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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 039-120-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Management and Marketing - Part II
Joint Meeting with: Information Technology and Social Sciences Libraries
Meeting Number: 110
Simultaneous Interpretation: Yes

Libraries and librarians in India on the threshold of the 3rd millennium: challenges and risks

Kalpana Dasgupta
Central Secretariat Library,
New Delhi, India


The information era with its electronic facilities will come with many challenges in all the sectors of development since information is the base for all developmental activities. Libraries and information centres and librarians will have their share of challenges and risks to partake in this major activity. To bring about this change India will need to have a vision for the 3rd millennium and each sector will have to adopt the latest developments in information technology. This includes change in the functions of the library to make it service oriented rather than collection building oriented; preservation and access may be considered as vital; marketing of information and library service development of library professionals to cope with new environment and to deal with the management techniques for dealing with the new objectives and prepare a national policy for libraries and information centres keeping in mind the needs of the different sectors within the field of Indian librarianship.



The information age is here with many challenges and risks for the information generator and the information disseminator. The challenges before libraries and information centres are manifold. The main challenge will emerge from the expected change in the very nature of future libraries and information centres.

Library Scenario in India

The diversity of the Indian library scenario is an important aspect for consideration while speaking about a vision for the 3rd millennium, since different library sectors in India are in various stages of development and no single solution or approach will be relevant in the Indian situation.

Indian library and information sector can be divided into five major areas: the National Library sector; Academic library sector; the Special and Scientific library sector, Government library sector; and the Public library sector due to various factors the scientific and special library sector is much more developed and modernized than the other four sectors.

The challenges which Indian libraries and librarians will encounter in the 3rd millennium are manifold but the most important challenge will be the change in the very nature of libraries and librarians i.e., the libraries must change from collection oriented institutions to service oriented organisations and librarians have to change from custodians of books and documents to information managers and disseminators. In this changing scenario IT will play the most important role. While taking advantage of the different components of information technology the libraries of each sector will have to ensure the following:

  1. take stock of the actual need of the library and its users;
  2. bring about change in the functions of the library to make it service oriented rather than collection oriented;
  3. resource sharing and networking of libraries;
  4. consider both preservation and access as vital components of library service;
  5. marketing of information and library services;
  6. development of library professionals to cope with the new environment;
  7. utilization of management techniques for dealing with the new objectives.
At the decision-making level India will need a National Policy for libraries and information centres within the changed socio-economic environment keeping in mind the new requirements of the different sectors within the field of librarianship. It will now be worthwhile to analyze the present Library and Information scenario before preparing a vision for the 3rd millennium in each sector of librarianship in India.

The National Library Sector

The National Library sector in India can be divided into two types of libraries. The first one comprises the National Library, Calcutta and the recipient Public libraries under the Delivery of Books Act i.e., Delhi Public Library (DPL), Connemara Public Library, Chennai and the State Central Library, Mumbai. These are the depositories of the printed cultural heritage of India under the Delivery of Books Act.

The depository libraries are a very important part of the National Library sector because India is a very vast and multi-lingual country with rich linguistic heritage. The 3rd millennium will have to see the cooperation between all these four libraries with the National Library at the apex. This can only be implemented if all these libraries are modernized at the same scale and have compatible systems to ensure resource sharing and networking. As these are financed by the Department of Culture (DoC) of the Government of India (GoI), the standards for modernization laid down by the DoC will be applicable to all these libraries.

The other part comprises the National level subject specific libraries such as National Science Library, National Medical Library, etc. In both these parts the National Library stands out as the largest single library which acts as the depository as well as the repository of all published material of India. The 20th century saw the development of all these national level libraries in isolation. The main challenge in the 3rd millennium in the national library sector would be to bring about close coordination between all these national level subject libraries and the National Library of India.

Academic Library Sector

The Academic library sector comprises school and college and the university libraries. While evolving a vision for university libraries for the millennium, the main focus should be on the role of the existing university library in addressing the national issues. Since most university libraries in India work in isolation some information need to be collected and collated before preparing such a perspective plan.

  1. Data regarding the actual functioning of the library, its collection, user approach, library facilities, IT application status, library manpower status, etc.
  2. A national agency may be identified for undertaking this work.
A major aspect of the new millennium will be cooperation at all levels starting from the local to the global level. Cooperation is a pre-requisite for all types of networking for resource sharing. Therefore, the following must be ensured before preparing the plan for linkages between university libraries.
  1. Institutional commitment to accept the given measures.
  2. Fund and support resource sharing solution.
  3. Attitudinal changes in library staff to undertake additional responsibility in resource sharing environment.
  4. Training of library staff to understand and appreciate the changed situation.
If these pre-requisites are made available the university libraries could plan for resource sharing programmes, apprenticeship in libraries for learning new skills and IT training programmes, consultancy in retro-conversion and in developing IT infrastructure. All these put together will be the basis of preparing a perspective plan and evolve a vision for university libraries in the country.

