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Like a phoenix, libraries need to be reborn

G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE which included frontline curriculum, Communicative Approach to Language Teaching, Information Technology, Alternatives to Homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at education conferences world over.


Sitting in a quiet corner of the University Library at Chennai, reading the insight of Bradley on Shakespeare, an essay ‘Old China’ by Charles Lamb, an amazing sketch of the character of Beau in ‘Beau Tibbs’ by Oliver Goldsmith, a lively satire of Jonathan Swift, examining the style and meaning of a great epic in Hindi ‘Kamayani’, or a literary delight in Tamil, was a breathtaking experience. I found wisdom in every page and corner of the entire stock of books. Thank you, living masters, for all the contributions. Generations to come will benefit!

Libraries, ‘the King’s treasuries and the queen’s gardens’ as John Ruskin would describe them, have played a significant role for over a century in whatever form they existed. But the ‘old order changeth giving rise to the new’…

Twenty odd years ago, I published an article in the newspaper ‘The Hindu’, with the title, ‘Waves of Change in School Libraries.’ Explaining the role of knowledge dynamics, I pointed out that the face of the libraries in all organisations need to change. They have to undergo an attitudinal change from the storehouses of books, old and new, to human resource centres with a positive role of enabling and empowering human resources.

During a recent visit to one of the institutions, I was surprised that the institution had not purchased any book for their library for the past three years. When questioned, the librarian and the Head of the Institution replied, “Sir, there are already eight thousand books. No one is using them. What is the point of buying newer books, when there is no adequate use?” Though I was shocked with the reply and attitude, I was convinced that such attitude prevails in many other organisations. It is time that the libraries raise like a phoenix, from its own ashes!

In a world haunted by the speed of knowledge acquisition, transaction and construction, the role of libraries has to undergo a philosophical change. The librarians should be more like HR Managers of organisations, focusing on the development of the faculty and the learners through a proactive and energizing role. They need to be intensely aware of the knowledge dynamics and facilitate the school learning community, with suggestive inputs and logistics. Yes, there are some excellent libraries with a futuristic outlook, with their managers as catalysts of knowledge dynamics. But, they are far and few. The spirit of change has to percolate down the system to its base level. The ‘Thought Leadership’ for senior level library management has to be current and contextual.

With a wide variety of tools available for the management of the books, sorting, surfing, accounting and supply-chain can be easily managed with the inputs of technology. The digital contents have opened up yet another paradigm for effective and quick learning. Hence, the managers of the libraries need to be current with the technological interventions to knowledge management. Maybe, it is a good idea to reposition libraries as ‘knowledge centres’ and those managing the set up as ‘Knowledge Resource Managers.’

There could be better ideas in their design and operation too. But the fact remains, that these avenues for learning in educational spaces cannot continue with their current performance profile. Their service orientation and knowledge management space has to expand meaningfully. They certainly need to rise from their ashes like a phoenix!


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