Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Centre plans to set up 7,000 libraries

Centre plans to set up 7,000 libraries

Sunday, November 01, 2009

New Delhi: With an aim to encourage reading habit among people, the Centre is planning to set up about 7,000 libraries having computers with internet facility across the country, a large chunk of which may go to rural areas.

These libraries will be opened as part of the National Mission on Libraries (NML), the Centre's initiative to revitalise the public library movement in the country.

Sources said the Culture Ministry has sent a set of recommendations in this regard to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who holds charge of the ministry. The new libraries, if the proposals are accepted, will be equipped with modern gadgets and broadband connectivity besides being networked with other leading libraries, educational and cultural institutions.

The recommendations were made as it was felt that these facilities are necessary in this age of technology and that is the only way to bring back people to libraries.

The ministry has also recommended that a major chunk of the about 7,000 proposed new libraries should go to the rural areas to benefit the students there, who are deprived of such facilities, the sources said.

They said it has been recommended that the new libraries may be set up in rural areas, especially near schools which do not have such facility.

"The Ministry will also be working in tandem with the HRD Ministry in this sector and we have asked them to identify schools in rural areas which do not have library facilities," the sources said.

They pointed out that establishing libraries near public schools will encourage students to develop reading habits. Besides, the library staff will also be trained to handle the technical devices.

The sources also said the recommendations include providing special services to differently-abled people in the libraries.

The ministry is also planning to give a complete make-over to public libraries across the country as part of the NML. "Public libraries across the country will benefit from the Mission which will bring in modern technical equipment to the libraries. These libraries in the country have not seen such things," the sources said.

The proposals include broadband connectivity to public libraries and networking them with other libraries and the ones in reputed institutions.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

'Develop libraries like malls'

DNA Correspondent, Sunday, August 30, 2009
In tune with the changes brought about in society with the economic and social developments in the last two decades, libraries need to be upgraded, especially with knowledge. In fact, the library culture needs to be nurtured and continued for the future.
Therefore, librarians need to work hard towards this end and make libraries more user- and people-friendly. On the occasion of Librarians' Day, a seminar on 'Information literacy and changing landscape of libraries' was organised by the Ahmedabad Library Network at the Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA) on Saturday.
August 12 is celebrated as Librarians' Day, on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Dr SR Ranganathan, the father of the Indian library movement. The entire month has seminars and workshops related to library science.
Addressing a gathering of more than 300 librarians and students, senior librarian of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA), H Anil Kumar said that with the social and economic developments that came along with free-trade policies, the role of libraries has changed.
"Libraries have always been a focal point of human life. However, they could not evolve as required and have become mere storerooms. Like the mall culture that has evolved over the years, wherein people have a variety of choices, libraries should change their physical outlook and create a learning ambience for students as well as teachers," Kumar said.
He stressed on the fact that the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has declared information literacy as a basic human right and that the US, Australia and many European countries have already adopted this. "However, India is still lagging behind," Kumar said.
The other speakers at the event said that the education delivery system should include having students and teachers use them. It should be designed in such a way that everyone can be a lifelong learner and such a system should start from school-level teaching, and learning should go beyond the classroom, they said.
The speakers also called on librarians to better understand and spread knowledge on the difference between digital, virtual, online and e-resources. They said that librarians must have the perception of right terms in order to search for relevant information online.
Dinesh Awasthi, director, EDI; Janak Parikh, president, AMA; and Bhagyesh Jha, commissioner of information, Gujarat Information Bureau, also delivered lectures at the event.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Delhi Book Fair opens with international participation

Madhur Tankha, The Hindu, NEW DELHI, August 29, 2009
15th edition of the Annual Book fair features books from Abu Dhabi, China, Iran, Pakistan and the United States, in addition to India.
Stating that books play a significant role in shaping the mindset of the younger generation, Union Minister of State for Corporate Affairs Salman Khurshid on Saturday appealed to India publishers to bring out books that are constructive, secular and progressive in outlook.
Inaugurating the 15th edition of the Delhi Book Fair-2009 at Pragati Maidan here, he complimented the India Trade Promotion Organisation and the Federation of Indian Publishers for institutionalising a book event of international stature.
Pointing out the significant role played by books in national integration by “building literary bridges across the socio-cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of the country,” Mr. Khurshid expressed happiness over the considerable growth of the Indian publishing sector and its integration with the global book market.
The Minister emphasised the need for some of the eminent Indian authors publishing in English language to consider publishing in the country rather than overseas. “This would eliminate the waiting time for such books to reach book lovers in India. I am optimistic that the issue of volumes or attitudinal factors that may be coming in the way of publishing such books in the country could be appropriately sorted out.”
Welcoming overseas exhibitors from Abu Dhabi, China, Iran, Pakistan and the United States, Mr. Khurshid said that he hoped that the fair would give a fillip to enhancing international collaborations in publishing and business transactions. He pointed out that Pragati Maidan was not merely an exhibition ground but had become a focal point of vital every day life of the Capital.
Speaking on the occasion, Secretary (Ministry of Culture) Jawhar Sircar disclosed that the Prime Minister had set up an advisory committee for the National Library for compilation and digitalisation of large number of books. “Ninety thousand books published every year in India are sent to The National Library. As a result of the process of digitalising and modernising the cataloguing process, many books lying unattended will be made available to readers. It was estimated that as part of the modernisation process it would take about two and half years to have all books in The National Library in the digital format.”
Mr. Sircar further commented that book fair was not just an event but a “cultural handshake that needs to be organised with meticulous care”.
The Delhi Book Fair is open up to September 6.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Five decades on, it continues to fascinate bibliophiles

Anupam Bhagria

Posted: Aug 04, 2009 at 0223 hrs IST

Ludhiana - In a city where affluence and extravagance rule the roost, there are many who love to spend time in the company of books. And for many of the bibliophiles in the city, the Panjab University Extension Library is the place to be.

