Metropole Magazine

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31 Jul Written by  Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Let Us Now Raise Libraries

If you believe Hollywood romantic comedies, libraries, perhaps after cafes and subways, are a veritable spot for romance. This is a good idea for the young as it marries two ideas lofty enough for youth to expend its ideals and energy— literacy and love, romance and reading, maybe even silence and soul.
It is clear why the idea thrives. The library as seen in movies is a grand place, clean and cavernous it in itself suggests space, order, and yet some intimacy. Of course, love in real life is chaotic and rarely clean but hope springs eternal.

Replete with old and new books, libraries may suggest, at least for the mildly imaginative, a relationship that is old and new, a mix of the familiar and the spontaneous. The lover always the optimist thinks, this love would last as long as the classics.

The chance of looking across a table and finding a stranger reading a prized book adds the allure of a pleasing serendipity to love’s protocol. All at once, it feels fortuitous and destined— just the kind of Hollywood reinforced idea one always held about love anyway.

The importance of a place to nascent love explains why the idea of romance in a Nigerian library is yet to catch on, and from available evidence, never going to catch on. With mouldy walls, dusty shelves and a creeping presentiment of gloom, the Nigerian library actively deflects romance. The atmosphere gives off a smell of love past its efflorescence, and exudes a love without the enticement of lust; the fervency, the exciting fevers of new love having long departed.

Though young Nigerians— like, arguably, young people consumed by the allure of the silver screen the world over— crave Hollywood romance, the country doesn’t quite have the infrastructure to support this type of love. Of course, the country lacks infrastructure of nearly every kind, but then as Saul Bellow may have whispered in the cynic’s ear, “More die of heartbreak.”

In a library recently, I saw the easiest thing to do in a library within reach may be to wonder how the place can be called a library as sagging shelves contained more holes than books, and more dust than text. Above, a single fan, in a gallery of dusty defunct fans, turned miserably functioning through a voltage that was barely there. A short while later that which was barely there was gone. The place seemed to be resisting casting as a setting for a literary rendezvous in the movies or in life.

Life clearly wasn’t imitating imported art here.

However, what the library loses, the church gains— dating and any of the other affiliated romantic rituals routinely take place in churches both in life and in Nollywood. The appeal is clear: floors are clean, the seats shiny and the pastor preaches fidelity. Along with monogamy, the place radiates a high level hygiene and the hopeful lover, (or lecher) can feel safe in thinking, “this love shall last.”

While he or she may not be Drew Barrymore or Hugh Grant, there is a chance he or she may be Genevieve Nnaji or Emeka Ike.

On this visit, I noticed Achebe’s 'Anthills of the Savannah' bookended a raggedy row of books in the Fiction section, a section mainly occupied by vacuum. The prose in that book was pleasing enough for a Nollywood filmmaker to use— enact a scene similar to one in City of Angels where a warm chemistry is first noted in a library where the male and female lead characters discuss Hemingway’s sentences while reading 'A Moveable Feast.'

Many books were in wrong sections. Yet it was gratifying to see that a book by David Bordwell, a Kafka collection, a collection of essays featuring John Updike and Alice Walker, a Manual of Style, an illustrated book on martial arts, and surprisingly, a book on acting by the revered Constantin Stanislavski. Several covers were marked with a ‘donated by’ sticker from which one could perhaps grasp the omnipresence of foreign aid.

Although shameful, consisting of gaping holes and reeking of neglect, a perusal of the scanty assortment of books available made it clear that a library, functioning and looking like a tithe of a library in movies, remains a repository of many kinds of knowledge, can still drive dreams, and is a personification of a know-it-all girl or boy to fall in love with.

But no one is looking.

No one is looking at the possible romantic, cinematic, or pedagogic potential of our libraries. While the presidency is bringing back the book, it is a good time to make libraries more attractive. Sweep floors, wipe fans, affix fluorescents, put up aggressive ads in the media, lure boys and girls. While, he or she may not find love like in the movies, there is a chance he or she may fall in love with books.

Now, who can fault that?