Preface to Issue 4

Dear Torchlighters,

Technology is everywhere. Inventions that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago are essential components of everyday life now. Libraries and readers too have been swept up in its all-encompassing embrace; Kindle screens wink at us from bedside tables, archives become digitally available, and writers tweet out stories in real time to a breathless audience of millions. As with all other change, this too has its share of nay-sayers. Some worries and complaints – about elitism and privilege, shortened attention spans and lost nuances, digital isolation – are entirely legitimate and, to varying degrees, already apparent. The need of the hour seems to be platforms where a multiplicity of voices from all walks of life can think through, at some leisure, the ramifications of reading and library-ing in the age of the smartphone and the internet. And thus, this issue.

In Axis, we present the stories of three people who negotiate the dance between old-school practices and the wonders of modern tech in their own unique ways. Veteran librarian Sujata Noronha, in Fitting In: A Reflective Essay on Technology and Children’s Library Practice draws upon her experience as an administrator of a children’s library in Goa to tell us why she feels technology should play second fiddle in such spaces. Writer and photographer Sohail Akbar’s photo story In My Father’s Library is both a visual treat and a delicately rendered account of his quest to restore his ageing father’s library in Allahabad to its former splendour; he is aided in this noble quest by youthfully enthusiastic interns who wield cataloguing software with great ease. Siddhartha Sarma’s Virtual Quest: Rare Books and a Recreation of Childhood is his delightful account of a self-imposed quest begun in a remote children’s library in the North East; he finally completes it, in another place and time, with the help of the internet and a very obliging best friend.

Spotlight features Libraries, where writer Manjula Padmanabhan takes a trip down the memory lane to the libraries of her childhood (with moats!) and reflects on how sophisticated technology has altered so many aspects of the readerly experience. Also featured is a podcast where XRCVC’s Krishna Warrier is in conversation with Ketan Kothari of Sightsavers, an NGO that works to address sight impairment. Mr Kothari sheds much needed light on how technology like DAISY, a Digitally Accessible Information System that enables visually challenged people to read, is a major game changer when it comes to access and inclusivity.

In Alt Shift, you will find Tanvi Domadia’s Where Tech Meets Storytelling and Selvakumar Jagannathan’s Memoir of a Librarian which almost read like a debate on the necessity of technological intervention in the library, with Ms Domadia for and Mr Selvakumar against. Dileep Sharma’s Hindi piece titled Kahani Aur “Aur Ek Kahani” takes us to Sirohi, Rajasthan where we see what happens when, under a government scheme, e-readers are made available to school kids in a government school. Aarti Srinivasan’s video review of Lane Smith’s It’s a Book gives space to young bookworms – so often the subject, rarely the speaker – to share with us their perspective on what being a reader means in a time of infinite screens. Rajashree Gandhi, in Has the Internet Done to Poetry What Spring Does to the Cherry Tree? focuses her critical gaze on a specific kind of writerly and readerly exercise – the poem – and raises many interesting questions about the Instagram effect on the whole enterprise. Alia Sinha’s Book Feels For Broke Bibliophiles conducts a critical scrutiny of the popular Facebook group for booklovers and what it means to adapt book-love to a digital stage.

In addition, we have our regular features – On the Same Page where Beena Choksi takes us into the world of digital children’s picture books, and A (Technical) Readerly Problem where Alia Sinha’s comic strip renders a scenario sure to find resonance with everyone reading the page.

We hope you will bask in the glow of libraries and book love that this issue offers. The theme for the next quarter’s issue is Bookish Love. Do join this growing community of Torchlighters!

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