Libraries and knowledge society

Libraries and knowledge society

Preservation of wisdom and knowledge for posterity has always been considered an important duty of society.

Preservation of wisdom and knowledge for posterity has always been considered an important duty of society. Time was, when books were written in manuscript, on palmyra leaves. Then came paper, pens and, ink, succeeded by typewriters. Today computers have taken over completely. Desktops, laptops, tablets and even smart phones are the order of the day.

Libraries where books are preserved, in whatever form they have been written, serve many purposes. They contribute to the economy of a country by providing jobs, especially in the rural areas. Even unpaid volunteers improve their skills, and gain in confidence, thus enhancing the chances of their employment elsewhere later on. Libraries have an edge over other sources of knowledge and information, such as the printed, electronic and social media, on account of their ability to deliver personalised services to people, of all age groups from children to the elderly.

Libraries are also valuable sources of information and help people develop the culture or reading. Studies have shown that access to markets, on the part of small business owners, becomes that much easier, when they use the business development data provided by libraries. Libraries can also be of various types, such as public, academic, national or special. Many of them store books in the local language or select languages, and the subjects are, sometime, area specific.

We live in an era of competition, with everyone competing with others to acquire better knowledge and information. The 'Knowledge Society', is what today's society is often called. Libraries play an important role, in that context by being able to provide precisely the information needed and in a timely manner; information covering a gamut of activities, such as formal and informal learning, research and development, cultural activities, spiritual and ideological matters, apart from recreation and entertainment.

Mobile libraries, also called 'book mobiles' or 'libraries on wheels', serve areas or places not having a library or a reading culture. They provide people access to books right outside their homes, or at fixed spots, where they stop and people can visit them. They operate on vehicles such as vans, buses, or even animal-driven carts.

There are also what are known as 'rental' or 'lending' libraries which lend books at a fixed charge on a per book per day basis. I remember how, during summer holidays, while staying in my uncle's place in at Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh, in 1965, I spent a my summer holidays reading Telugu detective novels, borrowing books from a nearby shop, at the exorbitant cost of 25 np per day!

Most community facilities are vulnerable to the occasional misuse, by the mischievous user, and libraries are no exception. I have no compunction to confessing that I, myself, occasionally succumbed to the temptation of borrowing a book from a library, with no intention of returning it as it, was not available purchase in the market. One kept it beyond the due date, and way beyond that, until one was fined the book value (quite literally!), of the book and got to keep it for good. This practice, naturally, was confined to relatively unpopular books which I needed to read, and of no great intrinsic value to the library.

And with growing technology all information and knowledge can now be accessed at the 'click of the mouse', as the phrase goes, thanks to the internet and the websites one can access through it. The instrument of Wikipedia, in particular, is a powerful and important method of gaining access to specialised information on exclusive subjects. What is called a 'one-stop' solution, for all learning and entertainment needs. The access is free of cost and people can also add value to the content.

I grew up in an ambience dominated by books. My father was a post graduate in English literature, and an avid reader, with an amazing diversity of taste. Thus, there was fiction, biography, autobiography, history, geography, science and philosophy in the book-shelf at home, which always occupied an unduly large space in the small houses in which we lived for a long time.

The first time I saw a library, in the formal sense, was when I entered college. Nizam College in Hyderabad, where I did my Pre-University Course, Hindu College in Delhi University from where I graduated, and Osmania University, where I did my post-graduation, all had well-equipped libraries. They were places where one found solitude, silence, peace of mind, as well the sort of mental orientation one needed to settle down to serious study.

Later on, there was the library in the National Academy of Administration, at Mussoorie, where I was trained after joining the Indian Administrative Service. That was the time when one found the facility of a library somewhat superfluous. The faculty comprised persons with distinguished backgrounds and excellent pedagogic abilities. The subjects were also not such as to need extensive or additional material beyond what was taught in the classroom.

However, while taking a class one day, the then Joint Director of the Academy, T.N. Chaturvedi, remarked that it caused him severe disappointment, to find that none of us had been visiting the library as often as he would have wished. Stung by his observation, most of us duly made a beeline to the library every other day, ensuring that our visits were recorded, as were the details of the books we had borrowed. That the books remained unread need hardly be emphasised!

Among the other good libraries I have had occasion to use are the one at the India International Centre (IIC) at Delhi and also the one in the Delhi Gymkhana Club. The IIC library quite rises to one's expectations of such a facility, in a much respected and highly regarded Centre of Excellence. A library is also a favourite rendezvous for young people in love, given the privacy it offers.

My father often said to me that he had bought one book every day since he was seventeen. But, when he passed away, there were but a few thousand books left at home thanks to books having been borrowed by his friends and not returned. Books bearing his trademark signature at the end turn up till today in the houses of friends and relatives.

In his will, my father left all his books to my elder brother, save a hundred books, of my choice to me. And, the original philistine that I am, I had to seek the assistance of my service colleague Agnihotri to help me choose those hundred! Over time I added some books of my own, purchased, begged or borrowed.

It was only recently, that I could muster enough determination, and energy, to select those which I had already read, or was not interested in doing so in the future, and donate them to the library of Nizam Club, where they still occupy an exclusive shelf bearing the names of my late father and mother as donors. Before we leave this fascinating subject I must ask you whether you have heard of the cardiologist who recommended visits to libraries because they improve circulation!

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh) (The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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