Libro Futuro

Resilience, passion and skills. From the librarian who goes “shhhhh!” to the information professional. Mario Coffa interviews Damilare Oyedele

Intervista in italiano

Damilare Oyedele grew up in a suburban community of Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria. During his childhood and adolescence he did not have access to a library to study, learn and use information independently. This presented him with numerous challenges resulting from the maturing of a poor reading culture and the inability to pass the national transition exam twice in a row due to lack of access to reading materials. To address this problem, in 2013, at the age of 19, Damilare began mobilizing her friends as volunteers to work and to create awareness of the importance of libraries. He began by publishing articles in Nigerian newspapers on the importance of libraries in our society. This initiative later became a non-profit organization called Library Aid Africa which he now heads as co-founder and CEO. For the past 4 years, he and his team have focused on advocating and supporting the resuscitation of libraries in schools and communities, leveraging digital technology and citizen engagement approaches to make libraries viable. In addition, he is a member of the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), where he directs global advocacy priorities. He is currently a MasterCard Foundation Scholar at The African Leadership University, studying Global Challenges, with a particular focus on research on library policy and legislation in sub-Saharan Africa.

To begin with, what does it mean to be a librarian in African communities?

I want to respond to this from two different perspectives. One as a non-library user or potential user and as a librarian. From the general public and potential library user point of view I used to see librarians as boring, quiet people that tell you to ssh ssh whenever you are in the library. While in the library school, I was an avid user of the library, so I have experience of such thing. However, with new innovative approaches and as libraries redefine their strategies to engage the community more for me, there have been some changes that I have experienced. I recall then that the library I used to use would never allow you to bring food to the library’s entrance. But now we see libraries having cafes, hosting events, and activities that are focused on changing the narrative of what libraries are. I do believe this will, in the long term, improve and change the perspective about the library. So to my second perspective as a librarian: I am fortunate to start my professional engagement very early because the library school I went to required us to go for multiple library internships to learn and build practical professional experiences. I spent approximately three years interning in specific libraries: two University libraries, one college library, and two school libraries, respectively, where I gained experiences with various categories of library users. This opened my mind tremendously to the possibilities that libraries offer and how we can explore more creative ways to make libraries more viable. The two perspectives that I have shared above further point that being a librarian in an African community is a process that is still evolving over the years, and it has continued to grow with more flexibilities and innovative approaches that seek to change the narrative that libraries and librarians are boring, quiet and nerd people (laughs) Over time, my work has positioned me to work with libraries and librarians to co-create innovative approaches and build capacities of emerging library leaders, tech-solutions to make libraries more visible and viable. These experiences have shown that librarians in African communities are resilient in navigating the terrain to improve library service delivery. More importantly, the covid-19 pandemic affected libraries and still affects them now as libraries face budget cuts due to the economic challenges caused by the global pandemic. I would say the word for librarians in African communities is Resilience to push beyond limitations-which they have consistently displayed.

Your personal experience that has led you to the world of libraries is fascinating and also the demonstration of how much passion it takes, in addition to the skills, to do this job. Can you confirm my opinion? Passion and skills: how fundamental are they to render a better service to our communities of reference?

Yeah, you mentioned something fundamental—which is passion. What led to my passion was a personal challenge I went through where I did not have access to reading materials which affected me in various ways. Of course, the passion fuels me to persistently explore avenues and platforms to build the skills and capacity that will enable me to thrive exceptionally in what I do. And that, over time, has led to consistent efforts to prioritize growth. This has been a significant contribution to the progress of my team and I at Library Aid Africa. Our projects and initiatives are from in-depth learning and capacity building that seeks to empower us to co-create innovative solutions to connect libraries more with existing and potential users. So this connotes that when passion meets skills—it creates a chain of reaction that will birth innovative and proactive approaches to things.

The Covid19 pandemic has accelerated the digital revolution process. What impact did it have on libraries and more generally in Africa?

