Posted on March 21, 2013.
I visited two very different libraries while recently in India: a neighbourhood public library in a Mumbai suburb and an academic library at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. I was impressed by the innovative resources and programming, welcoming spaces, and philosophy of service in both libraries.
I grew up in India in the 1970s. At that time, our local lending library was a hole-in-the-wall enterprise sandwiched between shops on the main street. We paid a fee to belong and were charged per book borrowed. Despite the limited choice of used popular adventure, mystery, and comic books, my siblings and I were eager patrons.
The MCubed Library
Imagine my delight when I discovered on the ground floor of the building where my sister lives a lively story session held in a bright, inviting, cheerful place—what looked like a children’s library! I subsequently learned that this very new venture, the MCubed Library, opened September 30, 2011.
The inspiration for a public library such as this was conceived by Vibha Kamat, a local French teacher, during a visit to the USA in 2004. Several attempts to locate affordable space in expensive Mumbai ended in disappointment, and she almost gave up. Kamat discovered the current location in 2006. At this time it seemed perfect, but unfortunately did not work out as the space was occupied by the non-profit Maharashtra Mitra Mandal (MMM) Library. The purpose of the MMM Library was to promote Maharashtran culture, but with a very limited budget its offerings were meagre. In 2010, Vibha and her friend Vaishali Shinde tried again. They offered a proposal to the MMM committee to maintain the library for two years without funding or staffing from the MMM. This time, they were successful.
They began soliciting funds and setting up the library with the help of another friend, Sonal Bimal. Friends and family were tapped for donations of books and money, and the space was decorated in keeping with its new purpose. Response to solicitations was generous—over 2,000 books, 2.5 lakh rupees ($4,400 CDN), library software, equipment, and furniture donations helped the MCubed Library get started. On the first anniversary of its inauguration, MCubed Library expanded its collection and created an adult section. The library now has over 10,000 books and one can usually find a few university students enjoying the peace and quiet of the library to study. However, there currently appears to be little interest in the adult books. This may be because there are other options for borrowing adult books. For example, adults can subscribe to The British Council Library and Librarywala which allows them to search the catalogues and order books to be delivered to their home. In addition, the American Library’s collection, housed at the US Consulate in Mumbai, is freely available to all Indian citizens.
MCubed Library aims to be self-sustaining. Patrons pay annual or semi-annual membership fees to borrow books from the library, but children who attend the local government school from “modest backgrounds” can join for free. Currently MCubed Library has approximately 900 members. Costs are kept low by employing creative solutions to administer, maintain, and decorate the library. There are two paid librarians, a helper, a gardener, and cleaning lady on staff, all other services are provided by volunteers. The three founding members are actively involved in selecting books for the library and organizing cultural programming on a purely voluntary basis. Sharmila Kamat, an educational consultant, and Rajani Kothare, from the MMM, also provide invaluable support to the library’s cultural and educational programming. There is no formal collection development policy, but the range of resources is broad, and books are available in English, Hindi, and Marathi. Donated books that are not selected for the MCubed Library are sent to local school libraries.
There is no plan to offer computers or e-readers at MCubed Library—books remain their focus. The library also thrives as a social space, bringing children and adults to the library to attend art and craft workshops, book clubs, creative writing workshops, language courses, and movie screenings. I attended a showing of Louis Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants one evening, which was followed by a lively discussion on the state of social and political consciousness in Germany and India with guest speaker Georg Heinzen, writer of the German film Gran Paradiso, who was in Mumbai at the time for a Indo-German script writing workshop.
MCubed Library encourages donations of time and talent, as well as cash and sponsorships of memberships and book purchases. They can be contacted at http://mcubedlibrary.com/reachus.php.
The Learning Resource Center, Indian School of Business
The other library I had the opportunity to visit was the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) situated at the heart of the beautiful Indian School of Business (ISB) campus in Hyderabad. I had no prior experience of Indian academic libraries, having only studied in the US and Canada, but was very impressed by the LRC and its services.
