I love libraries. So it was no wonder that I graduated in Library Science. The time was the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium. Information Technology slowly entered into the field of library and crawled into the domain of librarianship. My interest in the subject drove me to take up “short term industry oriented technology courses” from a CSIR institute – CDS / ISIS; a course on freely distributed software package by UNESCO, suited for Bibliographical applications and used as catalogues in libraries, and a similar course on “Information Technology for libraries.”
As a result of that, I joined a very prestigious institute in Bangalore as a Library Trainee without any difficulty. The institute used to take six candidates every year, exposing them during training to a rich atmosphere of scholarly literature consisting journals, their back volumes, books, series, standards, and subject encyclopaedias, all stacked in a huge building.
It was summer, my first day of the training programme. I was in the circulation counter. A long queue of users waited to return their books and issue new ones. A researcher inquired about a series – something like Vol No 74 of “Methods in Molecular Biology.” I asked her to check the returned books area. Yes, somebody had indeed returned it an hour before. Memory is a boon to library staff. She thanked me for having saved her time.
I was fascinated by the catalogues, arranged subject wise, author wise following AACR II. Automation of the library was in process. The catalogue was digitalized partially; you had to search the recent ones in OPAC, the volumes of yesteryears in the card catalogue. I loved guiding the users as they tried to locate required documents using Boolean operators in OPAC or by manually searching through catalogues. The stack area became my dwelling place after circulation desk time. Shelving the books became my favourite task; it was informative and helped me guide users about where to find a particular book!
It took me a little time to get accustomed to the working atmosphere – how to locate a standard by using their numbers, how to retrieve information about a compound through “Chemical Abstracts,” how to use a referred journal like “Current Contents.” These were the skills library staff had to acquire to serve the user community better. It became possible to identify a person by his/her area of interest, stored in your strong memory, or by the title of the journals to which he/she would frequently refer! Technical work like classification and cataloguing was another arena of expertise one needed to hone so if someone came looking for a book on Digital Signal Processing, you could say, “Sir/Madam, please go to the rack numbered 621.3822.”
Illustration: Alia Sinha
After the training period ended, I worked at the library in a school in my native town; it was not automated but very popular with children. I was very much pleased to see the collection – mostly the reference books – neat, new-like, untouched, with lots and lots of pictures and information. When those shelves were opened, the management panicked while the kids were overjoyed. I had no avenue to make use of my training in the school but I loved to see the children utilizing the library – for recreational purposes, for competitions etc. Since the book selection was always done by the management, the Librarian became merely a caretaker. I longed for a training course similar to B. Ed which would equip library personnel to work with children.
Nearly one and half decade rolled uneventfully in my career, while I witnessed diminishing reading habits among children as TV, video games etc. ate up their recreation time. I felt strongly that Generation Z had completely abandoned reading or the habit of going to libraries. They are the children of the digital era! Social media, internet are becoming their information seeking places, rather than libraries or books; Google is their Information God! I feel like a leaf of what was once a very big tree – the Institution of the Library – that sheltered all but is now in a withering stage. One day, the leaf will detach from the tree and so the tree from the land. The librarian’s skills, as acquired during the course of work, become futile in this internet age. Catalogues are replaced by OPAC, Circulation personnel replaced by kiosks; all literature survey and information gathering are done through Google or other online databases rather than via library. In short, the art of librarianship may no longer exist!
Many cried, “Update yourself, librarians, or perish!”
I became computer literate – learning to use the internet for searching information, having up to date knowledge about online databases, using software to manage library, using e-mail for communication, digitalizing content, subscribing through online portals to print and digital publications.
But what about the users? The big question arises, “How will you, as a librarian, make children read in this digital era? One day, during a routine browsing of received magazines, an advertisement drew my attention. It was about Library Educators Course; a first-of-its-kind initiative by Goa’s Bookworm Trust, best suited to people who work with children and books. The brand behind this endeavour – Tata Trust – gave me the confidence to go ahead and apply.
The course content proved very attractive. The venue – Goa – might not seem like quite the fit for a man in his early fifties but my surroundings made me elated! The first day, thoroughly enchanted, I experienced professional happiness after a long time; I thrilled to see young minds guided by knowledgeable thinkers. I no longer felt as if I were a leaf on a dying tree. The robust course and the energetic gurus of LEC charged me with ideas for praxis. I started downloading book teasers for new arrivals, book talks, read aloud from YouTube, and showing them on smart boards in the library period for higher classes. I would, for example, show “Top Ten Wizards of Hogwarts,” an 8 minute video, and then fill in information about banned books. A couple of weeks ago, a book teaser of the book Origin was welcomed by 9th-12th standards like a “first day-first show” in theatre, with much applause. Bahubali, the film inspired a writer to write a story, which in turn motivated some to buy the book for reading! A YouTube clip – “A Day with R D Sharma” – resulted in friendly overtures from some of my students!
This, I feel, is only the beginning! The beginning of the second innings of a librarian.