“There are no great limits to growth because there are no great limits to human intelligence, imagination and wonder’’ - Ronald Reagan
In order to grow and prosper, information which nourishes the human intellect, is seen as vital as food, air and water to the human being. As we live in a world where technology is rapidly expanding, information is readily available at our fingertips. But barely a century ago when the world was experiencing an information famine, libraries served as the best centres for public information. Now with the increasing rise of modern technology, libraries which acted as warehouses of information since many eras are slowly being depreciated.
Today, a simple swipe on your smart phone could answer any inquisitive questions and this very advancement in information distribution has thrust novel threats to humanity.
Creating a forum to discuss this issue and to converse under the theme ‘Challenges for information professionals and LIS Services in the 21st century’ the Sri Lanka Library Association held its first ever International Conference on LIS (library information systems) on 17th and 18th September.
Throughout the course of the conference, professionals in the field presented papers and spoke on a diverse range of topics which Daily Mirror was privileged to attend.
A Bounty of misinformation on the Net
The gathering on the 17th of September conferred regarding how the advancements of technology has lead to a growth of excessive information on the internet which information scientists regard as problematic. It has been quite evident that since the introduction of search engines and the eased access to the internet, less people find it necessary to go to libraries. Although most people are contented with their online search results, the current flood of information drowning the users is not always accurate, neither is it reliable.
The chief guest of the event, the High Commissioner of Pakistan in Sri Lanka, Major General Syed Shakeel Hussain who addressed the gathering stated that “People are flooded with biased information which is a global handicap.”
His statements were also supported by Dr. Jagdish Arora Director of INFLIBNET (Information and Library Network Centre in India) by mentioning “Libraries are surrounded with disruptive technologies and these disruptive technologies lead to the disruption of the status quo.”
The many technology-influenced alternatives replacing the old traditional library services, act as proof to these statements. Presently, the introduction of web-based bibliographies and search engines have made the traditional library practices such as compiling bibliographies and offering reference services to be deemed low. Sadly these practices influence massive crowds to idolize the misinformation the internet offers.
In the midst of search engines and e-books over-ruling the traditional libraries, the deserted libraries prove a least satisfactory place for employment. Dr. A. Baladhandayutham from Tamil Nadu presented his study of job satisfaction among the library and information science professionals in Madurai District of India.The study showed lack of government aides, lack of staff, small working spaces and lack of resources.
He also mentioned that the profession is belittled by many. However, Dr. A Baladhandayutham ever optimistic, expressed how librarianship was a profession of high importance and needs to be considered as a profession of pride despite the general perception.
Supporting libraries : UN’s role
With respect to understanding the importance of the profession and uplifting the librarian’s self-worth, Ms. Kumari S. Wickramasinghe, a fellow SLLA member brought into attention the United Nations’ contribution to the field of librarianship in Sri Lanka. She mentioned that the United Nations had been a constant well-wisher to the world of literature and thereby declared international days concerning the literacy field.
The international organization has also aided information scientists over the years providing them with global data and statistics. In addition, the United Nations has a specialized department for public information and 63 information centres worldwide. Ms. Wickramasinghe further stated that the UN originated UNESCO ( United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has maintained a partnership with the International Federation of Library Associations since the year 1947 and in Sri Lanka, funded libraries in the war-affected North and East and in 1960 installed school library inspectors. In 2004, after the tsunami, the United Nations specially helped Sri Lanka in information for disaster recovery.
Ms. Kumari Wickramasinghe expressed how Sri Lankan librarians should not feel undervalued, when an international organization such as the UN had been constantly supporting librarianship and encouraging world literacy.
Beyond providing information: Transforming lives
The universal image of the a library had been simply narrowed down to the task of providing information. However Dr.M. D. Nasirudddin who believes the role extends far beyond this scope, presented how he used libraries for the betterment of the socially marginalized sector of Bangladesh.
Whilst much attention is given on developing the field of librarianship to adapt to the environmental changes, Dr. Nasiruddin a Bangladeshi professor of Information Science and Library Management at University of Rajshahi focused on developing the lives of the library users in the environment. By initiating a project known as ‘Library project: Libraries for changing lives’ the team envisioned promoting better occupations for the thousands of homeless Bangladeshis who sleep daily on the pavements.
The main target of the ‘socially marginalized sector’ included the abundant community of sex-workers in Bangladesh. Bangladesh being a country with 14 licensed brothels and several other floating brothels, made it difficult for the project to create a huge impact; yet the lives of 500 sex-workers were transformed by the installation of libraries in identified red-light areas.
Consisting of more than 150,000 individuals, Bangladesh’s massive sex industry echoes the pain and loneliness experienced by this sector of socially marginalized persons. The installation of libraries in the red-light areas provided many sex-workers to find a place of solitude during their free time. Here the sex-workers who were initially reluctant to communicate, later shared their stories of abuse. A large majority of them recounted their introduction to the field and how they continued only for their survival and never due to any preference of the job.
Once the sex-workers got more comfortable to the surroundings, the project launched programmes which helped these sex-workers to realise their internal potentials.
Dr. Nasiruddin at the International Conference on LIS said “Socially marginalized people are different from others. They can easily catch up with anything and are easily motivated. With motivation, the sex-worker strives to change their profession for the good of their children, whom they want to educate.”
In this scenario, the library acted as a training centre, by providing internal growth activities and also as a learning institute by providing legal support, creating awareness of their rights, educating about sexually transmitted diseases and allowing them to access resources and obtain legal support.
Without merely being providers of information, Dr. Nasiruddin‘s example of how libraries can be used for the betterment of the user’s lives, drew enormous praise. The concept of going beyond just offering information services was much appreciated.
The library of the future
Though the field of information professionals and library information service is seemingly a neglected scope in the present day, it is yet an important segment in providing the ‘right information’ to society.
On a more positive tone, Professor Russell Bowden a fellow SLLA who understands that libraries nowadays are considered as last resort information centres, assures that it is definitely not the end of libraries. Professor Russell Bowden ex-librarian of British Council explained that documents provided to libraries will never be redundant and also that a library’s objectives of providing efficient, effective, quality services to users, will always remain. He is also confident that the increases in info-savvy staff armed with newer knowledge, skills and techniques will complement the older services.
However Mrs. Pradeepa Wijeytunga , the chairperson of the Sri Lanka Library Association stated “successful progression [of the LIS services] depend on how successful LIS professionals adapt to changes in environment.”
Professor Bowden stressed this viewpoint as well and stated “Libraries have always adapted to change in the environment. And it is again time for change just like clay tablets were adapted to papyrus, we have to now adapt to smart phones.”
Dr. Jagdish Arora further enlightened how libraries of the future can be designed to deal with the problems of today. He suggested the following for the libraries of the future: Must encourage collaborative research- by promoting web based solutions (bring together professionals who look at problems from different angles and let them collaborate).
Enhance the features of a future library- by providing comfort and social space which enables discussions.
Introduce the concept of ‘library everywhere’- make library catalogues visible on Google, allow campus students have off-campus access, allow access through Facebook
Embrace the digital lifestyle- provide links to non-traditional resources (e-books etc)