Highlights from the Indian Public Library Conference, New Delhi 3 -5 October 2017 – Part two
While Day 1 of the conference was an introduction and a call to action, Day 2 set out clearly the challenges facing public libraries in India.
Dr Kaul, Director of Delnet, talked about the need to have more visibility with government. He said that the Indian Public Library Movement (IPLM) needs to convince government that public libraries cannot raise much money on their own and that they need a group to advocate for them. The growth of information is great and information pollution is becoming more of a problem; people need access to quality information.
He challenged the audience asking:
What is the relevance of a library to a starving out-of-work man?
To woman who needs to increase skills?
To a businessman who wants to grow his business?
There is a mismatch between public libraries and the public and this is growing. He said that the fault is not with the public but with public libraries. Most have no infrastructure, pcs, or internet in public libraries. In the US public libraries are pillars of learning, and the government has spent billions on libraries. The public library in India is at a crossroad today - like a ship in storm. The storm is information pollution but the ship will sink. He closed his talk by acknowledging the work of IPLM but acknowledged that it can’t do it all on its own, and that it needs more support or public libraries will disappear.
The panel following, Citizens speak about public libraries, highlighted the user and non-user survey that has recently been undertaken by Ipsos India.
A baseline survey of public library users and non-users surveyed 2,500 citizens from 55 libraries and found that there was a low awareness of services beyond the obvious ones. Public libraries are mostly known and used as a facility to read, refer and borrow books; however they are perceived to be important for the welfare of society. They are seen as good places to socialise and get information on diverse subjects. Public access computers are the most cited demand. When asked what they would like to see in public libraries, 85% of non-users said career counselling and 75% said business information. 80% are satisfied with library staff. The major things needed in order to keep libraries relevant are staff development and infrastructure.
Ajaz Lone from IPLM also spoke about the survey. The survey found that the reason people don’t use libraries is because they don’t know they are there. The next stage is to collect information about library users - specifically, what they are doing in libraries so there is evidence to say what services are available. A checklist is being used in 45 libraries and the next step is to use a pop up survey on libraries pcs that has been used in South Africa and Romania, in order to collect evidence about the need for libraries, and how many people who have no access to internet or smartphone otherwise are using libraries.
Mr Jayarajan, Chair of the IPLM Board, started his presentation with the call for a major intervention - he said public libraries are in trouble and that so far, they haven’t been able to prove libraries are making a contribution to the development agenda. There has never been a survey before in public libraries for users and non-users in India. The most important finding is the public support for libraries, even from non-users, and every politician should be interested in the fact that over 90% support public libraries. In 2 -3 weeks there will be a market research report published and this needs to be released immediately, and published as widely as possible. The highlights of the report need to be promoted to the media and the findings used for advocacy.
Dr Archna Kumar from Delhi University spoke about community outreach and being responsive to community needs. He said that data surveys are only of use if used to restructure and that CSR (corporate social responsibility) is big in India now and libraries need to explore opportunities to link up with corporates. Librarians need to invest in training so they can be more responsive. The Digital India initiative needs convergence with libraries and information resource centres and he also reiterated that the major issue is that people don’t know libraries exist.
The next speaker was Dileep Konatham from Telangana, which is the newest state in India, who spoke about the role of public libraries and ICT. The capital Hyderabad is completely wifi and also has fibre to the premises. All schools and public libraries are linked to the network. There are many activists in government departments and they already have 500 transactions online. Their Digital literacy mission - Digicon - aims to make all websites accessible and there is a digital repository for all state government documents and reports. Telangana has three of the oldest libraries in India, set up as part of the library movement at the time of independence.
There was a multi stakeholder and partnership session in the afternoon talking about the transformation of libraries.
Ms Jaishree Goyal, head of the Angelique Foundation which is setting up children’s libraries in schools told us when they visited libraries, the books were locked up because if they were damaged staff had to pay for them. The Foundation has transformed libraries into happy places that are functional, colourful and with books at the right literacy level. For those schools with a Children’s library, it is mandatory to include a library period in the curriculum. The school gives the space, and the Foundation comes in and furnishes them. There are now 268 libraries all working well, with shared ownership - everyone has a stake in the success of these libraries.
Ms Nabila Rehman, from the British Council Bangladesh described how they have been assessing the libraries with BMGF funding. The study found that there is a lack of funding, a lack of interest, and libraries are not seen as useful anymore. The Bangladesh economy is growing and stakeholders need to be engaged, as well as making libraries relevant by identifying users needs and mapping stakeholder lists against these needs. They are encouraging reading through libraries in the British Council then bringing people into public libraries. Learning English is a big focus and there are self-access learning corners being developed for this.
Ms Kalaivani Chittarajan from Mintbooks told us about the devices they have developed which can deliver content without internet connectivity. Smart cities need different kinds of libraries and book clubs. Keeping it sustainable is a problem and they are working on a build – operate - transfer model with the aim that in 2 years these libraries will be self-sustainable. Ebook clubs in rural India is a rural innovation project.
Nancy Anabel from the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation described the INELI-India program and how the Foundation is working with 25 libraries and INELI innovators mapping programs to SDGs and measuring impact. Nancy gave a number of examples of how libraries in India are contributing to the SDG goals.
I was delighted to participate in the Conference and congratulate the Indian Public Library Movement and the NASSCOM Foundation for hosting such a successful, interesting and valuable event. I thank them for inviting me and for their warm and generous hospitality.
This was my first visit to India and my first official duty as IFLA President-elect and it was a wonderful experience. While the situation of Indian public libraries is concerning, the energy and enthusiasm of the participants at the conference brings much hope and optimism that libraries will be recognised and valued the way they used to be in India, and will be appropriately supported by Government.
The conference highlighted that the need for libraries is great and libraries are an integral part of societies all around the world, from the richest to the poorest countries. Libraries provide access to information and they are community hubs where people learn, create and meet. Libraries are contributing to progress towards ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
I look forward to continuing my association with Indian libraries and the Indian Public Library Movement and I will do all I can to support and advocate for libraries in India.