School and College Libraries

Excepting very high brow private schools, most schools in India do not have a library per se in the present situation. This area of librarianship is very neglected and needs immediate and continuous attention. As regards college libraries, most colleges have libraries but other than very well known colleges in each state, the ordinary colleges do not run libraries of any consequence. Therefore, India faces the challenges of actually preparing a perspective plan from scratch i.e., from collection development to networking through IT solutions, and will need a complete blueprint to develop these two types of libraries during the coming centuries.

India has set up the Information and Library Network (INFLIBNET) under the University Grants Commission (UGC) as the inter-university agency on library modernization to take the initiative and address the issues required to implement the perspective plan for the Academic sector. Each university and its affiliated college libraries also should be part of the overall scheme of development.

Distance Education

India has developed a well organized distance learning system through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) to achieve a high percentage of educated citizens as a prelude to an ultimate knowledge based society. The diversity and geographical distance of India need a strong, well-planned distance learning system for all citizens of the country. To make distance learning worthwhile the information base of the library sector will be equally responsible to be able to cater to the information need of Indians different societal levels. IGNOU has started some unique services for students with the help of IT but unless the rich collection of reading material available in different libraries in India are accessible to the younger generation the aim of distance learning gets nullified. Therefore, the academic sector has to be so inter-connected that it will also cater to distance learners.

Public Library Sector

The Public library system in India has developed over the years for more than a century, initially under the patronage of the aristocracy. However, the new independent India which developed a democratic society, recognised the need for public libraries which will work for the common good and will build a strong foundation for a democratic set up.

According to the Constitution of India, Public library development is a State responsibility. Therefore, all states are vested with the mandate to set up libraries within the state at different levels. But due to the diversity in the level of state-wise development, the Department of Culture, Government of India has set up Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation (RRRLF) to act as a nodal agency for development of public libraries in India.

Though library legislation is almost a pre-requisite, all the Indian states have not yet passed the library legislation. Therefore, RRRLF is also working towards a model Public Library Bill which may be able to encompass all the facets needed for development of public libraries to suit the new changing environment. Moreover, in the rural sector the local governments have been made responsible and accountable for the development of public library facilities through new constitutional amendments. Also, the Central Government is taking well-considered steps to make dissemination of information the main activity in all sectors which deal with rural and social development. The 3rd millennium will see a drastic change which will ensure cooperation and collaborative efforts between the information generating agencies (whether government or NGOs) and the libraries and the information dissemination sector. The government is seriously considering to bring about conceptual change in the rural library sector by coordinating its activities along with the continuing education schemes of the National Literacy Mission (NLM).

The RRRLF has also been given the responsibility of resource mobilization for modernisation of the state and district central libraries, the development of infrastructure and training of personnel. The Department of Culture through the Central Secretariat Library (CSL) has laid down standards for library development software and networking as well as for bibliographic description to ensure standardization both in infrastructural development as well as retro-conversion of library catalogue in machine readable format.

Government Libraries

Government libraries in India were developed mainly during the British period to cater to the needs of the decision-makers and the bureaucrats. These libraries have always been institutionalised within the departments of the government. All these departmental and ministerial libraries have collected government documents mainly of their respective department/ministry and have restricted their acquisition to the need of the departmental staff alone. The Central Secretariat Library (CSL) has, however, worked within a broader spectrum being the main library in the ministerial and bureaucratic set up.

During the last 50 years some of the government libraries have been developed into well-organised collections which can cater to an informed clientele. Since government information started being handled by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), the use of information technology became the key word in the government sector. The Department of Culture, which is the nodal agency for library development in India, has taken viable steps towards resource sharing and networking of the libraries under its supervision. This includes the National Library, Calcutta, Central Secretariat Library and National Archives of India library, libraries under the Archaeological Survey of India and the Anthropological Survey of India, etc.

Special and Scientific Libraries

The special libraries and the libraries under Science and Technology group are in a much better developmental stage compared to the other four sectors. A good number of these libraries use current IT products and systems like computers, email, CD.ROMs and on-line storing and retrieval. Libraries and information centres of research institutions such as those under Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO), Department of Science & Technology (DST) and Institutes of higher learning like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institute of Science (IIS), Indian National Science Academy (INSA), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), are modernized and have been given the necessary resources for development.

Library Networks

Other than INFLIBNET, there are a number of networks which have developed in the past decade. These are either city networks or activity subject specific networks. Developing Libraries Network (DELNET), Calcutta Library Network (CALIBNET), Madras Library Network (MALIBNET), Management Library Network, etc., are important and useful ventures for networking and resource sharing. Future of Library Development and the Challenges in the 3rd Millennium The details given above actually picturizes the latest situation encountered by Indian librarianship till the end of the last millennium.

