SCENE OF OUR ACADEMIC LIBRARIES IN WEST BENGAL: PROBLEMS & PROSPECTS
Posted by Raja Biswas
SCENE OF OUR ACADEMIC LIBRARIES IN WEST BENGAL: PROBLEMS & PROSPECTS
Sri Somnath Raha ,Sri Raja Biswas, Sri Rabindranath Kar, Sri Nitai Ray Chaudhury ,
and Sri Bhagyadhar Hazari.
Academic systems of a State or of the Union, is practically based upon the policies, philosophy, political ideologies, social standpoints, planning, desire for upgradation in accordance with the international standard, programme orienting eradication of illiteracy and its implementation, constant need for modernization. It is also a media for formation of favourable public opinion and all these aspects and the like others, in the background of the tradition, culture and great heritage of the country concerned, strictly regulated and controlled by the ruling parties as per sets of suitable Acts, Statutes, Regulations, Government Orders with the exception to a few academic institutions, run by religious minorities or the like. The collegiate education in West Bengal is no exception. “Educational information and library service is clearly part of a larger organization, the institution that it serves. The institution’s curriculum, educational philosophy, and politics have major implications for the way in which the service operates…..An effective manager recognizes this part-of a part feature and considers the total library’s environment, both internal and external in making his/her decisions.” (‘Management Basics for Information Professionals’ by G. Edward Evans, Patricia Layzell Ward and Bendik Rugaas).
It is a general opinion that our familiar college library without any exception provides one basic service i.e., charging and discharging of books. There are reading rooms for the students and in some colleges for the teachers too. The Librarians with the help of their insufficient number of staff in most cases, render library service to the teachers and the taught as a dignified clerk (drawing a fat salary, perhaps due to caprice(?) of the early mentors and nestors of the University Grants Commission). Most of the college managements do not appreciate the service value of the library and it is treated just as a compulsory at the same time irritating existence in collegiate education, the man in the helm (of the library) is identified as responsible for all sorts of shortcomings and lacuna and the services that he/she has to render in silence go unnoticed.
In one article (published in “ College Librarian-A Forum”- Conference Number, 1985 of WBCLA) Late Amarendra Nath Bhattacharyya, Ex-General Secretary, West Bengal College Librarians’ Association tried to enumerate the college library services more or less discernable in some form or others. The article earlier was addressed to the Secretary, Finance Department, Government of West Bengal, Writers’ Buildings, Calcutta in reply to his memo no: 35-F(S.I.U/A.K.D) dated 18.04.1985 (issued by Shri N.C.Sen), in a memorandum form. Sri Bhattacharyya wrote, “Library services are usually classified into following four groups viz., (1) Technical services (2) Readers’ services (3) Maintenance services and (4) General Office functions, Records and Reports etc.
a) Book Selection & Acquisition
b) Selection and/or requisition of books and their approval from the authorities
c) Placing of orders
d) Receiving books on inspection and on delivery on orders
e) Arrangement for approval of books received on inspection
f) Reminders to Book Suppliers and queries about books etc.
