The public library of Shopian District, Jammu & Kashmir, is almost deserted.
At the Shopian District Library, in the southwest part of Kashmir, newspapers and magazines are lying on the reading desk, untouched. On the shelves, books are piling up. Some have not been borrowed for years. Despite being of modest size, Shopian District Library has an interesting collection of books, and a wide range of subscriptions to English and local newspapers. Yet, visitors are rare, and the two librarians often spend their days without seeing anyone.
Ruhie Jaan, the library assistant, is present in the library from morning to evening. She gives her account of the situation: “People’s interest towards reading is growing very poor. Nowadays focus is more towards money and less on gaining knowledge.” When asked what are the reasons behind the deserting of the library, Ruhie Jaan points out the lack of well-trained staff. “We have complained about the staff but it did not help. It is difficult for us to manage to work things out”. Indeed, the lack of staff is an important challenge for the library. The chief librarian left some years ago, and was never replaced. The remaining staff are insufficient and undertrained, thus enable to provide the readers with proper guidance. Also, funds are often severely crunched for small town public libraries, making it difficult to renew book collections and keep up with recent publications.
However, the changing reading culture, and the growing demand for computerized information is certainly one of the main reasons behind the sharp drop in visitors to the library. “The number of readers who visit here have decreased. Readers who do come, usually want computers and other reference books.” Indeed, the rise of new information technologies has deeply transformed the way people search and access information and knowledge. Libraries, across the world, have to undergo major transformation to adapt to this new culture.
In 2009, in India, the Ministry of Culture, in charge of supporting and developing the network of public libraries across the country, underscored that new initiatives were to be taken to revitalize public libraries. In particular, it stressed that a library could not be a mere storeroom anymore, but information centers, with broadband connectivity, and knowledge resources for the community.
Public libraries hold great potential in providing a space for the democratization of information. They can play a central role in diffusing critical knowledge. But for this, libraries have to be well equipped, and librarians well trained. India has a long tradition of libraries, and an ancient reading culture. To keep this culture alive, the government now has to invest massively to keep up with new ways of accessing and circulating knowledge.
Nadeem Andrabi is a Community Correspondent from Kashmir.
Today’s video provides an alternative view on Kashmir, going beyond usual headlines that speak of violence and terrorism. Rather, what touched Nadeem is the deserted public library of Shopian district. Nadeem was a regular visitor to the library, and was moved by the hard work of two librarians, in spite of how unpopular the place had become. Discussing the library around him, he realized that very few knew about its existence. Therefore, he decided to shoot a story, despite the shyness of the librarians, who were hesitant to come on camera. “Knowledge is the most important thing for me. I wanted to make people aware of resources that are available to them. I hope that my video will help this library to increase its number of visitors”, explains Nadeem.