Reinventing Reading Spaces

Dr K Rama Patnaik, librarian, IIM Bangalore, reassesses the role of libraries

Published: 14th August 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th August 2014 08:16 AM   |  A+A-

BANGALORE: Librarian's Day, commemorating professor S R Ranganathan's birthday, is celebrated all over India on August 9 or 12. Padmashree Dr S R Ranganathan was a professor of library science, who had spearheaded library development in India. As we live in a tech-savvy, gadget-loving, Google-using era, it is imperative that we re-assess the role of libraries.

Many major libraries are functioning — and, dare I say it, functioning rather well — without a librarian and without being funded. Perhaps, it is now time to reinvent and rediscover our roles as institutional pillars supporting research and learning.

Gone are the days when libraries were at the heart of academic campuses. Once challenged with growing print collections, libraries invented new storage models and librarians took pride in assisting the user community by paying personal attention to them. As a result, reading spaces and circulation counters were crowded during leisure hours.

With the spread of Internet and with growing digitisation of information, do the readers of the Google generation need any assistance to gather information? Do they need to visit libraries at all? Do declining footfalls suggest the need to redesign reading spaces? Have libraries become inadvertent casualties of the Internet era?

In order to connect with young users, libraries have to redesign shelving space and reading spaces to integrate mobile and smart devices.

A recent survey by TCS shows that India has the most number of Internet users after China and the USA, and mobile web has surpassed use of desktop Internet. As the younger generation is more visible on social media, libraries should exploit the potential of continued communication with its user community. The importance of communication employing a number of channels, including social media, chat, IM, and text reference, as well as making a library physically available or embedded within academic departments, student societies and cafeterias, will enhance its value to the academic community.

Declining footfalls are shrinking reading spaces which have yielded to classrooms, examination venues, discussion centres and so on as witnessed by many libraries on campuses in India. There is a demand for an informal ambience that has transformed from a silent zone to a buzzing zone. Students prefer a bookstore-kind of ambience and expect large e-shelves that they can browse. 

Many libraries in India have been slow in adapting to latest technologies which continue to evolve rapidly thus making it difficult to get required financial and technical resources. For example, some libraries experimented with lending of Kindle editions a couple of years ago, but after an initial spurt, the demand for such services has crashed. Sale of Kindle eBooks via Amazon shows that those who purchased Kindle editions also purchased the print copy. At this stage, we may need more empirical studies from the perspective of sociological and psychological axes to evaluate the impact of these evolving technologies.

Perhaps it is time to develop an app for library resources and services accessible on mobile networks, in the era of ever-changing unorganised information explosion which can be overwhelming for individuals.


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