g) Checking of bills and supporting vouchers
h) Checking of price as per catalogues and in cases of foreign publications
having information about conversion rates of currencies
i) Processing work
J) Checking and stamping of books and journals
k) Accession work
l) Classification of books ( in most cases according to some standard classification
schemes with Author marks and insertion of identification marks, if required
m) Cataloguing of books and identification of copies already present in the library
n) Pasting labels, book-pockets etc on the books
o) Preparing new cards replacing the old ones or that have been mutilated
p) Regular checking of books on the shelves to see whether they are in classified
order or not
q) Placing the books on the shelves in classified orders when returned or newly
2. Readers’ service:
a) Reference service
b) Reference service to the staff
c) Reference service to the students
d) Preparation of bibliographies in selected cases
e) Indexing and abstracting in selected cases
f) Current awareness service
g) Display of book jackets
h) Works relating to periodicals
i) Renewal of subscriptions for journals/periodicals
j) Reminders for non-receipt of issues
k) Circulation work- both lending and reading
l) Membership registration (both staff and students)
m) Dealing with borrowers’ inquiries (both staff and students)
n) Maintenance of records of daily issue of books
o) Receiving of returned books and shelving them regularly
p) Recording such return in proper registers
3. Maintenance services and General Office functions:
a) Sending books and journals for binding
b) Maintenance of binding registers
c) Invitation of quotations for binding and other stationeries of the
Library and their approval by the authorities
d) Checking of bound books and journals as per specimen
e) Preparation of list of damaged and obsolete books for weeding out
f) Disposal of old newspapers and journals of unimportant nature
and deposit of sales proceeds to the college cash
g) Dusting of books, journals and maps
h) Wiping away the dust of glass doors of the almirahs
i) Shelf rectification time to time and stock verification
j) Sending staff along with the teachers for opening the almirahs
for whom the library is an open access as per convention
k) Keeping observation on book-theft
l) General Office functions, maintenance of various registers,
sending bills to the office, regular day to day miscellaneous purchase control
m) Charging of fines in case of defaulting students
n) Issue clearance to the students, charging cost of books in case
of lost, issuance of mass clearance at the time of filling in of University forms
o) Preparation of list of books due from the staff at the time of retirement/resignation etc, in cases of non-realization of books and taking
procedural steps, if any
p) Forwarding of cases for library deposit withdrawal
q) Drafting of notices
r) Correspondence work
s) Regular liaison service with Departmental Seminar Libraries
t) Preparation of statistics for UGC/ Higher Education Councils/
u) Convening meetings of Library Committee, if the Librarian is
a convener or to work obediently under the Professor-in-Charge
v) Preparation of annual report of the library
w) Facing audit and prepare papers for audit work
x) Maintenance of computer in certain libraries and regular entry of data and
data relating to general administration of the college.
Y) To run paper-copies where available
z) To perform regular examination duties and other administrative duties as
assigned by the college administration. To meet visitors like book push-sellers,
equipment suppliers, authors offering donation of books etc.
The above cited exhaustive list of services rendered by the college libraries at least shows that the libraries are not mere idle centres, performing useless activities. The irony lies in the fact that proper use of library, actual evaluation of library and laying emphasis upon library-centred education, in higher education have totally been ignored. The Government perhaps prefers to give library a low priority so that young learners fail to become self –sufficient, exhaustive, self-radiant and inquisitive, independently, venturing into vast treasures of cross-currents of thoughts and may have brought troubles in the existing systems, to which the general mobs have been dogly accustomed. Dr R.K. Das Gupta, the renowned scholar and one time Director of National Library rightly observed, “ I say…..nothing is being done at any level to give a shape to our academic libraries, the libraries of our Universities and Colleges. I suspect it is not just inattention. It is a deliberate policy of discouraging or actually preventing the growth of free thought……A good library, they fear, may soon become a centre of counter-revolution.”
Besides the above stated long list of library services, the Librarian is often entrusted with the jobs of career counselling, providing information of job-opportunities, helping in attaining the skill of reading, note-taking, report writing, article writing and helping the students in acquiring general knowledge and statistical information. P.Jayarajan (Vol5, No.5.-Spring, 1983 under COHSSIP programme) in his article ‘Innovative Library Service’ aptly observes, ”Many college managements do not appreciate the service value of the library; for them, the library is just another component of the entire system- that’s all. Worse still, many managements do everything that tends to demotivate librarians. They (Librarians) are questioned about loss of books (as if he is a cashier, handling the cash single-handed), through the so-called committees, the Professor-in-charge and the Library Wardens. The interference in the professional functioning of the libraries is a bit too much. Major decisions concerning the library are taken without the knowledge of the librarian; and in the eyes of the administration, the job of the librarian is principally confined to the issuing and receiving books.”
