Public libraries are the foundations of every functional society and pave the way for a country’s progress. However, in recent times, public libraries have faced the brunt of rapid technological development as well as reducing readership amongst the younger generation. Therefore, it is vital that public libraries upgrade themselves to meet the needs of the future of our country – and the best way to do this is through rapid digitization and forming digital public libraries.
In this article, we will speak about the roles that public libraries play in the upkeep of society, the troubles that plague them, and how digitization could solve their problems.
Public Libraries Face Many Difficulties
Lack of Public Funding
Public libraries in India face acute difficulties because they do not receive adequate funding from the state as well as the center. Additionally, many states in India have only recently passed a bill to charge their wards for the upkeeps of their libraries. Therefore, many libraries find it difficult to find the money for even their basic day-to-day upkeep as well as their technological upgradation.
Shortage of Skilled Staff
In part because of the lack of funding, libraries do not have adequate staff. Many librarians are paid meager sums of money, which leads to very little motivation to do their jobs well. Additionally, the field of library science is not a field encouraged in India, and as such, many librarians are not equipped to maintain their wards well.
Lack of Equal Access
Libraries are under the purview of states and not the center. Because of this, there is no standardization in not just how libraries are maintained, but also how many libraries exist in each state.
For example, the state of Andhra Pradesh has a total of 2386 libraries for over 8 crores inhabitants, while the state of Maharashtra has over 12,000 libraries for its 11-crore population.
How can Digitization Help Rebuild Public Libraries?
Reduces the dependence on Physical Locations
Digital libraries are stored on servers and as such reduce the dependencies on physical locations. Thanks to this feature, public libraries that have digital platforms could be accessed by lakhs more people than the current figures.
Take, for example, the state of Haryana, which has no rural libraries and only 6 district libraries and 43 central libraries. By moving to an online platform, they can ensure that each and every citizen, urban or rural have access to the same books and videos irrespective of where they live.
Bridges the Gap between Rich and Poor
Wealthy people have the means to seek education and information on their own without the aid of the government. However, people without money often need aid from the government to educate themselves. It is a vicious cycle – one needs the education to pull themselves out of poverty, but poor people don’t often have easy access to education thus denying them the chance at bettering their lives.
Public digital libraries are potential game-changers in this regard. Not only do they give easy access to people living in poverty, but also, public libraries have many books to help people prepare for competitive exams and higher education. Additionally, many digital libraries come equipped with simulations to help people gain deeper insights into the subjects – a feature that could otherwise cost them a lot of money with private parties.
Helps Spread Digital Literacy
Going digital does not just mean having a digital platform, but also refers to upgrading digital systems within the physical structures of the library itself. When physical libraries equip themselves with technological equipment such as computers, tablets, and kiosks, they can help increase the digital literacy of their citizens by making them more comfortable with upgraded technologies.
Helps Spread the Culture and Language of a region
With the onset of English, most states are facing a dilemma of how to preserve thousands of years’ worth of culture and language. This is a problem that can be solved by making use of a digital platform for public libraries.
State libraries hold books of regional languages. With a digital platform, they can help maintain these books and let people read them from the comfort of their own homes – homemakers and working professionals can register and read these books without having to take extra time off their busy schedules. Additionally, with more people who have access to reading these books, more authors and publishers can also be encouraged to produce more books, keeping alive the rich traditions of each state.
Helps in Preservation and Conservation
Public libraries act as gatekeepers of the past – they hold vast banks of knowledge of our country’s past. Libraries like Nalanda for example were holding lakhs of papers that documented our past.
These documentations are difficult to maintain – they damage easily due to age and other environmental factors. Losing these documents would mean losing chunks of our nation’s history.
Digital public libraries would greatly solve this problem. Not only would digitizing public documents render them immortal but also, they would give the public easy access to them.
Reduces the Operating Costs
Public libraries are often huge and have large overhead maintenance costs. Therefore, states without much revenue consider these entities as unnecessary or secondary expenditures. The cost of maintaining these libraries does not justify pulling funds away from more urgent needs like free meals or healthcare.
However, with digital library platforms, baring the initial start-up costs, the overhead costs are a fraction of what they would have been for physical libraries. They can be operated with a small trained staff thanks to automated operations and after the digitization of libraries, they don’t have much to worry about in terms of maintenance of books.
Access to the Internet not Required
Some digital libraries come equipped with technologies that allow citizens to sit in libraries and use a digital infrastructure without access to the Internet. Let’s take the example of mBox, our revolutionary IoT device, it can be installed at physical branches of a library. All one needs to do is connect their device to MintBox’s intranet, and access eBooks and videos. This is particularly useful for areas where the internet connection is not stable and young people have to rely on outdated books to prepare for their exams or study.
How Public Libraries Upkeep Societies
Auxiliaries to Educational Institutions – Helps Increase Literacy, Bridge the Gap between Rich and Poor
Public Libraries act as quasi educational institutions. In places, where there are not too many resources for young adults and children to study, public libraries act as centers for learning for these people. They help increase literacy rates – there is often a direct correlation between a high number of libraries and the literacy rates of an area as well as act as an equalizer between the resources available to the rich and the poor.
Centers of Culture and Leisure – Custodians of Culture
Libraries are custodians of culture. They uphold historical records of a nation’s past and make it available for future generations. The United States of America has the National Library of Congress which holds all the documentation in their struggle for independence against the British. This ensures that future generations always have access to their history.
Let’s not forget, libraries are measures of a country’s cultural wealth. It is a matter of cultural pride- how many there are, and how well they are operating. It is also important to look at their maintenance.
Brings Societies Together
Libraries bring societies together. When there are adequate libraries, citizens will have places to gather and perform socially beneficial activities in place of rather unsavory ones. For example, with the presence of well-equipped libraries, college students can find a place of solitude for reflection and education instead of going to noisy cafes or restaurants where they would have to spend a lot of money and waste time.
Similarly, in many countries, libraries serve the needs of young children and families by organizing reading sessions. Events like these bring communities together and make public spaces safer on the whole.
Helps in Technological Progress
According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, the IT-BPM sector in India stood at US$177 billion in 2019 and witnessed a growth of 6.1 percent, and is estimated that the size of the industry will grow to US$ 350 billion by 2025.
Similarly, according to the McKinsey 2019 report, on average, every 26 people out of 100 have, own, and operate a smartphone.
That still leaves about 74 people (out of 100) without access to smartphones. And even fewer have access to mobile phones.
So, there is a discrepancy in the demand for skilled labor and the availability of people who access these skills.
Libraries can be acute solution modules for such a problem. Well-equipped libraries give citizens access to information around the globe. They also help them learn new, and relevant skills. Many libraries have therefore begun to offer coding lessons for many students – a valuable skill for gaining employment today.
Libraries provide societies a great service. Therefore, as a nation, it is important to give them the respect they deserve and take progressive measures to make them more and more relevant to changing times. At Mintbook, we provide customized eLearning solutions for public libraries to digitalize them. Get in touch with Mintbook if you want to try out a digital solution for your public library.