Librarians root for digitisation

With digitisation in libraries, we will miss librarians like Lt Joe Bookman from Seinfeld (his role was most felt in Season 3, Episode 5).

Lt Bookman was known as ‘the library cop’ for being authoritative and a proud patron of books. Without many books in the library and readers preferring to read on their pho-nes, kindles and laptops, people no longer have to visit the library and know their librarian.

Now it’s a boring saga of hardcore coding and decoding where new age librarians find themselves as engineers of these institutions, creating repositories like Shodhganga for its customers. Shodhganga, Libgen and some more have become e-libraries for many students in the country.

Subhash C Biswas retired as a librarian. He served in almost all well-positioned
libraries in the country, including the National Library. He started as a government college librarian. “The highest serving libraries are academic libraries. Due to digitisation, the clientele and the librarian have nearly ended and now the role of the librarian is to go to conferences and seminars across the world, to be adept with latest technology and make a more technology-based, customer friendly environment so that the readers don’t even have to visit the library,” he tells Metrolife.

According to Biswas, librarianship courses are pursued only to get employment. In India, very few in this field explore opportunities that the profession offers. “When I started as a college librarian’s assistant, librarians were considered clerks, unintelligent people and, in schools they came under the ‘non-teaching staff’. Their salaries were lower, and most of them were not even book lovers. Some of them did not even do a course on librarianship”
Kalpana Dasgupta from the READ India advisory board and former director of Central Secretariat library says, “Yes, librarians have an ideological connect with books. But creating a ‘soft-copy’ for every book in the world is not possible and so almost all the libraries across the world are ’hybrid’ in nature. Therefore, librarians will always have a role to play.”

Preservation remains the best argument for digitising libraries. Dasgupta also recounts a time when the Central Secretariat library lost two years of digital data from their library, but she refrains from naming the year this happened for obvious reasons. “The main problem is that technology is changing at a fast pace and with every upgradation, librarians are not able to pull themselves. Though data is recoverable at all times, but sometimes we lack the specialists who can do so,” she says.

Dasgupta and Biswas both agree that the IIT Delhi and JNU libraries are some of the best libraries where digitisation has helped tremendously.


The IIT Delhi library now has Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system in place. “Now students can come in anytime and issue books they require. It works just like an ATM machine and your Metro smart card. So now, the library does not shut down at five anymore,” says deputy librarian Dr Nabi Hasan.

Usha Mujoo Munshi, librarian at Indian Institute of Public Administration is one of the pioneers who started digitisation in the country. She and some other members created the first electronic journal of Indian Statistical Institute in 1999. She believes that conversion of books to digital is not a big issue and that 80 per cent of the libraries here are not even equipped enough to carry out digitisation.


“The word digitisation does not mean only transcribing books from print to digital. It also means developing innovative technology to preserve and distribute the same knowledge to a wide audience for free. Now, there is more reliable, credible information available to readers. Also, servers other than Google can offer ‘valid’ information on a topic,” says Munshi.

“Most books now have an e-version, and even students prefer that. But I think students should refer to handbooks than e-texts. It is easy to skim through an e-text but in books you tend to read more,” says Vikram Singh, a professor at IIT Delhi.


 “Libraries no longer issue more than one book from publishers, because one e-book can be easily read by more than one person from their homes. Which may be a bane for publishers but not for the library,” says Hasan.

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