Libraries everywhere are reinventing themselves to attract more students.
I vaguely remember my college library. The memories that have remained are of being intimidated, bored, confused and uncomfortable, and even of being scared of earning the librarian’s reprimanding glance. Maybe it was just me, or it was the context of it being ‘long ago’ — a time before libraries woke up to the fact that they are not just places for storing books but also service organisations.
“‘If someone steals my book, I am only happy because that person wants to read it,’ is a quote I’ve read and like,” says Dr. S. Venkadesan, Director, Learning Resource Center, Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. This is the kind of attitude makeover that libraries across the country need to undergo, he feels. At a time when universities are cutting budgets and space for libraries, it is imperative to diversify the purpose of this knowledge repository to make it indispensable.
“The meaning of learning should not be restricted to just books. A library’s catalogue should be diversified to include multimedia and even games like in the library of the Hong Kong University that has a gaming room with a large screen,” he emphasises.
Venkadesan and his peers voiced similar ideas, concerns and solutions at the Librarians’ Day celebration organised by Prin. L. N. Welingkar Institute of Management Development (WeSchool), Mumbai. The speakers representing libraries of universities, corporates and independent organisations, centred their discussions on incorporating technology into the library practices and increasing footfalls, physically and virtually.
Libraries everywhere are reinventing themselves as social spaces too, which seems to be doing the trick of getting more people to actually visit one. And this begins with attractive design and amenities.
“Come, visit us, eat in our round–the–clock cafeteria and our lovely courtyard where you can relax with a book and coffee,” reads the British Council, Chennai’s library webpage invitingly. Similarly, Amity University’s library has a Café Coffee Day outlet. Such facilities that go out of the way to get you to read can only be encouraging.
But a library should be a place of serious study, you say? Then straight-back chairs, a straighter posture and caffeine–free atmosphere are only killing the will to study longer.
ISB, Hyderabad, has made its library a perfect place to study but by being a lot less restrictive. You can bring along your coffee or whatever it is that you wish to drink, stay on till two in the morning and till 4 a.m. on exam days, no need to bother about a dress code or the right posture.
“You can put up your feet on the table for all we care. And statistically speaking, the number of books that have been damaged by spilt coffee or water are negligible,” reveals Venkadesan. He also adds how some university libraries abroad have lounge chairs especially for students to take a quick nap between their study sessions!
Some like the Biblioteca de Santiago, Chile, go all out to reach out to the public. They have vending stations in the subway, Biblioboat — a library on boats; Bibliobike — a library on a bicycle, open-air market-lending points, plus there are no prohibition signs in the library — “Everything is possible in the Library,” reads its website.
Even a fine ambience can work wonders rather than having mono-chromatic hard wood interiors. In the West, the Downtown Denver’s Public Library, for instance, also doubles up as a high-profile art centre by showcasing sculptures, murals and other art work that attract art lovers and tourists alike.
The Rotterdam Public Library has an in–house movie theatre which also hosts festivals showcasing the work of local and student filmmakers, and the National Library, Singapore, houses The Drama Centre, a performing arts centre with a theatre.
Ajay Pagare, manager, Library, Kotak Mahindra Bank, added events like author readings, competitions, exhibitions, hobby workshops and ‘Bring your children to the library’ Day to the list of suggestions to make a library more interactive and welcoming.
These ideas serve to stress the point voiced by Prof. Harsha Parekh, Ex–Professor and HoD, Department of Library and Information Science, S.N.D.T. Women’s University, Mumbai, “The success of libraries today depends on initiatives that go beyond the individual library.”
Echoing that, Sri Venkateshwara College of Engineering, Chennai, has an arrangement with the libraries of Indian Institute of Science, Indian Institute of Management and the Bangalore University, wherein faculty and students can visit and use the resources offered at any of these institutions’ libraries by just flashing their college ID cards.
Libraries may have assumed secondary status vis-à-vis the Internet as sources of information, but the former still scores higher on credibility of information. “Not all information is easily available on the Internet, especially scholarly information,” says Prof. Parekh. “But going the tech-way, libraries now have made available access to e-resources.”
E-journals, e-readers, audio books, podcasts, online catalogues, wi-fi, web pages, recommendations, alerts and apps — the adoption of technology is now more than ever. Multi–media rooms with access to numerous audio and video resources are a regular feature in most libraries.
An article on Pew Internet on innovating library services highlights just how much libraries in India need to catch up on the tech-adoption front: “The Skokie Public Library in Illinois, U.S., offers a digital media lab, a space with content creation tools that allow patrons to create and share video, music, photography, and design projects. Additionally, the Skokie media lab has a green screen wall for video projects.
The Cuyahoga County Public Library, Ohio, U.S., has a smartphone app which features a Digital Books and Media channel that makes locating and downloading e-books and e-audiobooks from the library’s collection a lot easier.
More on technology, the National University of Singapore Library Express has set up a book borrowing and returning machine at University Town.
Despite all these innovations, technology only remains a tool, not a solution. If attitudes of libraries — librarians and management — do not change, no amount of technology can help libraries feature as an option in an information-seeker’s mind.