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Focus on Indian libraries

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An appropriate model of development

Considerable progress has been made, since the turn of the millennium, in the creation of a networked library infrastructure which can support the research and education necessary for India to continue to be a key global player.

However, more needs to be done to:

  • improve dilapidated buildings at the local level,
  • link digital projects so that these do not happen in isolation, with the risk of duplication of effort and funding.

Library education needs to be redesigned so that it takes more account of the need to teach information literacy skills. If this can happen, then perhaps the NKC's objective of local centres of information and knowledge, with gateways to national and global knowledge, can be achieved.

Perhaps the most positive aspect of Indian librarianship is the desire to link disparate digital initiatives into a whole, in order to derive maximum benefit of resource and cost sharing. If technological solutions can be sought at a high level, then we could see an efficiency of resource sharing that bypasses individual institutional attempts to create state-of-the-art electronic libraries, as is happening in the West.

This resource sharing is very Library 2.0, and it may be a model that better suits the developing world. Kumar believes that India, rather than adopting a Western model where libraries fragment into different specialties of public, research, academic, health, etc., should look to a binary model of creating grass-roots level general libraries from existing academic libraries (generally better equipped than their public counterparts), while specialist R&D organizations are converted into digital domain source libraries. The latter would be joined by a grid across the country, so that information would be available in the remotest corner, the grass-roots libraries serving as access points.

That means, it would seem, investing in buildings at the local level, and in networks and collection development at the national level. It also means a highly planned, orchestrated approach, something Kumar sees as missing from current library initiatives.

When asked how he sees libraries developing in the next five years, Kumar is cautiously optimistic, because he feels that the emphasis on research and education provides the necessary encouragement. There's a realization that investment is needed, but a lack of clarity in its implementation.

However, throwing money at a situation does not always resolve it. There needs to be careful planning and joined-up thinking. There is much hope for libraries in India, but it would be a shame if the hope were to disintegrate into a lot of fissiparous projects. Bold thinking and action is called for – and then India may well have libraries that can lead the world.