The relevant questions naturally arise as to how can such daring torture be allowed? Why are the college librarians being ill treated? Why are they being ignored and have become an object of mockery in the academic scene ? For what else are they being envied? There is no mystery, however, for the authorities, ranging from post to pillar, directly or indirectly involved in Higher Education in this State, have the custom-born habit to treat the College Librarians as no better than clerical staff, enjoying pay scales like those of teachers as per age old conventions which do not suit their tastes and temperaments. Some of the bureaucrats, academicians, University authorities too, having no respect for their right to autonomy-character, under the indulgence, protection and shelter of the concerned State machinery, have created an atmosphere of unbearable hatred, apathy, arrogance and cruelty, leading towards reducing the college librarians to a state of non-entity. Even the powerful professional organizations use very little efforts (or no effort), striving earnestly to protest, reflect timely strong grievances, throughout the last two decades in the interest of Higher Education, thinking let the ‘unappeased haggard ” decide their own lots themselves, suffer and get lost, being not subdued and vanquished after so much torments, inflicted upon them. Had they genuinely risen to the occasion, the situation could have not been so worse. Democracy succeeds where the people can rationally think and speak and the responsible Government respectfully listens to the genuine demands of the minorities and safeguards their existence, a meaningful existence. The recent judgement of the Honourable Supreme Court has changed the scope, dimension and definition of the term “minority” by way of providing it a wider coverage.
The college librarians and asstt. librarians have been denigrated to such an insignificant position and college libraries have been given so low priority, that they are now being appointed against the vacant posts of the colleges, on contract basis, just to ignore the importance of the college library service. The Net qualified professional librarians, appointed in such a humiliating terms and conditions of service (consolidated monthly pay of Rs.8000/- per month, per annum and the appointment is renewable after one year), become disappointed from the very beginning of their service career. Can library service flourish up to the desired standard when the librarian/ asstt. librarian does not know whether he will continue to exist? In such a background the C.U Act, 1979 and C.U. Statutes, 1979 were framed and introduced along with the Acts and Statutes of other Universities of this State, framed and modeled after the blue-print of C.U. Act and Statutes. Mr. S.A. Masud, Former Honourable Judge, High Court, Calcutta opined, “…There is no logic or justification in the Calcutta University Act, 1979, in not declaring or determining the status of a Librarian.” The definition of “Librarian” as given in the Act merely describes “Librarian” as a person who is acting as a ‘Librarian’ under an appointment as such and gives no indication of the incidents of the office of ‘Librarian”. The definition of non-teaching staff simply excludes the “Librarian” from the purview of its definition. Consequently Former Honourable Chief Justice P.Chakravarti, Calcutta High Court remarked, “They (the College Librarians) have thus been reduced to the condition of state-less persons with no precise identity as employees of the University or an affiliated college…..The act betrays a total lack of appreciation of the true place of the Librarian in the corporate life of a College or a University”.
The existing college librarians and asstt. librarians helplessly protesting against such discriminatory treatment for more than two decades, now observe with great dismay that the post of librarian/ asstt.librarian is going to be declared as ‘dying cadre ‘ in the pretext of ’contract service’ and such professionals, appointed on contract basis shall have no voting rights in Senate or Court election or G.B. election of the College, though occupying a very vital position in undergraduate college affairs. When the Universities of most other States of India did accord Teachers’ Status in favour of College Librarians long before, and some Universities (Calcutta, Burdwan and Vidyasagar) had already resolved to extend Teachers’ Status, the Higher Education Department, Government of West Bengal is very much reluctant to extend the said status so that the librarians may be treated as an object of “Toy”. The Librarians and Assistant Librarians did not forget how they were deprived of the retirement benefits in some times past and what a great struggle they had to launch to achieve it. The retired teachers receive the benefit of leave refusal and the retired non-teaching staff receive 300 days’ leave encashment benefit. But the hapless retired librarians have so far been deprived of either of the benefits in a democratic setup. John Locke, the great empirical Philosopher, schooled in Oxford and author of the famous book, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” observed if the laws of identity and contradiction were innate, they must appear in consciousness prior to all other truths”. But the consciousness of our State authorities has been allowing to exist the decades-long “contradiction“ so far the status and service conditions of the college librarian is concerned, however, ugly and unfair the dictations of consciousness be.