Established in 1960, the library was one of the three prestigious libraries of India.

Prem Parkash Verma, who retired as librarian in 2003, said, "It was opened by the UGC and American PL 480 Plan (UNESCO) at Jaipur, Madurai and Ludhiana. While the remaining two have closed down, this continues to cater to a segment of the city's intelligentsia. The library started from rented rooms in the Zila Parishad complex in 1960. It was shifted to the present building in April 1967 and was formally inaugurated in February 1968 by V V Giri, the then President of India."

Since then, catering to the needs of readers, this beautiful monument stands in the form of an impressive academic structure in the heart of the city near the Fountain Chowk in Civil Lines.

It may not be an excellent architectural specimen but exudes a fragrance of books even as one enters the portals of this red stone building. The library, which started with 15,000 books, now boasts of more than 1.60 lakh volumes of different subjects and languages other than periodicals and newspapers.

According to Verma, "In 2003, the Panjab University Regional Centre came up here. Later, a newly-opened institute of law and an institute of management added feather to the library's cap. I feel that general readership declined perhaps due to the impact of computers and TV channels."

With more than 2,000 members on its rolls, many prefer to come here to prepare for their competitive exams in the serene environment of the elongated rooms.

Jaswinder Singh Dhillon, a youngster said, "I visit the library twice a week. It is such a nice place to study and of course the very ambiance charms me."

Recalling their old times, Sukhcharan Singh, a government schoolteacher, said, "I never bought any book during our post-graduation and used to come here to prepare notes. I scored very good marks and also qualified in my competitive exam after studying here."

Neena Sagar, an old student of SCD Government College for Boys, said, "I still cherish the moments I spent here while preparing for my exams in MA English. The old wooden chairs, the well-planned catalogues and of course the plethora of books always fascinated me."

Source: Expressindia

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Punjab’s rural libraries spread awareness in farmers’ lives

Ani July 25th, 2009
BATHINDA - Many libraries in the rural Punjab are spreading awareness about different aspects of life and society and thus transforming lives of farmer families.
At Jidda village in State’s Bathinda district, people of different age groups gather to read daily newspapers at Shaheed Bhagat Singh Library in the village.
While farmers get updates and latest farming related news, the youth hunt for news and job options in national and local newspapers here.
“The farmers have benefited. They have gained knowledge about pesticides and newer techniques in farming at the library. Everyday, we read newspapers and the magazines like ‘Changi Kheti’ (good farming) and others. We find some time to spend in the library to gain knowledge,” said Sadhu Singh, a farmer and library member.
Set up in 1978, the library has a collection of over 1,500 books on almost all subjects, including religion, literature and history. It helps to promote reading habit among the rural people, and also raises awareness about civil rights and many other issues.
“Our aim in opening up libraries is to make the rural people aware of their rights by providing them modern literature. We want them to come to library and read books and use the information about civil rights and even fight for it. We are witnessing the impact of this move as many farmers unions have been established, that are now fighting for their rights,” said Jagmail Singh, a member of the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Library Committee.
Each member is expected to pay Rs.50 (about a dollar) as security deposit for books for two years. It enables the member to get books issued for two weeks from the library.
Shaheed Bhagat Singh Library Committee has the responsibility to look after the maintenance of library.
Besides, the Sabhyachar and Samaj Sewa Manch, a non-governmental organisation, which is running three libraries at Mansa and Khokhar Khurd village, and spreading awareness.
As more people in the rural areas are keen to become members, there is a feeling among the library members that more such libraries should be set up.
“Every village should have libraries. It will help youth and people of other age groups to spend their time in reading the books, and not to indulge in other anti-social activities. If there is a library in the village, the villagers will come and spend time in reading books and newspapers and will be better informed,” said Romi, one of the library members.
Farming is becoming more complex and requires greater understanding and knowledge on the part of the farmers.
And a library can be a great medium to provide them more information abnout new crops, technology, fertilizers and even about climate.
By Avtar Gill (ANI)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Public libraries set for complete makeover

Public libraries set for complete makeover

E T B Sivapriyan, PTI News

New Delhi, Jul 23, 2009: If the government has its way, public libraries across the country will undergo a complete makeover with modern equipment, broad-band connectivity besides being networked with educational institutions.

The Culture Ministry has planned to launch National Mission on Libraries (NML), as recommended by the National Knowledge Commission (NKC), to revitalise the public library movement in the country, sources said here today.

The ministry has sent a set of recommendations in this regard to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who holds charge of this ministry, sources said.

