Look back to libraries!
Editor – S K Khurana Libraries have been into existence in India since time immemorial. It is said that Nalanda University founded by Kumar Gupta during 413 – 455 AD in Bihar had a multistoried library way back in 600 AD. Bakhtiar Khilaji while invading India destroyed the library in 1193 AD which burnt into ashes; it was so huge that it kept burning for three months. This was a huge loss of knowledge at that time.
Even the Mughal emperors believed in libraries. Babur established the first Mughal library in 1526. Akbar’s Imperial Library had 24,000 books when he died in 1605. Even the British in India took a step ahead and established universities with fully-furnished libraries. However, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekward III introduced a wonderful library system and came forward to promote free public library service at a time when many other governments in India, including the Central Government, were not quite sympathetic towards the development of libraries and librarianship. He introduced free compulsory elementary education backed by libraries in 1883 in the district of Baroda. Thereafter, for the first time in India, free public library services were introduced as a system in 1907 and extended to the entire state.
The contribution of SR Ranganathan is unique and remarkable. He is regarded as the father of Indian library movement. The idea of an integrated library system was first introduced by him at the first All Asia Educational Conference held at Benerai in Andhra Pradesh in 1930. Another important decision was the formation of Indian Library Association in 1933. Since then, public libraries have been established and maintained to be the source of books for anyone interested in reading or gaining knowledge.
However, the public libraries have not been given due maintenance in the recent times in the way it should be. Though most of them are housed in government-owned buildings, their conditions remain shoddy. The stack and reading rooms in most of the libraries are combined due to space problem. The seating arrangement is not up to mark as it is always managed with very old furniture. Some libraries do not even have adequate trained staff. There seems to be a paucity of funds in maintaining these adequately apart from bringing in new books, audio-visual equipments, better staff, furniture, etc.
It must be remembered that the investment in the infrastructure of public libraries means investment in education and government should come up to provide better facilities, thereby promoting the habit of reading. I happened to visit a few libraries overseas where allowed to organise social events in the evening hours. Authorities responsible for libraries (public or otherwise) in India should also take a cue and welcome publishing fraternity to these venues for formal book release functions and other related activities. This will bring people closer to books and might even motivate them to visit the libraries regularly and pick up books of their choice. It was indeed a happy sign to see that the recent Delhi Book Fair’s theme ‘Libraries and Readership’ was based on this topic itself.
Let’s try not to let the charm and utility of public libraries fade away…there are still millions of people who cannot buy every book they love to read. Let’s look back to our libraries and give a better reading experience to all.