, and there was no one accompanying me. And the charge for getting registered, along with other requirements, were out of reach. Here, even the membership cards had people’s photos on them! When I finally got to accompany someone in, it was paradise. It was an air-conditioned library, with a lavish children’s section complete with games, videos and magazines. Suddenly, the Ghana Library board was Spartan to me. And still is.
By the time I got a card, I was no longer a child. I did enjoy that library for a while, until they shut it down to start more profitable businesses. I have recently gone back to both libraries and though time has passed, somethings have changed, and others have not.
The Children’s Library still has the imposing facade, with the gently sloping wide walkway in front of it. It was a Saturday morning, and I went with the children. I ushered them in, held the door open and then when the door left my hands, it rammed against the other door with quite a startling bang. The receptionist was ready to take my head off for disturbing her morning reverie. Which had been going quite well considering she had the radio blaring an Akan station for all to hear, whether they were reading or not. The library looked rundown, even though it had been adopted by an electronics company which had their name emblazoned at the door. Even the computer lab donated by this company was populated by dismembered, dysfunctional antique desktops. When the children said they wanted to use the washroom, I knew we had to leave, I did not want to check what had happened there.
The British Council remains as snazzy as ever. Glass paneling, air-conditioned conference rooms, buffet restaurant. The library area is a test area for language proficiency, with tastefully decorated rooms. It just happened that I had to use the washroom… I really did. It was pure class.
Growth is natural. Deterioration is unnatural. Both are choices. Both are decisions of leadership. Both are directions that crowd the crossroads of life. If we must have an educated, productive populace of tomorrow, we must get them reading now. If we are not ready to get the books, we must be ready to deal with the fruit of miseducation, ignorance, indecision, inconsistency, irresponsibility and all those other powerful ingredients of failure. I need to go and see what I can give back to the Children’s Library, when I have something