There are also plans to set up about 7,000 new libraries, equipped with computers and other modern devices, across the country with prime focus on rural areas.

"Public libraries across the country will benefit from the Mission which will bring in modern technical equipments to the libraries.

Source: PTI News

Thursday, July 16, 2009

States of India those passed Public Libraries Act

States of India those passed Public Libraries Act (legislation):

  • Tamil Nadu, 1948
  • Andhra Pradesh, 1960
  • Karnataka, 1965
  • Maharashtra, 1967
  • West Bengal, 1979
  • Manipur, 1988
  • Kerala, 1989
  • Haryana, 1989
  • Mizoram, 1993
  • Goa, 1993
  • Gujarat, 2000
  • Orissa, 2000
  • Rajasthan, 2005
  • Uttar Pradesh, 2005
  • Uttarakhand, 2005
  • Pondicherry, 2007/2008

Friday, July 10, 2009

A QUIET PLACE TO READ IN - Libraries are a measure of civilization

A QUIET PLACE TO READ IN - Libraries are a measure of civilization
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Telegraph, 01 February 2004
Widener Library, Harvard’s premier library, is surely one of the most imposing memorials any mother has constructed for a lost child. As you come up the steps, past its imposing columns and enter through the main gate, you are simply, but poignantly, reminded of the library’s origins. Eleanor Elkins Widener had the library constructed in 1915 in memory of her son, Harry Elkins Widener, who perished aboard the Titanic and was himself an enthusiastic book-collector. The Library is now one of the world’s great libraries, comparable to the Bodleian, the British Library or the Bibilotheque National. The extraordinary thing is that the library still has open access stacks and is the largest library in the world whose books still circulate.
I arrived at the Widener after a gap of three years. The library was originally constructed by one of America’s first African-American architects, Julian Abele, and had undergone a major renovation since I last saw it. Its stacks, always a little dingy, now looked more expansive, and it has an extraordinarily plush set of reading rooms full of natural light. Coming a week after the attack on the library of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, it was difficult not to think about what this library represents. What an extraordinary ambition to create an institution which aspires to possess all thought that can be made available in print. Admittedly, it is an enterprise sustained by vast resources. Even so, the ambition itself is ennobling in more ways than one can list.
Who knows what purposes the library will be used for? What ideological causes it will serve? What humanity it will inspire? What madness might its contents incite? Although immeasurably useful, a library refuses to be instrumental to any purpose or cause. A library insistently transcends all of them: it will provide a refuge for Karl Marx as much as it will for Aurobindo Ghosh. Entering a library like the Widener is always both thrilling and humbling: you will be excited by something in every second shelf, serendipity will lead you to books that you did not think existed. And yet every minute you will feel humble and inadequate. Just how much knowledge is out there is a thought that constantly haunts you. There are few places that can elevate you and humble you at the same time. A great library is one of them.
Libraries of this scale are not so much an act of conceit as a wise insurance policy. Whatever the venality and barbarism of human beings at any given moment, whatever lapses of memory or sins of ignorance they fall prey to, so long as a library survives there is hope. Even a few surviving copies of Plato and Aristotle could rescue Europe from the dark ages; and humanity can retrieve its mistakes so long as there is some library around. This is why, perhaps, ancient kings in India and elsewhere ennobled themselves by patronizing collections of books and manuscripts. It is not an accident that barbarians ransack libraries first. It is the surest way of erasing humanity itself: its memories, hopes, aspirations, achievements and even its errors. The Alexandrian fantasy, as it is known, after the great library, founded by Ptolemy II in 286 BC in Alexandria, and which, it is said, took six months to burn, is perhaps the most extraordinary way of expressing human aspiration; and its absence is a sure sign that humanity is moribund.
So perhaps Eleanor Elkins had grasped a profound truth: a library would be a truly magnificent memorial to her son, a monument whose worth would only grow with time. And this is the truth we are forgetting every moment. The hooligans who ransacked the Bhandarkar Institute, the benighted state of Bihar that has virtually no public libraries left, the unconscionably appalling state of our university libraries, the wilful destruction of collections in possession of the state, the neglect heap- ed upon tens of thousands of manuscripts, only underscore the peculiarity of Mrs Widener’s gesture, and that of many other philanthropists around the world.
The University of Beijing recently got a twenty million dollar gift from a Hong Kong-based businessman, just for its library. How does a culture acquire the extraordinary ambition to see the creation of a great library as an achievement more ennobling than almost anything else? How do we acquire the determination to preserve human ingenuity in this form, with all its achievements and follies? How do we create a culture where a book is not a problem, but a source of hope?
Travelling across India, the absence of good libraries is striking. The issue is not lack of money. In many cases, as in institutions run by the state, there is a wilful determination to destroy even whatever little there is. I have seldom seen library-staff in university libraries who do not see books as a problem. University administrators seem to believe that you can build great universities without a great library. One seldom encounters philanthropists who think that a library might be a worthwhile bequest. It is almost as if we have convinced ourselves: we already know what is useful, and therefore we do not need to collect this stuff. There are some private collections in India that are well preserved. But these tend to be what might be called “sectarian” libraries, a collection of books on Jainism, or a collection created by someone interested in Tantra and so forth. But as useful as these are, they in some ways subvert the very meaning of a library.
A general library is peculiarly a place without authority. High philosophy and low jokes, good science and quack recipes are all marked by a call number, as if saying to the reader: you shall decide what is important. There is no prima-facie authority determining that only this form of knowledge is important. And, in a way, the great public libraries — the New York Public Library or the British Library — served as vehicles of democratization: they gave access to knowledge to countless readers. It is almost impossible to imagine the modern world of letters or politics without the culture of libraries to sustain it.
Germaine Greer once wrote of the experience of being in a library that “Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark. The pleasure they give us is steady, unorgiastic, reliable, deep and long-lasting. In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.” She might have added, for good measure, that the lack of libraries, their wilful neglect, is a sign of intellectual and spiritual impoverishment, a culture that is a prisoner of the crassest instrumentalities. The attackers of the Bhandarkar Library were not anomalous, they were merely expressing our dominant cultural sensibility: a library is a nuisance.
Perhaps more than dams or technology, if libraries had been designated as the temples of new India, made to proliferate across towns and cities, who knows how different the cultural and political history of modern India might look. India may be shining, but it is doubtful whether it can ennoble itself without the free, disinterested comforts of a library. Only in a library can individuals, or nations, come to know themselves. In an age determined to construct an index for everything, the presence of libraries may not be a bad measure of civilization itself.
[The author is professor of philosophy and of law and governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University]