The main challenge in the Indian situation is to visualise the present situation and bring about changes so as to nullify the observations made in the World Information Report, 1997-98, which are as follows:

  • The bulk of the population is not information-dependent in day-to-day work and living.
  • A large proportion of the population cannot consume information, especially if it is delivered in written form.
  • The vast majority of the population does not have the means to access information.
  • People in general are not accustomed to pay, cannot pay or are unwilling to pay for information. In fact, information does not even figure in their list of wants.
  • The existing pattern of economic activities does not favour a growth in information consumption.
  • The countries do not have sufficient capacity to invest in infrastructural development
Therefore, the future of Indian librarianship lies in descending from its ivory tower of catering to only a select few and the literate minority and to create a system which will penetrate into the actual information need of the majority of Indian people. So, there has to be a major paradigm shift to deal with the information needs of the vast majority of the population who at present do not have means to access information. Specially, the public library system in the country needs to be rejuvenated and re-modeled to cope with the present situation and the future trends.

There will be need to change the following on a broad-based basis in all types of libraries:

  1. Library environment
  2. Fragmented and isolated services
  3. Organisational structure
  4. Library collection
  5. Information based infrastructure
  6. Information and knowledge management
The first step towards this direction has been taken to a certain extent as the Report of the Working Group of the Planning Commission on Libraries and Informatics for the 9th Five Year Plan 1997-2002 addresses some of the challenges which confront Indian librarianship The Challenges and Risks for Librarians and Information Specialists in the 3rd Millennium The biggest challenge for Indian librarianship is to bring about attitudinal change among both library staff and users. Libraries and librarians are still the lowest priority in the decision making process and the librarians are the least visible persons. If this main challenge is confronted by librarians and libraries in real earnest it is only then that one can expect all the necessary changes within the system itself.

Libraries will also have to cope with the initiatives developed in the society in the changed IT environment. Libraries can no longer afford to remain institutionalized passive spectators. All the activities will now have to be tailored to give long distance and often home delivered information.

Opportunities and Risks

The new millennium will open up unprecedented opportunities for information professionals. Employers will no longer look for the traditional career requirements but a flexible work force which can take on different roles and responsibilities as and when required. In this context the following changes are to be brought about in India:
  1. Change the teaching curricula in the field of library and information science.
  2. Utilize the traditional expertise and apply them effectively in the new situations by understanding the actual requirements and applying these skills.
  3. Content generation to suit the new fields of study with the help of IT.
  4. Play the role of information managers by utilizing the new technology to give access to the rich resources available in libraries.
Tomorrows information professionals will be knowledge navigators instead of information collectors. In the Indian situation the new generation of librarians will have to face these challenges and risks to remain in the information business in all the sectors. Inter-changeability and capabilities to adjust from one sector to the other will be the biggest challenge for Indian librarians.

National Policy for the New Millennium

To fructify all that has been stated above there is a felt need to frame a National Policy of Libraries and Information Systems and Services, suited to the new environment. The DoC had framed a National Policy on Library and Information System (NAPLIS) during the late 1980s which is a very good foundation for preparing a new policy which will encompass the futuristic viewpoints for the library sector as a whole. It has to spell out all relevant issues, challenges, threats and opportunities which are envisioned for the new millennium.

India is on the threshold of major changes which will be possible only if a worthwhile and modern information system is set up at the right time, with the help of right infrastructure and is administered by the right type of qualified people.


  1. 50 Years of Library and Information Services in India; edited by M.K. Jain and others, Delhi. Shipra Publications, 1998.
  2. Abell, Angela, Skills for the 21st Century: editorial, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 30(4) December 1998 pp.211-214.
  3. Indian Library Association (1999) National Seminar on Challenges before the University Libraries in India in the 21st century, Vadodara, ILA, Delhi.
  4. Indian Library Association (1999) Library Vision 2010: Indian Libraries and Librarianship in retrospect and prospect: 45th ILA Conference, Hisar, ILA, Delhi.
  5. World Information Report 1997/98, Paris: UNESCO, 1997.


Ms. Kalpana Dasgsupta completed her higher studies in India and in the United States. She has a Post Graduate degree in Political Science from Patna University, India and Master of Science in Library Science from Syracuse University, New York State, USA. Her career as a librarian started in 1965 and she has worked in the largest libraries in India. Her career graph has gone up from a Library Assistant in a special library to the Librarian and Head of the National Library of India. She is presently the Director of the Central Secretariat Library of the Dept. of Culture, Government of India (GOI). She has also acted as Director of the Delhi Public Library which is the largest public library system in India. With 35 years of professional experience she acts as a technical advisor to many activities of the GOI. She is also consultant to the Prime Minister's Office for its library development. With her vast experience in management and technical development of libraries she has been acting as member of various high-powered committees of the GOI. She has more than 30 professional articles and has authored and edited several books in the field of library information science. She is presently the President of the Indian Library Association (ILA) for a period of 2 years (2000-2002) which is the largest national association in the field of librarianship in India.


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