Photo Courtesy of ISB
In an open and elegantly designed space, the LRC stacks, reading spaces, and meeting rooms are placed on the outer periphery of stairs that spiral up to higher floors around a central atrium. As one would expect of a library connected to an internationally high-ranking academic insitution, the LRC has specialized databases, excellent electronic, print and career resources, and audio-visual material. It also has an excellent knowledge management system, and uses the technology efficiently to ensure its collection is relevant to the teaching, research, and learning communities, by reaching out to researchers, professors, and students to understand their information needs.
The LRC appears to be in tune with its community of users, employing a number of ways to keep in touch. For example, the LRC is given a list of all visiting faculty and new classes of students. Every visiting faculty member and every new student receives a welcome email shortly upon their arrival to campus, describing LRC services and inviting them to the LRC to explore the available resources. If the library does not record any activity from a member of the community within a certain period of time, the member will receive a follow-up message inquiring if LRC services are meeting their needs or if they have any suggestions. Course guides are made available to students listing new resources and information relevant to courses and projects. These guides not only list titles and call numbers of resources, they also point to the physical location and stack number for items—a helpful little detail. The LRC is open from 8am to 2am daily, and during exams stays open until 4am.
“Global InfoWatch” is a specialized information product created by the LRC in 2008, which provides a monthly update on the latest trends in various industry sectors, current happenings in business schools across the globe, and recent articles on management. The Placement Guide and Industry Watch, under the umbrella of Global InfoWatch, are useful to students interviewing for jobs, as they provide relevant and updated company overviews, the latest news, financial statements, analysis reports, and direct links to career opportunities at companies recruiting on campus. These products are accessible to the community from a single platform that individual users can personalize to meet their specific needs.
The LRC takes an active role in knowledge management and archiving of important knowledge resources and intellectual capital created at the school including: research reports, working papers, projects, articles and cases by students and faculty; news items related to ISB and visting lecturers; and yearbooks covering every graduating class.
There are also services offered to families of the ISB community. ISB has many visiting faculty and students living on campus. As ISB believes that families play a significant role in the professional growth of students, faculty, and staff, the LRC has an extensive collection of popular non-academic literature, best-sellers, comic books, biographies, magazines, and DVDs for families to borrow. The LRC also lends board games and electronic games. The library doesn’t simply cater to entertainment and literacy, it also has a set of umbrellas that can be signed out in inclement weather! Ramesh Kotnana, the librarian who took the time to show me around the LRC, said these resources are appreciated and well used.
The LRC collects and analyses different types of data to help evaluate and improve its services. Some methods are simple and low tech, but effective: a librarian supervising a floor is required to record the number of users on the floor every hour and the knowledge management system collects lots of useful data, like circulation records, that allow analysis of the resources and types of resources signed out most often.
I was very privileged to have the opportunity to visit and view the inner workings of both the MCubed Library in Mumbai and the LRC in Hyderabad.
In the LRC, I was impressed to see the strong integration of the library with its community of users and the innovative and creative ways the LRC carried out its mission. The LRC’s commitment to service and the quality of its resources seems exceptional by any standards.
In MCubed Library, the passion and dedication of the founding members, the support of the MMM Library partners, the enthusiasm of community volunteers, and generous donations to this project have resulted in a well-needed and well-used public library space in this suburban neighbourhood. The only other resource like it appear to be the Hippocampus library system, founded in 2003, by Umesh Malhotra,. Situated in Bangalore and Chennai, Hippocampus is growing its services and its reach. Like the MCubed Library, it is subscription-based, has a public library focus with literacy programs, and a program to encourage access to books for underprivileged children.
A paper published in 2008 by Zahid Asraf Wani on the Development of Public Libraries in India reported that there are, “twenty-eight states and seven union territories in India, each with its own public library system and pattern of financial assistance. Twelve of the states have enacted library legislation and the rest are providing public library service without legislation.” Amazing… but where? I will have search them out on my next visit to India. Asraf Wani concludes that public libraries in India are “doors to learning,” and a massive investment in public libraries is needed to make them “true information resource centres for the layman.”
The state public library systems could take note of successful ventures like MCubed Library and Hippocampus, and dedicate resources, support existing efforts, and provide more public libraries like these in India.
— Crystal Sharp, MA, MLIS
CD Sharp Information Systems, Ltd.
Ashraf Wani, Zahid. 2008. Development of Public Libraries in India. Library Philosophy and Practice.
(March). http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/wani.pdf . Last accessed January 11, 2013.