Public Library Revitalization in India: Hopes, Challenges, and New Visions

An Insightful Article:
Public Library Revitalization in India: Hopes, Challenges, and New Visions
by Ajit K. Pyati
First Monday, Volume 14, Number 7 - 6 July 2009

With India's growing economy and status as an emerging world power, a new consciousness is developing in the country about the need to reinvest in public services. The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) is an advisory body constituted by the Prime Minister to provide recommendations for improving India’s knowledge infrastructure. As part of this Commission, a set of recommendations has been developed to improve India's long neglected library system. This article explores the implications of these recommendations, with a specific focus on India's public library system and the social development gains that are often associated with public libraries. The potential of India's public libraries to serve as community information centres (CICs) is highlighted, as well as the challenges that lie ahead in implementing a new vision for public library revitalization. The article serves as an invitation for concerted action, reflection, and dialogue with regard tothis important and pressing issue.
Read Full-text Article
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Thursday, July 9, 2009

National Library in All Metros

National Library in All Metros
2 July 2009, Abhijit Dasgupta, India Today

The Visva-Bharati University and the National Library are set for a complete overhaul with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh doling out Rs 100 crore and Rs 20 crore, respectively, to these two institutions which have been in dire straits because of apathy, negligence and wastage of funds over the years.

While the stress in Visva-Bharati will be more on restoration of art works and preserving Tagore’s traditions, the National Library will be fully computerized and its 25-lakh treasure trove of books, documents and newspapers brought under the click of a mouse.

This is the first time that such a huge step is being taken at the Union government level, driven by Union culture secretary Jahar Sarkar, to save these two institutions from negligence. Sarkar has already held meetings with the Visva-Bharati and National Library authorities and money is being released in parts.

Visva-Bharati sources, however, said that the money may not be released to the university directly and that the government would carry out the work through its agencies. “This is good and we welcome it because Visva-Bharati does not have the expertise to launch and carry out such delicate restoration work. Work on Udayan, where Tagore lived, has already begun and the restoration work on paintings and frescos by masters like Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Beij will start soon,” they said. They also said that some buildings and works of art were “beyond restoration” and a “loss to the nation.”

The sources made it clear that former administrations of the university had dragged their feet on these sort of initiatives and had Sarkar not stepped in at the right time, matters would have gone out of hand. Sculptures by legends like Ramkinkar were kept out in the open without any protection and over the years, some had been ruined beyond recognition.

The vice-chancellor, Dr Rajat Kanta Roy, said that philology had always been Visva-Bharati’s strong point but it was sad that foreigners had ceased to come as students to learn languages over the years as they used to earlier. “We are creating a special cell where the comparative languages will be taught in a big way. Uniting languages is the basic aim of philology. Once the other works like restoration and preservations take off and Visva-Bharati is set to return to its old glory, then our philology section shall be the pride of the nation,” he said.

Dr K.K. Banerjee, director of the National Library, once the residence of the English Lieutenant Governor after the capital shifted to Delhi, said that the amount released by the Centre and Sarkar’s initiative would go a long way to help overcome the various crises that book-lovers were facing. “We intend to bring our collection of 25 lakh books under a computer click. Once that happens, it will revolutionise the world of knowledge in the country,” he said.

Dr Banerjee said that around three lakh books were simply “lying around” with no cataloguing having been done. “We have books and documents, not to forget newspapers, dating back to 250 years and more. Godowns were stacked with books with readers having no access to them and termites eating into them. “Öur first priority is cataloguing. An inventory is a must,”the director added.

Dr Banerjee said that he had plans to take the National Library to other metros of the country through city hubs, the first of which had been set up in Kolkata but is languishing. “Once computers take over, this should not be difficult and somebody sitting in Delhi can visit our hubs and access books from there, if not from home directly. Obviously, there will be a membership fee but given the treasure that we have, that is a pittance,” he said. In another two years, the National Library project would go online.


