Feature

Why library science in India needs a revamp

Already under pressure from online knowledge curation, physical libraries have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manju Naika*

doi:10.1038/nindia.2021.29 Published online 15 February 2021

It is challenging to retain physical library spaces due to the falling number of footfalls.

@ IITB

Library and information science (LIS) practitioners in India are facing a unique threat from cutting edge e-learning and knowledge organisation approaches, prompting librarians to call for a revamp of the traditional academic discipline.

In an era when the internet has become the biggest, freely accessible library, professionals in the field feel they may become redundant with “Google replacing the librarian”. Already plagued with systemic issues such as lack of modern infrastructure, efficient teaching or research-oriented manpower, the LIS discipline has suffered a further blow during the COVID-19 pandemic, as teaching, learning and information gathering shifted completely online. This has forced many libraries to provide remote access to digital content without the need for patrons to physically walk into a library space.

“LIS education and practice are passing through a challenging phase due to a drastic change in the information environment and changing patron needs,” says Nabi Hasan, librarian at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi. “The world wide web is slowly replacing reference librarians.”

These changes, Hasan says, are inevitable, given technology is changing at an unprecedented rate. “The solution lies in revising India’s LIS curricula so that professionals can keep pace with these emerging trends,” he says.

India’s first library scientists were trained under American librarian William Alanson Borden in 1911 at the erstwhile Baroda state library. Today, around 100 universities in India offer LIS graduate and postgraduate degrees, churning out about 2000 LIS graduates every year. Sixty of these universities offer research in LIS.

However, many universities neither have full-time LIS faculty nor librarians due to poor succession plans. Lack of local or global collaborations between librarians, the LIS teaching community, the information industry and corporate bodies also adds to the woes of the discipline. Post pandemic, it has become even more challenging for LIS graduates to get jobs.

“Apart from the budgetary constraints that libraries face, it has also become challenging to retain physical library spaces due to the falling number of footfalls and competition from other sectors for space,” says Daulat Jotwani, director of library services at Amity University, a private university near Delhi.

Rejuvenating library studies

Knowledge-driven societies have embraced the transition from print to digital libraries, helping bridge the digital divide by providing everyone equal access to information. In times when fake news and misinformation are rife on the internet, the importance of libraries as custodians of authentic information and promoters of the reading culture assumes even more importance.

Satish Kanamadi, librarian and head at the Center for Library and Information Management Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, says, "The emerging dynamics of the LIS profession has put pressure on teachers – should they continue teaching an obsolete curriculum?” At the same time, Kanamadi says, teachers are reluctant to include new librarianship skills, as they will have to struggle to prepare the teaching material first.

Librarianship is a multitasking profession that imbibes best practices from many other disciplines. Librarians must master technology that helps digitalise, automate and introduce content management systems to institutional repositories. They must be abreast with research tools such as data analytics, data visualization, effective information and data search/retrieval, reference management tools, as well as identify plagiarism and create awareness about academic integrity, Kanamadi says.

 “Librarians of tomorrow will also need to have a deep understanding of open science, virtual reference services, cloud computing, scientometrics, altmetrics, mobile based library services and text mining,” says Mahendra N. Jadhav, librarian at IIT Madras in Chennai.

Reskilled librarians should be able to use expert systems and robotics, internet of things, augmented reality tools, semantics, artificial intelligence and machine learning in their daily jobs, Jadhav adds.

As India is drafting its National Educational Policy 2020, librarians feel the discipline should be introduced in the academic and research programmes of leading technology Institutes such as Indian Institutes of Technology and National Institutes of Technology. “LIS education in India should be standardised with the global practices by bringing in the technology element,” says Sunita Barve, a senior technical officer at the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune.

This will also require revision of recruitment rules and improved campus recruitment drives at the university level. “Universities departments of library science in India will need to embrace change urgently or face closure following the government’s imminent post-COVID19 cuts on public expenditure,” Barve says.

(*The author is Chief Library Officer, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.)