Preservation of heritage materials constitutes a big challenge to heritage institutions in Africa. The challenge of heritage preservation in the tropics seems to be overwhelming due to a number of factors which include the harsh tropical environment, absence of a preservation policy and general lack of preservation awareness and appreciation of the importance and sensitivity of heritage materials. The strategic role of preservation to the survival of and long term access to heritage materials cannot be over-emphasised. It not only prevents or delays deterioration but also ensures access. "Without preservation, access becomes impossible and collections will decay and disintegrate" (Drijfhout, 2001). The greatest obstacle to access is deterioration or loss of collection.
National heritage institutions such as the National Library, the National Archives and the National Museums are in the forefront in the preservation of heritage materials in Nigeria. By virtue of their mandate, these institutions acquire, organise and make heritage collections available to the patrons whose interest they are set up to serve. The collections or holdings of the institutions differ in significant respects as do their core missions and responsibilities. There is also a remarkable difference in the way they organise and facilitate access to their collections.
The National Library's collections essentially comprise published materials in printed or electronic form. The National Archives' core responsibility is the preservation of public records, whether on paper or any other medium. The National Museums are responsible for collecting, preserving and exhibiting artifacts illustrating the nation's history and culture. Essentially, its role is to coordinate the collection and preservation of movable and non-movable items of cultural heritage including historical sites and monuments. These institutions differ in their approaches to acquisition, documentation, processing and facilitating access due largely to the nature of the materials collected and the practices of their professions. Librarians, archivists and museum curators all adhere to their own professional philosophy, practices, standards and ethics.
Despite the divergence, there is a point of convergence for heritage institutions in Nigeria. Preservation is an area of shared concern among the institutions and it touches the very root of their existence. It is a mission that cuts across professional boundaries. In view of the fact that these institutions operate within the same physical, economic and political environment, they are faced with similar challenges in the task of preserving their collections. The need for collaboration and networking in meeting these challenges cannot, therefore, be wished away.
Challenges of Heritage Preservation in Nigeria
The underlying problems of heritage preservation have been identified in the literature. These problems are not all mutually exclusive - indeed, they overlap to some degree. Some authors lean towards one view without necessarily rejecting the others. Popoola (2003) argued that information professionals in African society today cannot wave aside the obvious fact that the continent stands the imminent risk of losing so much of its valuable heritage materials as a consequence of ever increasing deterioration, lack of coordination in handling records, absence of legal policies, etc. He recommended that the only antidote to these problems is the formulation and implementation of sound preservation policies and programmes.
In Nigeria the challenges of heritage preservation are enormous. The unfavourable tropical climate poses one such challenge. It has been asserted that preservation in the tropics is faced with typical problems of "specificity of the objects and the materials, and those arising from tropical conditions under which they are kept and maintained" (International Council on Archives, 2001). …