IN NEHRU’S HOUSE - A Unique Institution in Decline

IN NEHRU’S HOUSE - A Unique Institution in Decline
9 July 2009, Rudrangshu Mukherjee, The Telegraph

Indians are obsessed with individuals. One adverse result of this is that institutions do not get the degree of attention and care that they deserve. There are too many institutions around to list that have gone into decline and no longer perform at the level they once did or do not function to their full potential and promise. In Calcutta, one has only to think of Presidency College, the Calcutta Medical College, the National Library and many others. While talking about these institutions, the point to remember is that these are institutions with 100 years or more of service and work behind them. It could conveniently be argued that these institutions are suffering from natural fatigue even though we know that the real causes of the decline lie elsewhere. Moreover, a century is nothing in the history of an institution. What sets off alarm bells is when a relatively new institution with enormous potential and resources is said to be in decline.

One such institution is the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. Outside a small circle of academics, very few in Calcutta know about this place, so a few words about it are in order. It is located in Teen Murti House, the residence of India’s first prime minister. It was conceived in the late 1960s and became operational in the early 1970s. The project of editing and publishing The Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru was also housed in the premises of Teen Murti House. The library, when it was opened to scholars, was in a separate modern building, which was at the end of a long driveway and hidden away by a cluster of trees. Within a remarkably short time, it acquired a reputation of being an excellent library and repository of private papers and documents relating to modern Indian history and culture.

I remember when I was a post-graduate student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, a group of us — members of that group went on to pursue distinguished careers as historians, conservationists and bureaucrats — would go to study there. The university bus would drop us at the gate of Teen Murti House around 9.30 in the morning and would pick us up again a little after 7 pm. I remember those days with joy because the library was our little bit of paradise on earth. We read voraciously with may be an hour’s break for lunch and again for a few minutes at teatime. My previous exposure to a big library was the National Library in Calcutta, which was, of course, bigger in its holdings compared to what the NMML could offer. But working in the National Library was hardly a pleasant experience — books would take hours to arrive (often they did not arrive) and there was no ambience of scholarship. The NMML was open shelf: one could browse. The latest books and journals were available. (It was there that I began reading through the back numbers of that outstanding history journal from Oxford, Past and Present.) The library had every modern facility. Later, when I had the good fortune of studying in some of the best libraries in the United Kingdom, I realized that the NMML was an institution of international standards.

The NMML held out another major attraction for scholars. From the mid 1970s to the 1990s, it was the site for some of the best seminars and lectures in history and the social sciences. These debates were marked by intellectual originality and occasionally angry disagreements. There was excitement and dedicated scholarship. Sometimes out of these seminars came published volumes of importance. The book that comes immediately to mind was the one that was probably the first in the series. This was a volume edited by V.C. Joshi, the deputy director of the NMML, and was called Rammohun Roy and the Process of Modernization in India. Published in 1975, some of the essays in the volume began the process of re-evaluating not only the role of Rammohun Roy but also the entire analytical framework for understanding the forces that shaped India’s modernization.

When I went back to use the library intermittently once again in the late 1990s, I had the sense that its best days were over. I found that often books were not properly shelved and therefore could not be found. The latest publications had not been bought. The service wasn’t as quick as it had once been. It seemed to me that the Indian ennui had finally caught up with the NMML: it was going the way of all institutions in India.

It now transpires that my fears were not totally misplaced. As many as 57 eminent historians, social scientists, publishers and scholars — among them India’s best historians, political scientists and sociologists — have written to the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, about the state of affairs in the NMML. Among the signatories are quondam fellows of the NMML. Thus, there is no way that a scholar prime minister can ignore the note.

In their submission, the scholars have put forward what they see as some of the features of the decline and have suggested some steps to arrest it and to revive what is really a unique institution for the study of modern Indian history and culture. It goes without saying that the decline of an institution like the NMML can hardly be the responsibility of any one individual. (An individual can, however, hasten a process of decline or stop it by initiating or not initiating certain steps.)

What is important is that there is a feeling among a large body of scholars that a unique institution has slipped into decline. This perception cannot be ignored or written off as something that is motivated or driven by the self-interest of individuals. Neither should it be read as the condemnation of only one individual. The note points to neglect, which has deeper roots, and may even be embedded in the way the administration of the NMML is structured. The subject demands the prime minister’s immediate attention. Here is an institution that needs the touch of his reforming hand.

In October 1959, when Jawaharlal Nehru had gone to Nagarjunasagar to inaugurate a dam, a worker came up to him and said in Telugu, “Here you have lighted a lamp.’’ Nehru was so moved that he took this as the test of a person’s work and wrote, “Do we, in the course of our lives, light lamps, or do we snuff out the lamps or candles that exist?’’ From Teen Murti House, when Nehru lived there, many lamps were lit. Some years after his death, within Teen Murti House a lamp was lit in the shape of an institution called the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Let us try and keep that flame burning instead of snuffing it out.


Glitter Masks Decay at Top Library

Glitter Masks Decay at Top Library
Siddharth Srikanth, Times of India, 3 Jul 2009

CHENNAI: Despite its glorious heritage, the Connemara Public Library, which serves as the State central library, is showing signs of decay.

