Libraries Are Repository Of Societal Development They Will Always Be Relevant

-Says Professor Dr. Ramesh C. Gaur, Dean & Director (Library & Information) & Head-Kala Nidhi Division, IGNCA

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Since time immemorial Libraries are the storehouses or treasure trove of knowledge. In fact, they are a conglomeration of research, development, education and interdisciplinary skills. In Indian scenario, there is much more that needs to be done to improve the importance, relevance and the overall management of libraries. Smita Dwivedi in conversation with Prof Ramesh Gaur divulges the fate of Indian libraries post the Covid-19 impact.

Libraries are not just collection of books, journals and information resources; they are a melting pot of knowledge. They have played an important role in the development of educated societies, and so, one must be professional enough to manage this knowledge ocean. With around three decades of experience with libraries our discussion with Prof Gaur started with impact of Covid-19 on Libraries.

Covid-19 Impact

Prof Gaur shared a detailed reply focusing on whole world, “Because of lockdown, educational institutes and public libraries are closed. Now there are two important components of library: actual need of existing resources and how library staff is providing them remotely. Some Indian libraries are equipped to provide resources to users mainly through digital technology, but they are very few in numbers.”

If we talk about worldwide scenario, Europe, America and other developed countries have very good infrastructure. They are using remote access technologies to provide access to their electronic resources anywhere anytime. And so, users are able to access information from their homes, offices or even while travelling. They have good connectivity in terms of internet bandwidth and availability of devices is also very high. Here, libraries are well prepared in terms of technology, which is used to decide what content should be made available to users. They are also well placed in terms of content. Their public libraries are very well developed. Also, they have so many e-books, e-journals, all kind of digital content, besides lot of open access content. The librarians are well trained and they are doing a great job. So impact of Covid-19 is there on libraries but somehow they are better placed if we compare them with the Indian scenario.”

“When we talk about technology infrastructure in Indian scenario, majority of our schools, public and college libraries don’t even have good internet connectivity, forget about digital content. In absence of digital infrastructure, users of these libraries have been badly affected. They don’t have access to most of the online digital content, either library subscribed resources or some of the open access content. Further, users are not that tech-friendly to access libraries digitally. Even the librarians working in many libraries are not well trained. So I see a very bad impact of Covid-19 on the Indian Library segment. Delhi Public Library, which is largest in terms of subscribers and users, does not have any digital content and remote access facility, ” he added further.

State of Libraries in India

“We are prepared for the fact that it is going to be a new world for us. The way we used libraries and resources is surely going to change.” So, what is the state of libraries in India? According to Prof Gaur, “The way Indian libraries are being looked by authorities is pathetic. Also, the mindset of the people is not very encouraging. People have started believing that everything is available on internet, so what is the need of library – this is a misconception.”

“Another issue that has affected Indian libraries in last many years is budget reduction. Now libraries are getting very less amount. Their budgets have also been reduced drastically. “Because of budget reductions, the library has been hit badly, and this trend is prevalent across India,” adds Prof Gaur.

“To my surprise, many libraries in India still do not have a post of Librarian and there are many others, which are being headed by non-qualified people. On top of it, there is lack of digital content, online/remote access and use of other digital platforms for information and knowledge sharing. To sum up, a lot of improvement is required in the library segment,” he shared.

Publishers’ Role

“There is a huge impact of Covid-19 on our researchers, students and faculty. I am getting lot of e-mails everyday for availability of resources. Most of the books are not available in e-book format. I think majority of Indian publishers are into printing books only while just a few publishers are also providing e-books which is making it difficult to fulfill the growing demand for e-books, especially in the current scenario.”

“Moving ahead, more and more Indian publishers should come up and start providing e-books, while the existing providers should enhance their standards as compared to international publishers,” he feels. “I think publishers find it difficult to market e-books, so textbooks are mainly sold in print format…but not anymore,” he feels.

Education Today

Post Covid-19, the education scenario is going to be very different globally, especially in India. I have witnessed so many webinars and teachers doing online sessions and live chats. But I feel these teachers should also refer some more books and resource materials to upgrade their information, so they are able to give their best and more updated information to the students,” opines Prof Gaur.

“Notably, only 15% of the global internet resources is accessible through Google or any standard search engines, and so to access the rest 85% academic data one needs to visit libraries or need help of librarians. All in all, INTERNET can never be a replacement of libraries,” he added.

On a concluding note

“Somewhere I feel this situation has given us an opportunity to rethink and restructure our education system and libraries so that we can have a better future. Going forward, it will be a hybrid world, where half digital and half printed format of resources will prevail for long,” concludes Prof Gaur.

Prof Ramesh Gaur is a member of various esteemed associations- International Advisory Committee (IAC) UNESCO Memory of the World (MoW) Programme, Expert Consultation Committee for setting up of International Centre on Documentary Heritage (ICDH) in South Korea, Cultural Heritage Programme Advisory Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) for a period of one year w.e.f. June, 2020 and other important national and international professional bodies.

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