Bringing Back Our Libraries

Namratha A. Rai
Published: January 2020

If we were to ask anyone what comes to mind when the word library is mentioned, you would get answers like a room with shelves stocked with books, a place where you are required to be reading, and a librarian at the counter or on rounds asking students to maintain silence. Well, the present day libraries are still like that but now they have areas segregated for students and faculty, advanced technologies, computers, Internet and Wi-Fi connections — things that were either non-existent or not provided to the previous generations.

In the past, reading was a favourite pastime for many, besides of course, radio, indoor and outdoor sports, art and craft work, skits and plays in schools and colleges and of course, our folk tales that were brought out in the form of dance and songs.

With the invasion of the T.V, the computer/Internet and the smartphone, many of the ‘old-fashioned’ pastimes have been relegated to the backburner. Access to the Internet means they have quick and easy access to information. So really why would anyone look up additionally when they can just type the word and get the meaning in a second?

Unlike the yesteryears, where schools had libraries that were simple, cozy, and maybe even had a dusty shelf or two, present day schools have more than one library with some even having three, and colleges and universities have the main library besides the departmental libraries. The idea behind stocking shelves is to help students understand a subject better or for research and to get more students to have access to information.
Unfortunately, the habit of reading has seen a decline over the years and has been replaced with other exciting hobbies. So students view the school/college library as a place that should be visited only when there is no way out. Having hectic schedules with homework and tuitions can also be cited as a reason for the decline in reading habits. Students would rather indulge in areas that require no reading and parents may not really have the time or skills or confidence to read out to their children.

So how do you get students or children to read and visit libraries more often? For primary school students and maybe even high school students, teachers can try inculcating the reading habit by organizing book clubs, competitions for students to read books on different themes, treasure hunts where book titles are used as clues, workshops that involve activities around word games, puzzles, quiz, and storytelling as well as encouraging students to write book reviews. Parents can also be encouraged to read with their children as this exercise will not only help in spending quality time with each other but also improve their reading skills, vocabulary and language.

In the case of college and university students, finding out why they don’t frequent libraries would definitely help in fixing the problem to some extent. Introducing new genres in fiction and non-fiction, not limiting the collection to only academic related books and journals could be of help. Addition of material related to the courses that are being offered as well as activities like book clubs and fairs and story writing competitions could bring in students to the library. Individuals and companies too as part of the corporate social responsibility are doing their bit in encouraging students by organising mobile libraries and donating books of different genres like fiction, self-motivation, personality development, autobiographies, comics and music. Pratham Books, one of the largest NGOs in India has been on a mission to get children to have access to books and the organisation has found ways to make this possible through ‘Library in your Village’, Corporate pledging, Fund a book, Teach for India and International Book Giving Day and other campaigns. They also have initiatives like story cards, library in a classroom, iPad apps and audio books.

The world has changed with technology and will continue to do so in the coming years. Of all the things that have been instrumental in these changes, be it the mindset, education, floating population, it is technology that has been held responsible. Like it or loathe it, but you can’t do without it…just the way technology has touched our lives in so many ways whether its banking, the food and groceries sector, retail, car rentals, it has made its way into an area that till sometime back dealt with only books and all kinds of reading material — the library.

The quiet place that attracted book lovers, that some felt would be untouched by the ‘outside world’; a temple of knowledge; a place where you’ll find shelves of books, novels, journals, magazines and newspapers, even rare collections of manuscripts very neatly catalogued has now become a place that has all of the above in addition to equipment like computers, printers, photocopiers, projectors, Internet and WiFi connections.

Like everyone else, librarians too have felt the need to digitize certain areas. People have now realised that libraries can be sources of creativity and are looking for ways to encourage this by introducing new technologies. Libraries can become a part of a student’s life if the needs of the student community are understood and kept in mind. While it does help to increase the number of computers for use inside the library and permit students to have access to e-books, audio books, research databases and archives from the comfort of their home, hostel or a coffee shop, there are other aspects we should be thinking of.

The 21st century student needs infrastructure that is adaptable and comfortable. Whether they work independently or in groups, students prefer multi-purpose furniture because they make everything from collaborating with their friends on assignments to charging electronic gadgets easy. The goal for a library/librarian today should be to create an environment conducive for student-centric learning by making the best use of the space available.

For most schools and colleges, upgrading libraries with the latest in technology may not be possible, but they will have to integrate technology to make processes simpler and for students to have easy access to information. Libraries will benefit more when students are allowed to approach their work their way and when they are given tools to genuinely learn something in the process.