Several books are in dire need of restoration, new books are unavailable and there isn't enough staff. Since many of the books are early editions, conservation techniques need to be updated, say library sources.

"Before building a new library worth Rs 165 crore (at Kotturpuram), the government should improve the infrastructure of a library that was once the pride of Chennai," says K Mahalingam, who frequents the library.

The Connemara library was opened in 1896, making it one of the oldest in the state. It is a United Nations Depository Centre and a UNESCO Information Centre, as well as an architectural symbol of the British Raj.

Apart from air conditioning in certain sections and computerised bibliographies, little has changed over the years, says Dr P Perumal, a library sciences professor.

The library does not have a children's reading section as it was replaced with a digitised Children's Centre' a few years ago. "The centre only has CDs with computer games and short stories. Children should be able to read good literature," says R Lakshmi, the mother of an eight year old. A library official, however, says, "The library is meant only for research scholars, not children." But researchers too find it hard to use the library.

"The public is not permitted into the old books section, and the process to submit a list of books for viewing is tedious," says S Haripriya, a Madras University post graduate student.

The computerised bibliography for Tamil books is also not user friendly. "One of the cardinal rules of library science is to save the reader's time. Any search throws up several different results without any categorisation," says Perumal.

The library does not have new titles either. A copy of every book published in the country has to be delivered by its publisher within 30 days to the four public libraries specified of which Connemara is one as per the Delivery of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act, 1954. But over 60% of books published are not sent sent here, say officials. The National Library of India at Kolkata received 6,890 English books under the Act in 2008. Connemara library received just 5,431 English books in 2008.

The library is short-staffed: Of the 121 positions in the library, 41 are vacant. The post of director was dispensed with eight months back, and the library is run by a librarian-in-charge. "The issue will be remedied in the near future," said the office of the Directorate of Public Libraries.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saving the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

Saving the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

In a note of 10 June, addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also minister of culture, a group of scholars and academics urge him to immediately set into motion the steps necessary to revive the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. They observe that until the 1990s the NMML was a centre of scholarship and research, but that in recent years, however, the institution has precipitously declined. In their note, the scholars trace the causes of the decline of the NMML and outline a constructive charter for its renewal. Edited excerpts from the letter.