The covid-19 pandemic was challenging for libraries in African communities as Libraries were closed. This added a new dimension to the delivery of library services throughout the African continent. Librarians and library users have little choice but to explore e-library services. However, for far too many, this was not an option. They could not provide services remotely, and a larger number of libraries could not provide services at all due to a lack of infrastructure and, to a greater extent, the ability to provide such services—particularly public libraries. This led to isolating libraries from their users.  During this, my team at Library Aid Africa started Virtual Consultation on Post COVID-19 Library services delivery.  We held the conversation online, inviting speakers from various libraries and information spaces to explore and provide solutions to these existential issues. We also collected feedback and data from participants via surveys after each session. Furthermore, throughout the virtual consultation sessions, talks and discussions were centered on gathering data from speakers and participants. Through this interaction and data collecting tools, we pinpoint the root causes of the state of libraries on the African continent. These were categorized into three major things: Library Leadership Role, Moving Libraries Digital, Emerging Skills, and Training for Library Professionals. The virtual consultation came when libraries in African countries were looking for a platform to facilitate experience sharing and the cross-pollination of ideas and innovative practices. As a result, a wide range of libraries and librarians participated. We had participants from over 20 countries participate in the virtual consultation sessions, reaching over 600 viewers every session. These are librarians who work in school, academic, public, and institutional libraries, among others. We were able to bring together library stakeholders to address critical and timely concerns affecting library service delivery during the covid-19 pandemic. It became more evident that libraries are facing similar challenges in Africa. Still, these are peculiar to the narrative in their respective countries ranging from capacity development, inadequate infrastructure, policy reforms and implementation, adoption of innovative approaches, and access and provision of e-library services, among many other challenges.  Through these series of virtual consultations, we developed and launched Library Services Delivery in Africa during and after COVID-19 Pandemic: Call to Action & Guide for African Libraries and Librarians. The document provides a step-by-step approach for libraries and librarians as they prepare to re-open. The call to action can be accessed here:

I must say that, at Library Aid Africa, covid-19 pandemic shaped the future for us. And this has enabled us to realign our programmatic focus into three major areas: Technology Innovation for Libraries, Library Advocacy Policy and Research, Innovation Co-Creation, and Community Engagement. This has been the path to which we seek to harness and drive impact to make libraries more viable on the continent.

Thanks to your contribution to IFLA and your international and broad vision beyond your national library borders, where are our libraries and librarians going? What perspectives do you imagine?

It has been a great experience for me as a young person to work with IFLA on various advocacy priorities here in Africa, where I am a member of the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Committee, where I work with the team to lead on Global Advocacy Priorities. My experience before this role and currently has enabled me to work cross-continental with library stakeholders in various African countries in Zimbabwe, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Nigeria, Malawi, and many others. So, where are our libraries going? I think the first thing here is to know where we are going, and this will enable us to understand how to get there and what we need to get there. So to address this, my response aligns with The Library Trends: The forces that will shape the future of libraries. I did a video that was presented at the WLIC 2021. It pointed at three significant areas: technology, Library Policy, and Skills of the Future. I will explain more in- depth in the coming paragraphs.  Technology is the future of libraries, and the future is now. This connotes that it is essential for libraries to harness various technology tools to offer services. Building on this, physical library space will be redefined to foster a hybrid library system over the next decade. Library Policies the implication for the library field in the next ten years will impact all aspects of the library profession as it holds a very strong power to facilitate legislative backing that will enhance library services provisions, such as infrastructure development, capacity development, and funding for libraries. Skills of the future: the future is now, and we need to harness new frontiers of skills and expertise to will position libraries as a strategic partners for development. For the next ten years, the skills libraries and librarians need will evolve due to the changes in our contemporary society. These skills could vary from serving the vulnerable and marginalized communities, data and advocacy skills and emerging technologies. Propose actions that the library field can take in response to the three major points are as follows Technology: harnessing the application of emerging technologies that will enhance library visibility, improve user engagement, and facilitate a hybrid library system.  Policy reforms: research existing laws and policies that guide libraries to facilitate amendment and/or introduction of new laws and policies that will facilitate improved library development, budget allocation, and infrastructure development for libraries. Skills of the future: curriculums and training that will equip young and emerging library leaders, librarians and libraries with the skills to be efficient irrespective of the changes in the narratives of our society. The above are based on my experience engaging with libraries across various countries and my work at Library Aid Africa. I do believe this will play a distinctive role for libraries on the continent as we relentlessly provide equitable access to information for all.

What would you recommend to a young student who would one day want to become a librarian?

As a young myself, I would recommend that young students and emerging library leaders think more of community-centered needs and incorporate this into their solutions, learnings, and applications to library issues. More importantly, harnessing digital technology, prioritizing collaborations, policy, advocacy, and community-level impact of libraries.






Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa archivista e bibliotecario, laureato in Conservazione dei Beni Culturali presso l’Università degli Studi di Perugia (2005) e diplomato in Archivistica e Paleografia presso la Scuola di Archivistica dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (2010). Dal 2010 Lavora per CAeB (Cooperativa Archivistica e Bibliotecaria) presso le biblioteche dell’Università di Perugia come bibliotecario e come archivista presso l'Archivio Storico del Comune di Gubbio. Si occupa di Biblioteche Digitali e formazione in ambito di biblioteconomia digitale. Nel 2014 membro del Comitato Esecutivo Regionale dell’Associazione Italiana Biblioteche (AIB) sezione Umbria, membro del gruppo AIB sul portfolio professionale e nel triennio 2017-2020 Presidente eletto di AIB Umbria. Dal 2020 membro dell'Osservatorio Formazione dell'Associazione Italiana Biblioteche. Autore di diversi articoli e interviste per Insula Europea sul tema degli archivi, delle biblioteche e del digital lending.