It is again in such a background, the staff pattern for college libraries in this State has been framed, recommended and implemented on the basis of book strength while the staff strength of the entire college is dependent upon roll strength, teachers’ strength, number of laboratories of a particular lab-based department etc. The deplorable picture of the staff structure ( as per G.O. No: 831-Edn(CS)/10M-24/92 dated 31st December, 1995) of a college library may be shown below:
Designation Book strength Book Strength Book Strength Book strength
Upto 5000 5000-10000 10001-25000 above 25000
1.Librarian nil nil 1 1
2.Asstt. Librarian 1 1 1 1
3. Library Clerk nil 1 1 1
4.Library Peon 1 1 1 2
The above chart shows that the college library to start with and having book strength upto 5000, shall have one Assistant Librarian though it is the usual practice and suggestion of the University Grants Commission that a Library should be started with a Librarian. Again an unholy distinction between a Librarian and an Asstt. Librarian has been drawn. An Asstt. Librarian who developed a college library from the very beginning, with great pathos often looks that on attainment of book-strength above 10000 a Librarian, much younger in age and experience is appointed without elevating him to the post of Librarian- an unprecedented event, skilfully inserted in the formula. It is also amazing how can the library service can be rendered with the help of one peon and one library clerk (not even trained) upto the book-strength of 25000 and what improvement may be expected by way of augmenting one peon in the staff-strength, on attainment of book-strength beyond 25000. Long before the introduction of the present staff pattern (shown above) for the college libraries the West Bengal College Librarians Association and Bengal Library Association drew the notice of the Higher Education Department, Government of West Bengal towards the earlier staff patter formula prescribed vide G.O. Nos750-Edn(CS)/Cs-4E-42/73 dated 17.04.1978 and 995-Edn(CS)/4E-17/78P II dated 17.06.1986 towards their limitations in prescribing the said staff formula vide the aforesaid G.Os and both the Associations declared that to determine the staff strength of a library only on the basis of book-strength must be treated as unscientific. The WBCLA went further and sent number of memorandum to the authorities of the Higher Education Department, Government of West Bengal and to the Honourable Chief Minister several times and pointed out that the following factors should be taken into consideration prior to recommending the staff formula of a College Library:
A. Number and composition of the clientele served
B. Number and nature of collection (rare documents, non-book materials,
manuscripts) of the library
C. Number of Faculties with/without Honours facility
D. Nature of services rendered by the staff
E. Students strength of the college as well as staff-strength
F. Nature of library building, physical condition of the library, space problem
that impose need for additional staff.
G. Working hours (when more than one colleges are housed in the same
premises generally one or two colleges do not enjoy equal time facility
and one college may have to render service for longer hours. Moreover
everyday some precautionary measures are to be taken with the help of
staff by each college when the libraries are also housed in the same hall.
H. Introduction of newer and newer disciplines in the colleges
and introduction of Honours Courses in existing General (Pass)
subject and consequent impact on the library.
Thus WBCLA did not only point out as to why all the staff formula were unscientific but did also point out why they were unscientific. But it was of no use still now. The Department simply ignored our proposals and sent them to perhaps waste-paper boxes. One by one staff pattern formula is being recommended for the library from time to time and certain staff are declared excess and shifted from the library to other departments or office which have pressure groups and the excess staff of those departments and office are scarcely disturbed. Librarians and Asstt. Librarians after performing their heavy technical and reader-oriented duties, are being compelled to shelve and un-shelve reading materials along with the diminishing number of peon(s), one or two, who have right to remain absent and the situation becomes more deplorable day by day and a general slogan is audible, “The librarian even fails to perform the minimum duty of issuing books, whatever may be the number of readers, how varied may the nature of demand.
