There was a time, not in the distant past, when the people of Kashmir filled up the tiny spaces of public libraries devouring books on life, culture, and social sciences, and made intellectual inquiry a vibrant component of life in the Kashmir valley. But a combination of factors, like the widespread political violence, the emergence of the internet, and jump in income and prosperity leaving people with enough money to buy books online, in the last nearly two decades, has seen public libraries literally vanishing from the consciousness of the people. Add to it the indifference of the consecutive governments of the state and the concept of having access to a public library has all but died in Kashmir.
For years the government paid no attention to build the new infrastructure to cope with the changes brought by growth in information technology, and there was no attempt to update the inventory to attract the dwindling population of bibliophiles in the region. No one went into a public library anymore and books either gathered dust or were eaten up by insects. Gradually, Kashmir, which had few libraries and even fewer library goers, saw a total abandoning of the practice of reading a book in a library, or simple visiting it to borrow a book. And some of those who did come to borrow books never returned them and the practice left libraries with fewer books.
To bring back some transparency and coax people back into public libraries, the state government recently took an initiative that they feel would revive the tradition of public libraries in Kashmir. They want to revive the reading culture and also preserve the rare books and artifacts by digitizing libraries. The government initially sanctioned Rs 20.30 lakhs for the digitization and archiving of rare books and manuscripts.
In the first phase, nearly eight million pages from books in various libraries were digitised in Jammu and Kashmir during the year 2011. The libraries which were digitised included Iqbal library at the University of Kashmir, City Centre Library, SPS library and SRS library in Jammu division. Till now the department has digitised nearly 5000 books in these four libraries mostly including manuscripts and rare books.
Although, the digitization of books has to some extent helped in preserving the books but as far as attracting young readers towards libraries is concerned, the move has not proven productive.
And keeping that in mind, the Minister for Finance, Dr. Haseeb A Drabu extended the process of digitization by making available career oriented material in these libraries. This was done to attract the youth who are willing to go for higher professional opportunities, or want to crack the toughest competitive exams held at state as well as national levels.
The move called “Public Libraries e-learning” is aimed to revive the literary movement in the state which will be supported by Indian Public Library Movement with high-tech infrastructure.
Under this programme, the department of Libraries and research will provide quality coaching and comprehensive solutions to the students aspiring to appear in NEET, JEE and CET.
The IT-enabled learning material, including video lectures, e-books and written notes, shall be made available free of cost in all the Government Libraries across the State to facilitate students to crack NEET, JEE, CET and other competitive examinations. To ensure vast coverage under this programme, the Finance Minister has asked the concerned department to involve 148 public libraries in the state.
The department has shortlisted the study material from Plancess – a single platform for all entrance examinations – after searching for the same from different educational platforms
“The aim is to take the local students at par with students at New Delhi or other metropolitan cities. Students should not only contribute to their career but to the society as well,” said Drabu.
For this purpose, the government of Jammu and Kashmir has approached almost 100 Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) toppers to prepare material for courses like NEET, JEE and CET.
“We shifted our libraries from print to digital mode. Initially we identified community needs and then we went to different players to make this idea successful. Our students require material for competitive exams and to cater to their needs is better idea to revive library culture here. We have purchased material in the shape of video lecture, e-books and printed material,” said Mukhtar –ul- Aziz, Director, Libraries and Research.
Under this initiative, the students apart from getting course material in digital format will have one online mentor to guide them while going through the course. “They will have one mentor online who will be an IAS topper will answer their all question after going through the digital material. Besides we have kept one facility of self-assessment through which students can assess their level of preparation for any course,” said Mukhtar-Ul-Aziz. Knowing that many libraries were lacking facilities like electricity, the department has developed the material that wouldn’t require enough electricity.
“A student anywhere in the state has to visit his nearest library, fill a form and avail the facility of tabs, computers and the expert-designed study material,” said Mukhtar – ul –Aziz.
Although, the government has kick-started the process, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done as far as awareness regarding ‘digitisation of libraries’ is concerned. Academicians say that a mind-set of traditional library system is still prevalent in Kashmir and that needs to be replaced with a modern form of library.
“We are a bridge between authentic sources of information and general masses,” said Zahid Ashraf, an assistant professor at the library sciences department at the University of Kashmir.
“In this age of latest technology there is lot of information available and our job is to provide factual information in the least possible time,” said Rosy Jan, a colleague of Zahid.
“We have been conducting various programmes to sanitize regarding the value of digitised libraries and today’s program under EFDL (emerging frontier of digitised libraries) is third one of the series. What our digitised libraries provide is they help in the dissemination of right knowledge among aspirants in shortest possible time,” Zahid added.
Prof Nadeem Akhtar Khan, who expertizes and teaches IT at the department says, “concept of digitised libraries helps professionals like doctors, engineers, writers and various others to keep abreast with latest happenings in their particular fields.”