25 Juillet 2019

The Future of Libraries Conference held at IIM Bangalore from 26 - 28 February 2019

By K. Rama Patnaik Ph.D, Librarian, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore

Never in the history of librarianship has the future of libraries been discussed as it is in the current era. Premature obituaries were nothing new in every period on the demise of libraries ever since technology permeated into our lives. Adding to this narrative, the literature, and discourses replete with ideas and frameworks on how libraries are repositioning or negotiating their space within institutions to reclaim the central position to attract funds to strengthen their infrastructure and resources.  

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This conference was organized to address some of the fundamental issues about the redefinition of the role of libraries in the digital domain and attempt to narrow down the narratives on how libraries are transforming themselves to be relevant to the journey of learning, evolving cultures and improving human lives. As libraries are representatives of culture and advancement of society, this conference included public library systems.

“Technology, and abundance of information, and ubiquity of the internet have a  substantial impact on contemporary libraries everywhere in the world. Response to these challenges is critical for the survival of libraries and to the profession of librarianship. The theme of the conference was crafted to collapse these narratives on extinction, rebranding, and repositioning of the libraries holistically and highlight their contribution to the journey of learning, research and improving human lives,” said Dr. Rama Patnaik, Conference Chair and Librarian, IIM Bangalore.  The conference had 13 invited lectures, two panel discussions, two workshops and 17 contributors’ presentations.

A video message of Prof G Raghuram (Director, IIMB) was played where he welcomed all the participants and hoped the invited speakers, delegates, publishers and the library professionals would have a fruitful discussion on the ubiquity of digital content and declining footfalls in the library.  Prof. Abhay K Ojha, Dean of Academic Programmes in his inaugural speech called for quick transformation of libraries. As he foresees the dominance of IT professional in facilitating access to the content and in an increasingly digitally dominated libraries, access to eBooks, journals and data is no more exclusive to the physical premises of the library.

Dr. Kishor Chandra Satpathy, Chief Librarian, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata and co-host of the conference proposed the vote of thanks.

A panel discussion on the future of academic and research libraries with panelist drawn from the spectrum of stakeholders in the information landscape discussed some critical issues confronting the academic and research libraries. Technologies, Open access, repositioning, and rebranding the nature of activities that appeal to the stakeholders and other opportunities are identified as core issues that mandate the immediate attention of the professionals.  The panel discussion was moderated by N V Sathyanarayana Chairman and  Managing Director of Informatics Pvt Ltd. The other panelists in the discussion comprised Prof. Shalini Urs, Dr. Marshall Breeding, Dr. Nishtha Anil Kumar, Dr. B M Meera, and Dr. Naveen Bharathi.  In his opening remarks, he navigated through various stages /phases of the profession and library development. He focused on certain burning issues of A&RL, especially on the digital chit, repositioning to bridge the gap in recruiting new roles and functions, open access movement and entity as convenience space provider to rebrand it given the changing roles.

Libraries must absorb the challenges of IT to maintain identity. It is a manifested statement of whether libraries become subordinate to IT centers/departments raised earlier on the inaugural speech. Like in the case of banks, IT center should exist to serve within libraries. What probably required is IT embedded libraries wherever necessary and embedded IT professionals. On the question of re-positioning and rebranding challenges, Dr. Marshall felt that branding is not critical, and it takes a lot of time. The brand libraries books and the perception gap between users and librarians about libraries are more transitory as libraries are preserved better than classrooms and teachers in mindshare. Libraries are even more trusted world over for their information than many others. Prof Shalini Urs are critical on the restraining role of Institutional Repositories as compared to the article sharing sites.  IRs are unable to foster research collaboration and restricted itself to fulfilling the archival objectives and consolidation of the internal intellectual output of the institution.

Interestingly, IRs are not librarians’ initiatives but thrust on them as no takers (including IT center) in the Institutions. From a researcher perspective, Dr. Naveen Kumar endorsed the role of IR in archiving rather than discovering potential collaborators, and unlike IRs, article sharing sited enhance visibility in terms of digital footfalls.  He also mentioned about the diminished role of libraries driven by the pedagogy of academics, especially when students are flooded with course packs and reading lists.  On the issue of LIS education system, she said, that to meet the needs of future libraries LIS schools should be merged with other disciplines such as computer science, and management departments, and a national level common LIS curriculum is much needed.

Archiving, curation, and management of data are gaining traction in recent times in scholarly communication.  As research is extensively getting data-intensive in several areas of science, science, a term used for data-intensive research and discovery is becoming popular as the fourth paradigm in Science.  The culture of sharing data needs to be initiated at an Institutional level as misconceptions on curating research data still prevail in social science and humanities. As data is not traditionally curated by libraries and largely done by the researchers themselves. Both the research librarians in the panel asserted that the emergence of new roles and responsibilities in research libraries with the absence of any formal course offered by the LIS schools.  And Librarians are learning skills on the job and managing the ever-changing roles.

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