On behalf of the community of scholars and writers, we urge you to take the necessary steps necessary to save one of India’s great national institutions. This is the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML). Once a vigorous centre of intellectual work, and a byword for excellence, it is now trapped in a culture of apathy and mediocrity. Over the past few years, the decline of the NMML has led to a deep feeling of dismay in the academic community. Given its pivotal place in scholarly life, its fate may well determine the future of the humanities and the social sciences in India. Were the NMML to continue on its current downward slide, it would bring to an end a great tradition of scholarship and research on Indian history and culture.
The NMML was established in the late 1960s in memory of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was not merely India’s first prime minister, but also a liberal, a democrat, an internationalist, an institution-builder, and – not least – a scholar. Working from Teen Murti House, the first director of the NMML, B R Nanda, laid the foundations of a firstclass research library and archive. Thus the NMML acquired the private papers of the men and women who fought for India’s freedom, conducted oral histories with activists and politicians, collected runs of old newspapers in many languages, and built an excellent collection of books and journals.
B R Nanda’s work was taken forward by his successor as director, Ravinder Kumar. Ravinder Kumar expanded the scope of the collections beyond the Indian nationalistmovement, to include the fields of women’s history, environmental history, social history, art and literature. He established the Centre of Contemporary Studies, under whose Fellowship programme India’s finest thinkers came to the NMML to research and write major works of scholarship. He also started a seminar series which, through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, was verily the epicentre of intellectual life in the capital. At this seminar spoke scholars young and old, unknown and famous, Indian and foreign, often attracting large and always interested audiences. The NMML also regularly held academic conferences on issues of topical or historical importance. From these Fellowships and conferences emerged a series of landmark books that have helped reshape and redefine the humanities and social sciences in India.
Under Ravinder Kumar’s stewardship, the NMML became a truly world-class centre of scholarship and research. In this, it was almost unique. While India has manyfine centres of science and technology, in the humanities and the social sciences only two institutions have come close to being considered “world-class”. These are the Delhi School of Economics (DSE) in the 1960s, and the NMML in the 1980s and 1990s. The reach of the NMML was indisputably greater than that of the DSE; it took in a greater range of disciplines, and a wider range of intellectual and social concerns.
Pluralism and Ecumenism
In two respects, in particular, the first two directors of the NMML were faithful to the ideals of the person after whom their institution was named. They were not dogmatistsbut pluralists, who encouraged debate and dissent, and who paid careful attention to all aspects of political and intellectual life in India. The NMML was not identified with a particular political party. Despite being founded while the Congress was in power, and despite the Congress having played a leading part in the freedom struggle, the NMML made it a point to house and properly preserve the papers of such major opponents of the Congress Party as S P Mookerjee, Meghnad Saha, C Rajagopalachari, S M Joshi,E M S Namboodiripad, and M N Roy (and many others). Among the institutional collections that the NMML acquired were the papers of the All India Congress Committee, but also those of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Communist Party of India.
This pluralism and ecumenism was strikingly manifest in the seminars, the Fellowships, and the books promoted by the NMML, where all disciplines and all tendencies were represented, with the work of scholars being assessed by scholarly commentary criteria alone. It is this open-mindedness and lack of partisanship that, along withthe dedicated hard work which accompanied it, made the NMML a world-class centre of research and scholarship.
B R Nanda and Ravinder Kumar never sought to identify the institution with themselves. Scholars all over the world have reason to be grateful to an outstanding set of deputy directors – V C Joshi, D N Panigrahi, Haridev Sharma, and N Balakrishnan – whose selfless work over the decades helped bring the NMML to its position of glory. There were, and are, many other staff members who have likewise devoted their entire working lives to building up the NMML. Their struggle and dedication were recognised by their superiors, under whose nurturing care all members of the NMML staff could contribute to the greater good of the institution.
Ravinder Kumar’s term as director endedin 1997. His successor did not elevate the profile of the NMML; nor, however, did he diminish it. It is in the past few years that the NMML has rapidly deteriorated in its functioning. Some objective indicators of this deterioration are given below:
(i) Publications Programme: While the NMML once brought out several very good books a year, since 2006 not a single publication has emanated from the NMML. The excellent journal published by the NMML, Contemporary India, has been discontinued without explanation. The Occasional Paper series, in which were published seminal contributions to contemporary scholarship, has also been discontinued. The NMML once regularly published the selected writings of our leading nationalist thinkers and leaders – this too has been stopped.
(ii) New Research Materials: The acquisition of manuscript collections and the microfilming of newspapers in Indian languages, once so vital and valuable a part of the NMML’s programme, has come to a standstill. Virtually, no new oral histories have been conducted. Letters by eminent scholars offering help in augmenting collections or arranging for oral histories go unanswered.
(iii) Morale of Staff: The competent and well-trained staff is utterly demoralised. The practice of holding regular meetings with heads of sections has been discontinued. Their work and responsibilities have been undermined by the appointment of several dozen consultants of uncertain experience and qualifications, this creating a parallel administrative structure without any accountability. In a final blow to staff morale, the outstanding Deputy Director of the NMML was served a notice of suspension without even a show-cause notice.
(iv) Denial of Pluralism: On the intellectual side, what little activities do take place have a very narrow focus. Whereas once the academic culture of the NMML represented the diversity of scholarly thought and practice across India, now it is hostage to a particular faction of Delhi-based academies. What is worse, for the first time in its long history the NMML has allowed itself to become identified with a particular political party. For more than a year, prominent portraits of Congress Prime Ministers were placed in the foyer. (These Prime Ministers were figures of considerable importance in Indian history; still, the fact that they alone dominated the entrance was at odds with the spirit of inclusiveness that the NMML had previously stood for.) Meanwhile, the administration allowed the Congress’ youth wing to hold its meetings in the NMML. Later,after a private protest by senior scholars to a senior politician, this practice was discontinued by the party. But that the NMML could allow and encourage this showedhow far the present administration has departed from the high ideals and standards that once defined the institution.
These problems have collectively contributed to making the NMML a pale shadow of itself. Once a hub of intellectual work, attracting scholars from all over the world, now the NMML seems neglected, forlorn, and abandoned.
Sir, in your dual capacity as Prime Minister and Minister of Culture, we urge you to recognise that as the repository of our modern history the NMML is absolutely unique. The NMML contains within its walls the histories and memories of the very many remarkable people who made India a nation state and who helped nurture it as a democracy. Some of these patriots are famous; others obscure. They came from all parts of the country and from a variety of social backgrounds. They owed allegiance to a wide variety of beliefs and ideologies. In giving all these trends a home, the NMML is a microcosm of India itself. In this sense the NMML is absolutely irreplaceable. If a private firm like Satyam collapses there are other private firms that shall take its place. If a once great college like Presidency in Kolkata or St Stephen’s in Delhi declines, other colleges will continue to provide quality education. If one political leader fails to honour his or her mandate, the voter or citizen can elect another in his or her stead.
Restoring an Institution
But there is no possible substitute for the NMML. Its decline is visible for all to see; its destruction will be a national calamity. We now ask you to immediately set in motionthe steps necessary to save the NMML from becoming a failed institution. To revive the NMML, and to set in motion the process by which it can be restored to its former place of pre-eminence in the intellectual life of India, the Ministry of Culture needs to do the following things:
First, restore the morale of the dedicated and experienced staff by ending the tenure of all consultants, and by revoking the suspension of the Deputy Director;
Second, induct into the Executive Council (EC) three or more distinguished scholars. According to the bye-laws of the NMML, the EC must have an adequate representationfrom academics and scholars. However, at present the EC has only one scholar – this is B R Nanda, whose advanced age (he is over 90) and indifferent health has made it impossible for him to actively participate in the EC. The other members of the NMML EC are all from outside the academic community. Clearly, the absence of scholarly expertise in the body charged with supervision has contributed to the inability to stem the decline of the institution;
Third, once the present Director’s term ends in August, her successor must be chosen through an open, transparent process. As with Directors of IIMs and IITs, the Director of the NMML should be chosen by a committee of acknowledged experts. This selection committee should consist of historians, sociologists or political scientists of national and international renown, and who are known to be utterly non-partisan. Applications for the post of Director, NMML, should be solicited through advertisements placed in leading academic journals in India and abroad. The selection committee can then short-list and interview candidates before choosing, through this rigorous process, the best person for the job;
Fourth, once a new Director takes office, he or she must be encouraged by the reconstituted EC to reach out once more to the scholarly community as a whole, thus to restore the NMML’s non-partisan and plural character.

