Traditional libraries confronted with dwindling patronage and shrinking budgets continue to find their relevance following the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory, believe librarians at leading libraries.
‘Ours is one of the oldest libraries in Delhi. I have been employed here for more than 30 years and have witnessed several trends regarding the usage of library. Though the preferences and needs of the visitors have changed over the years but that hasn’t really affected the number of visitors in the library over the years’ says Radheshyam, an employee at Delhi Public Library, Chandni Chowk.
Many predict that the digital age will wipe public book shelves clean, and permanently end the era of libraries.
Librarians too say they are faced with an existential crisis.
‘Despite the perceived outdated tag attached to the traditional libraries, both libraries and librarians are irreplaceable for many reasons. The role of a library is to create space either as a physical library, an online library or a hybrid model,’ says Neeti Saxena, Head, India and Sri Lanka, Libraries and Cultural Centres, British Council Library here.
‘The amazing amount of useful information on the web has, for some, engendered the false assumption everything can be found online. It’s simply not true,’ says Karan, librarian at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies.
Karan adds ‘While one might use the Internet or a search engine to find these databases, deeper access to them requires registration. You are still online, but you are no longer on the internet. You are in a library.’
In the digital age internet is effectively pulling students away from the stacks and revealing a wealth of information, especially to one who is equipped with the tools to find it. Though the traditional libraries are not the beginning and ending point of all scholarly research yet that doesn’t establish that students have started ignoring libraries as effective mediums for research.
According to research scholar, Deeksha Chamola, ‘Even when internet does provide actual content, the information is often snack sized or the overall experience cursory a sort of quick reference browsing. Knowledge can be found, but the experience of delving into a book for hundreds of pages just doesn’t happen online.’
Best-selling author Brad Meltzer, the Honorary Chair of National Library Week 2012 says, ‘Today’s libraries provide a wide range of opportunities for people with diverse needs and interests. That means providing their communities with tailor made collections and services for people of diverse backgrounds, language abilities and technological skills.’
‘Libraries have started using technology to preserve their claim on intellectual adventure but that doesn’t refrain them for fulfilling their traditional purpose of amassing and disseminating knowledge. Technology is integrating itself into the library system, not bulldozing it,’ says Raj Kumar, Librarian at Chandigarh’s AC Joshi Library.
He adds ‘Technology also has its own challenges so do have the digital libraries. Just like e-editions of newspapers will not be able to replace traditional print of newspapers, libraries will also continue to find their relevance’.