Universities in Karnataka have joined hands to network all their libraries.

Taking a cue from the recommendation of the National Knowledge Commission for extensive use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) applications in libraries, universities in Karnataka have joined hands to network all their libraries, a first of its kind among State universities in the country.

To avoid it from becoming another department that may get neglected in few months or years, the Vice-Chancellors, Librarians and Registrars of all the universities have decided to establish a consortium, to be called UNI-LINK, and register it as an independent body under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act.

A vision document — Karnataka State University Library Network — prepared by the Bangalore University, which was discussed during a recent meeting of Vice-Chancellors of all the universities, proposes to implement the project at two broad levels: networking of university libraries to share documents (electronic and print), services and other facilities at the first level; and then networking libraries of affiliated colleges and linking them with the network of university libraries.

A positive proposal is not to burden the users of the UNI-LINK, mainly the student community, to make additional payment for exclusive use of this network. “Each university must agree to share the cost towards network expenses and document delivery expenses without passing it on the users,” says the vision document.

Calling networking of libraries a need of the hour, the vision document points out that though there are a large number of resources (books, journals, documents, etc) in the libraries of universities and affiliated colleges, students and faculty do not have easy access to such collections. Moreover, a sizable population, particularly in the rural areas served by the universities, does not have access to the resources since their college libraries do not as yet have eclectic collections.

Also, there is considerable duplication of resources since the university libraries and the college libraries are not aware of the resources of each other. More importantly the university libraries, in the recent years, are finding it difficult to acquire costly books and journals due to financial constraints.

All these factors have made the universities to look for a ICT-based solution through networking.

Objectives

The prime aim of the networking is to link the resources of university libraries and build a catalogue to enable the resource-poor libraries to help their users with comprehensive information in the form of metadata. Sharing of resources/documents through inter-library lending and document delivery services such as fax, e-mail, etc; digitisation of the publications of the universities and rare books; creation of a database of prescribed textbooks; development of a common web portal; establishment of a common repository for less used books; and creation of a registry of ongoing research, are among other goals.

UNI-LINK is aimed at offering services on the lines of the U.S.-based Online Computer Library Centre (OCLC) World CAT which connects about 71,000 libraries in the U.S. and other countries and provides access to their resources through web.

How will the UNI-LINK be funded? Each university has agreed to earmark Rs. 1 lakh from its budget for the work of forming the consortium and other preliminary tasks.

The State Government, says Minister for Higher Education Arvind Limbavali, will find a way to give about Rs. 5 crore for acquiring ICT applications, hardware and other requirements.

Once launched, the universities can maintain it by pooling a small amount in their annual expenditure towards recurring financial burden as operating cost will not be huge, points out N. Prabhu Dev, Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University.

It should not take more than six months to network the university libraries and launch the new initiative, says Mr. Prabhu Dev, who has been chosen as the Chairman of the Task Force among the Vice-Chancellors to facilitate creation of UNI-LINK.

P.V. Konnur, Librarian of Bangalore University, who is the member-secretary of the Task Force, says equipping the libraries with computer hardware, common software, and reasonably good access to high-speed internet connectivity are among essential technical requirements.

Conversion of data already available in machine-readable form at the libraries into an international metadata format such as MARC21 is another vital requirement that will enable the universities to download and validate data available free of charge from various national and international organisations.