So far the academic libraries or college libraries are concerned there is no definite rules framed either by the concerned University or the Higher Education Department to regulate the administration of the library, maximum number of issues that a teacher can avail, the stipulated date of return. And actually the librarians or asstt. librarians become a notorious staff if he hesitates to issue a costly reference book, single copy of a costly voluminous book, issuing more than one copy of the same text book to a teachers, most of whom are habituated to behave like a superior staff and the librarian or asstt. librarian is a subordinate insignificant staff. Shall library continue to render effective service under such a precarious conditions ? Marx said, “States shall wither away”. Perhaps the dooms day is not very far when the “Academic Libraries ( specially, College Libraries) shall wither away”.
We have repeatedly wrote to the Higher Education Department, Government of West Bengal, different Universities that higher education to be meaningful and effective must be library oriented. The Ranganathan Committee appointed by UGC, Dr C.D.Deshmukh being the Chairman of the said committee observed and recommended, “The high academic and professional responsibilities and the practice in the Universities all over the world indicates that the status and the salary scale of the library staff should be the same as that of teaching and research staff.” President Truman’s Commission on Higher Education observes, “The Library is second only to the instructional staff in its importance for high quality instruction and research.” Dr. R.K.Dasgupta, a renowned erudite scholar and former Director of National Library, Kolkata opined, “A well-stored and well-administered college library can be built up only through the co-operative endeavour of the professional librarians and the teaching faculties. Such co-operation is possible only when the professional librarian has the status and emoluments of a teacher.” Such eminent observations clearly point out that the College Libraries and the College Librarians should be given due importance in collegiate education. Malicious and destructive attitude towards the College Librarians and Assistant Librarians only derate the library service and thereby the quality of education in higher education.
Now a question may be raised as to why the problems of college librarians has so elaborately been discussed along with the problems of college libraries of West Bengal? Benedictus de Spinoza, originally a Portuguese Jew and one of the most renowned pathmakers of modern Philosophy defines ‘substance’ thus: “By substance I understand that which is in itself and is conceived by means of itself, i.e., that the conception of which can be formed without the aid of the conception of any other thing.” Table is a substance. Then what is the nature of this substance? It is the substratum of qualities or attributes. The brown colour, square shape, flat surface, hardness, penetrable by great pressure (by hammering) etc., are the attributes that the table as a substance holds. But if we take away all the attributes one by one, there will be no table. So the substance and its attributes are inseparable. Similarly the ‘Library’ and the ‘Librarians of all descriptions’ are inseparable from each other. Thus the problems and prospects of college libraries are inseparable from those of the college librarians and asstt. Librarians.
Thus for the sake of smooth running, effective output, rapid progress of higher education in this state and to make the students self-sufficient instead of depending upon spoon-feeding in different coaching centres, the importance of the libraries must be realized .In this phenomenal world nothing happens in the absence of any cause. Some schools of Indian Philosophy gives a clear expression of this truth clearly, while dealing with the concept of causality “That being thus, this comes to be. From the coming to be of that, this arises. That being absent, this does not happen and from the cessation of that, this ceases.” The lamentable conditions of the college libraries in West Bengal is not without cause. If there is genuine will to eradicate the causes responsible for poor shape of the college libraries, the ideal academic library system may flourish in this state. Swami Vivekananda thus perfectly realized the doctrine and opined, “ If you take care of the cause, the effect will take care of itself.”
This article, “SCENE OF OUR ACADEMIC LIBRARIES IN WEST BENGAL: PROBLEMS & PROSPECTS” presented in the Seminar, organised by Bengal Library Association, West Bengal College Librarians Association and State Medical Library Association, held at Rajya Juba Kendraby on 15th December, 2002 by Sri Somnath Raha & Sri Raja Biswas of Vidyasagar College; Sri Rabindranath Kar of Vidyasagar Evening College; Sri Nitai Raychaudhury of City College and Sri Bhagyadhar Hazari of Surendranath Evening College, Kolkata.