Over the past 18 months, distinguished members of the scholarly community, including some former Senior Fellows, have several times addressed these concerns tothe management of the NMML. In March 2008, a long note describing the deterioration in the NMML and prescribing ways to arrest it was prepared by seven former Fellowsand sent to all members of the EC. Among the authors of this note were Sumit Sarkar, Neera Chandhoke, Mahesh Rangarajan, and Ramachandra Guha. In May 2009, a letter of protest at the shocking suspension of the Deputy Director was sent to the EC. This letter was signed by more than 40 scholars, among them Rajmohan Gandhi, Mushirul Hasan, Sunil Khilnani, Krishna Kumar, and Geeta Kapur. The letter observed that “this draconian decision has sent tremors through the dedicated staff, many of whom – seeing the treatment of a senior and respected colleague – now live and work in fear, scarcely a conducive atmosphere for an institution of such importance”.
The concerns of the scholarly community about the sad state of affairs at the NMML were also communicated in private letters and conversations with members of the EC, and with senior civil servants. Since a General Election was around the corner, we did not make our protests public, for we were concerned above all with the integrity of the institution and with seeking to revive it. We did not wish for any individual or party to make political capital out of the matter. Now, with a new government in power,and with the existing Director’s term shortly to expire, we have chosen to articulate these concerns of the scholarly community in a positive, forward-thinking manner. We believe that if our suggestions are acted upon in full, we can yet redeem and revive the NMML. On the other hand, if the EC of the NMML continues to be indifferent to academic standards and intellectual credibility, then there is little hope. Moreover, if the new Director is chosen through a secretive and preferential process, then he or she will act not in the interests of the institution but merely seek to please those who gave him or her the job. Were that to happen, the NMML will certainly enter into terminal decline. As representatives of the scholarly community, we urge the ministry and the government to act immediately to preserve a great and unique Indian institution. We look forward to working with an institutional leader who shall revive the NMML and re-dedicate it to the memory of the Indian intellectual and democrat after whom it is named and whom it was meant to honour.
Rajmohan Gandhi (University of Illinois, United States), *Krishna Kumar (NCERT, New Delhi), Sunil Khilnani (Johns Hopkins University, US), Partha Chatterjee (Centre forStudies in Social Sciences, Kolkata), *Sumit Sarkar (formerly of Delhi University), Sanjay Subrahmanyam (University of California, Los Angeles), *Ramachandra Guha (the New India Foundation, Bangalore), Shahid Amin, Delhi University), *Mushirul Hasan (Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi), Sugata Bose (Harvard University, US), Veena Das (Johns Hopkins University, US), Nayanjot Lahiri (Delhi University), David Arnold (Warwick University, United Kingdom), *Nivedita Menon (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Gyanendra Pandey (Emory University, US), *Mahesh Rangarajan (Delhi University), *Susan Visvanathan (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi), David Hardiman (Warwick University, UK), Joya Chatterji (Cambridge University, UK), Narayani Gupta (formerly of Jamia Millia Islamia), Devesh Kapur (University of Pennsylvania, US), Venu Govindu (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore), A R Venkatachalapathy (Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai), *Neera Chandhoke (Delhi University), Tapati Guha Thakurta (Centre for the Study of Social Sciences, Kolkata), *Madhavan Palat (formerly of Jawaharlal Nehru University), Zoya Hasan (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi), Amita Baviskar (Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi), *Sudha Mahalingam (Member, National Security Advisory Board), Alok Rai (Delhi University), *Sumit Guha (Rutgers University, US), Srinath Raghavan (King’s College, London), Prachi Deshpande (University of California, Berkeley), *Mukul Kesavan (Jamia Millia Ismalia, New Delhi), *Prabhu Mohapatra (Delhi University), *Ravi Vasudevan (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi), Rukun Advani (Permanent Black), Tridip Suhrud, Sabarmati Memorial Preservation Trust, Ahmedabad), Charles Lewis (formerly of Oxford University Press), V Suryanarayanan (formerly of Madras University, Chennai), *Ananya Vajpeyi (University of Massachusetts, US), Satyajit Singh (Delhi University), Nirmala Lakshman (The Hindu), *Dilip Simeon (formerly of Ramjas College), Malini Parthasarathy (The Hindu), Nandini Sundar (Delhi University), Aditya Nigam (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi), *Dilip Menon (University of Witwaterstrand), Ishita Banerjee- Dube (El Colegio de México), Deepak Malghan (Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore), Saurabh Dube (El Colegio de México), CrispinBates (University of Edinburgh, UK), *Brinda Bose (Delhi University), *Geeta Kapur (Delhi), Siddharth Varadarajan (The Hindu), Jahnavi Phalkey (Georgia Tech-Lorraine France), Rudra Chaudhuri (King’s College, London).
*past Fellows or Senior Fellows of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

Source: Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) June 27, 2009; 44(26-27), pp. 27-29.