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Highlights from the Indian Public Library Conference, New Delhi 3 -5 October 2017 – Part One

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the third Indian Public Library Conference which was held at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi on 3-5 October 2017 and attracted over 400 delegates.

Organised by the Indian Public Library Movement (IPLM), it featured 70 speakers in a program designed to highlight the opportunities and challenges facing public libraries in India. Indian libraries have a very proud tradition going back over one hundred years, but it was acknowledged that the last 30 - 40 years represent lost time and libraries are in desperate need of rejuvenation and redevelopment. This is the work of the IPLM.

IPLM was founded by Dr “Shaddy” Shadrach and its purpose is to reposition public libraries as local gateways to knowledge within their neighbourhoods. It is hosted by the NASSCOM Foundation. The National Association of Software and Services Companies is a trade association of Indian Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing industry. Established in 1988, NASSCOM is a non-profit organisation. IPLM has a small Secretariat headed by the energetic and passionate Shubhangi Sharma to coordinate efforts and organise the annual conference.

Following an opening ceremony that featured singers from the National School of the Blind and the lighting of the knowledge torch by dignitaries, the conference began.

The opening speaker was Mr Shrikant Sinha, CEO of the NASSCOM Foundation. He acknowledged the impact of public libraries on his life and said that they are reason he was here today. NASSCOM is pleased to host IPLM and this is an important and strategic partnership for IPLM as the Foundation is funded by the leading tech companies in India and allows good synergies. In 2016 the NASSCOM Foundation received $4.78M from the Gates Foundation to support tech programs in Indian public libraries.

The founder of the Indian Public Library Movement, Dr Shaddy Shadrack, was the next speaker. He outlined the three years of growth and development for the movement, which plans to reach a million library users by installing computers, training staff, and supporting classes and programs at 300 district-level libraries throughout India. There is also a wider agenda of building a movement to modernise Indian Public libraries. Shaddy referred to the INELI-India visit to Melbourne in March this year when 43 innovators, mentors and sponsors were able to visit and experience libraries in Melbourne and Geelong and who left with many ideas to implement on their return.

Pilar Pacheco from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation described the role of INELI in developing public libraries and also explained how after 20 years and more than a billion dollars the foundation believed that libraries should take responsibility for their development and how the wind down has been planned to ensure that the field is ready and that the Foundation withdraws gracefully.

Mr R Chandrashekar, the President of NASSCOM said that India always been a knowledge society, but that it has not so good at sharing this knowledge. There is a growing digital divide that is just increasing with the rapid growth of new technologies. To bridge these gaps the NASSCOM Foundation was set up and it represents 2% of the profits of the leading Indian tech companies. There is a confluence of things coming together - the opportunities that technology provides, and the government agenda which seeks solutions to complex problems. He says that technology holds key to reducing the divide and enables the growth of individuals.

In summing up the opening session, Dr Shadrach with the IPLM has developed library policy and legislation recommendations which will be handed to government officials during the conference. The report highlights the status of legislation in different states; what changes are needed immediately; and the need for a national policy on public libraries.

The next session featured presentations on best practice in public libraries around the world by June Garcia, Library Consultant, and one of the main implementers of the INELI (International Network of Emerging Library Innovators) program.

I spoke during this session on the role of libraries in achieving the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals and how IFLA can support the efforts to develop public libraries in India.

While Day 1 was an introduction and a call to action, Day 2 set out clearly the challenges facing public libraries in India. This will be the topic of my next blog…stay tuned!

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