Society

Turning the page on the library

A. Amudhavalli, professor and head, Department of Library and Information Science, Madras University. Photo: R. Ragu   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

TIRUCHI: The world may never see the libraries in Alexandria, Nalanda and Baghdad again, because they were all burned down by invaders. The pillaging of repositories of knowledge — thought policing at its crudest — continues to this day. In the recent past, to pick just a few examples, Sri Lanka’s Jaffna Public Library (1980s), Iraq’s major libraries (2003-04) and Cairo’s Egyptian Scientific Institute (2011-12), have lost their volumes to looting by random forces.

Doomsday prophets may argue that we are metaphorically burning our libraries by abandoning the printed book in favour of electronic learning. But it would be wrong to dismiss the library as a relic of an unwanted past, say professional archivists, who have been seeing the world of knowledge harvesting change with the society that shapes it.

As India celebrated National Librarian’s Day this week (August 12) in commemoration of the Father of Library Science, S. R. Ranganathan, MetroPlus found that the institutional library is thriving, bringing generations of learners, scholars and teachers into its democratic embrace.

Ranganathan formulated five laws of library science: books are for use, every reader his book, every book its reader, save the time of the reader, and library is a growing organism. How effectively are they being followed?

“‘The book shall die a natural death shortly,’ is a permanent forecast,” says A. Srimurugan, former university librarian and head, Department of Library and Information Science, Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU). “But the aesthetic pleasure of printed material, in feeling the paper and reading without any technological assistance cannot be totally erased.”

Srimurugan cites the example of the University of Toronto’s ‘Demand a Print’ service that allows users to pay the library to print a single copy of a book instantly, as proof that the traditional perusal of print publications will retain its appeal.

With 40 years of experience in the field of informatics, Srimurugan says that while India’s academic libraries have adapted well to the information boom, the decision by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to limit the use of its UGC-INFONET on campuses has hampered wider and collaborative study, especially among women researchers.

“Indian scholars need support, not only from the State and Central Governments, but also more from the Library and Information Science (LIS) professionals, a majority of whom lack thorough knowledge of the digital environment they handle,” he says.

Few people are willing to study Library and Information Science, and those who do, fail to equip themselves with the required technical and professional skills, feels A. Amudhavalli, professor and head, Department of Library and Information Science, University of Madras.

“Digital technology is only a medium, and not an end in itself. This is why I am confident that though the functional role of librarians may have changed, the paper media will continue to exist,” she says. But the decline of the reading habit among school and college students despite vast advancements in technology in India needs attention, she adds. “It is lamentable that there is no focus on libraries in all the talk about education reform by government agencies,” she says. “In Tamil Nadu, there is still no sanctioned post for librarians in government schools. The authorities need to realise that critical thinking and communication skills are missing among students today, because the library is missing from their education.”

The days of libraries being monolithic institutions are long gone, says Jesudoss Manalan, librarian of Bishop Heber College in Tiruchi. “Libraries have to allow others to access their documents because of the diversified nature of users. And computerising operations has helped speed up the transfer of information. Earlier, when a lecturer would recommend a text book, students would rush to the library to borrow the same volume. Today, we expect user needs to be more diversified because of the Internet,” he says.

But relying on non-linear and non-indexed pools of data provided by the Internet is problematic too, Manalan says. “Librarians are trained to look for accurate information, with key words and Boolean methods, so that specific data can be fetched out immediately – which is why students should approach them for assistance.”

At the Seethalakshmi Ramaswami College (SRC) in Tiruchi, a vast majority of students are first-generation learners, who may be newcomers to the library experience too. Making use of the library for at least two hours in a week is compulsory at the college, and tracked through attendance. There are 75,000 books at SRC, spread out among departments and a dedicated library premises with a computer centre.

“From the time e-resources have come, few students are reading for knowledge,” says R. Sathyabama, SRC library in-charge, whose doctoral thesis examined the reading habits of pupils. “Nowadays, only those who like reading maintain it as a hobby. Whether you watch 10 movies, or surf the net, you cannot condense the content into one narrative. But when you read a book, you can get diverse information at one go,” she adds.

Libraries can optimise their services by introducing fee-based services, feels Srimurugan of MKU. “Scholars are willing to pay for accurate information, especially when it involves getting an authoritative citation. Our libraries are sitting on vast reserves of documents that are not easily available to other institutions.”

Why don’t students consider Library and Information Science as a path to a rewarding career? “A formed opinion is that with an LIS degree, one can become a librarian either in a college or a public library. But its potential in the media, corporate sector or the IT industries is rarely talked about,” adds Srimurugan.

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Scientific indexing

India celebrates August 12 as Librarian’s Day in honour of S.R. Ranganathan, whose contribution to the field has earned him the epithet of ‘Father of Library Science.’

Born in 1892 to Ramamrita Ayyar and Seethalakshmi at Shiyali (now known as Sirkazhi), Ranganathan was a lecturer in Mathematics and Physics at the constituent colleges of Madras University, when a chance turn of events led him to accept an appointment as the university’s very first librarian in 1924.

In order to equip himself for the job, Ranganathan travelled to University College London, which at that time housed the only graduate degree programme in library science in Britain. His background in mathematics inspired him to rejig the classification of books, which was then at that time being taught by rote.

Ranganathan’s colon classification system has helped to index books more accurately and in a scientific manner. Upon his return to Madras University in 1925, he worked to overhaul the library and also started the institution’s Library Science Department in 1931. At his behest, Madras became the first state in India to enact the Madras Public Libraries Act (1948). He persuaded the UNESCO to establish the Documentation Centre in New Delhi.

With a long career in Library Science in different universities throughout India behind him, Ranganathan founded the Documentation Research and Training Centre in Bangalore in 1962.

Ranganathan wrote more than 2,000 research papers, 60 books, besides founding and editing five periodical publications in his lifetime.

His ‘Five Laws of Library Science’ (1931) is widely accepted as a definitive statement of the ideal of library service.

He passed away on September 27, 1972.


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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 1:37:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Turning-the-page-on-the-library/article14566390.ece

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