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Public libraries to go digital under Culture Ministry

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Public libraries to go digital

Culture Ministry's National Mission on Libraries' responsibilities:

  • NML to create a National Virtual Library of India
  • Census on Library Resources and study of reading habits to be carried out
  • Library personnel to be trained in ICT

New Delhi, Jan 30: In a move that would deliver a world class library system, public libraries across the country are to be digitized and ramped up under an ambitious plan of the government to foster reading habits, facilitate research work and make people information-fluent.

Under the scheme, six libraries under the Culture Ministry, 35 Central Libraries in states and 35 District Libraries will be developed as model libraries, with emphasis on economically backward districts. In addition, 629 district libraries across the states would be provided network connectivity, facilitating their transformation from physical to virtual.

Anchored in the Culture Ministry, National Mission on Libraries (NML) will also create a National Virtual Library of India to facilitate a comprehensive database on digital resources with information generated in the country.  

To be mounted at an expenditure of Rs 400 crore during the 12th Plan period (2012-17), NML is designed to benefit all categories of people -- students, researchers, scientists, professionals, children, artists, differently abled persons and neo- and non-literates. 
Mr. Ravindra Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, said the objective of NML is to expand the learning capacity of the country and deliver a world class library system that provides information in a timely, efficient and convenient manner. 

"Making information more accessible is now paramount in the library sector. Our libraries may be filled with books, but in the digital age, they need to provide access to information that is available online. Digital libraries provide speedy access to information and they also bridge barriers of time and space," he added.

Approved by the government in November last year, NML was set up in pursuance of a report of the Sam Pitroda-headed National Knowledge Commission, which recommended an overhaul of the Library and Information Service sector.

Kolkata-based Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation (RRRLF) has been designated the nodal agency for the implementation of NML, a 10-member body headed by Prof. Deepak Pental, former Vice Chancellor of Delhi University.

"It is an exciting mission. Libraries continue to remain relevant in our lives. The challenge is not only to have large quantities of materials and resources, but to also make them available to people and empower them," said Dr K K Banerjee, Director General, RRRLF.

NML intends to create a baseline data of libraries in India through a quantitative and qualitative survey of 5,000 libraries to collect detailed information on quality characteristics and performance indicators in terms of their traditional role as readership promoters and information providers. It would also be assessed whether these libraries meet the requirement of their patrons in the Internet era.
For setting up of the model libraries, existing libraries would be identified in consultation with the state governments to improve infrastructure and upgrade technology used by them. Efforts would be made to locate them along with educational institutions. 
Further, a census is to be carried out on the resources available in the libraries. A study on the reading habits in different regions of the country and amongst the rural and urban communities has also been planned.

While the survey of libraries would be completed within one year, the other objectives of the scheme would be achieved by the end of the 12th Plan period.

"The content on NVL should be available to anyone who has access to the Internet. In new content generation, children's needs should be given priority. Content will also be generated on skill development and matters concerning regional and local interest," Dr Banerjee said, adding: "There is also need to create a ‘youth space' in libraries - informal and comfortable with ICT facility."
Under the constitution, "Library" is a State subject. Among the 16 states which have legislated on the subject so far, only eight have a reasonably good public library system.

"A major focus area of NML will be to improve the library system services and infrastructure of the states, which are lagging behind. The government is determined to make public libraries vibrant institutions and transform them into empowering and inclusive institutions," said Mr. V. Srinivas, Joint Secretary, Culture Ministry.

Observing that the advent of digital technology and Internet connectivity has created two sections of ‘digital haves' and digital have-nots', he stressed that it is no longer a matter of choice but rather a compulsion to find ways and means of bridging the gap between the two sections. "Virtual library will go a long way in filling up the gap," he said.

NML also envisages initiating need-based training programmes for various categories of professionals working in public libraries. It would also develop managerial skills and IT competencies in existing personnel in public libraries.

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