Room to read

  • Investment in public libraries is a prerequisite to a knowledge-based society
Room to read

Jun 24, 2014-

Last year, Fine Print, a Nepali publication house, released Prayogshala, a book on the relationship between the Maoists, New Delhi and the monarchy. Within months, it sold over 27,000 copies, becoming the fastest selling work of non-fiction in Nepal. Clearly, Nepali readers are hungry for books. Apart from booming book sales, a great number of visitors flock to book fairs and participate in book discussions and debates. However, when it comes to libraries, places where one can retreat into books, the situation is depressing. Elsewhere, it might be the rise of e-books and the switch to paperless reading that are threatening libraries; here, due to poor infrastructure and an absolute dearth of investment, public libraries are almost non-existent. The greater concern here is for valuable historic manuscripts and books rotting away in storage.  

So the digitising of the Tribhuvan University Central Library (TUCL), a 55-year-old institution, is good news. The TUCL, with a collection which currently exceeds 350,000 volumes of books in addition to more than 25,000 back volumes of periodicals, functions as one of Nepal’s few public libraries. Some books in the library are over 4,000 years old. Of them, around 74,000 books, periodicals and researches have been recently uploaded to D-space, a piece of software generally used for creating open access repositories for scholarly or published digital content, through a grant from the World Bank. This was, however, long overdue. And still, the government has only been providing annual assistance of Rs 7 million to the library while it needs Rs 30 million.  

Given this state of affairs, it would do well for policymakers to remind themselves of what Walter Cronkite, an American journalist, once said, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” Libraries are not merely buildings of brick and mortar but institutions that foster intellectual growth and encourage curiosity. The sheer lack of public libraries in the country, including in Kathmandu, where people can find a quiet corner to immerse themselves in a book, look for materials on the internet, stack materials on a desk and pursue their research or borrow books is distressing. There is certainly a Nepal National Library in Harihar Bhawan and a Kaiser Library in Thamel but they function more as repositories. The Dilliraman-Kalyani Regmi Memorial Public Library in Lazimpat and Social Science Baha Library in Battisputali are commendable efforts but they have limited public reach. Besides, private and NGO efforts in establishing and promoting library culture are neither enough nor sustainable.

For that, the government should implement its own Library and National Information Policy 2007 which aims at building a knowledge-based society using information technology and developing a book reading and writing culture by establishing libraries. It should also explore possibilities to digitise the National Library and allocate more funds for all state-owned libraries from the upcoming fiscal year itself.

Published: 25-06-2014 08:34

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