Agents of value: the evolving role of librarians in India

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The role of the librarian in India is transforming. Shafina Segon and Nicola Bacon describe two initiatives to change technology and research methodology in academia

In a new series of interviews, librarians at several academic libraries in India, including South Asian University, Delhi Technological University; Jawaharlal Nehru University and National Institute of Technology (NIT) Patna have spoken to publisher Taylor & Francis about the multi-faceted role of the librarian in India and how this role is undergoing essential changes to continue to meet the needs of library users.

Librarianship in India is seeing exponential advances in technology and globalisation indicating that the 21st century librarianship must be drastically different. These interviews offer a unique perspective on how the traditional library roles are undergoing a vast change in India.

We found it fascinating to hear how the librarian roles are getting redefined to better understand the needs of the millennial library customer while embracing the potential of technology with more diverse – even ‘unconventional’ – skills than before. We are pleased to be able to showcase these as part of the Taylor & Francis Library Voices project, demonstrating the huge contribution libraries in India are adding to global library services.

The librarian as knowledge navigator

It is apparent from the interviews that a new role as ‘knowledge navigator’ has emerged in librarianship. In a climate of digital growth where information can be accessed from a number of sources, libraries are no longer the central point for research activity and research is no longer confined within the walls of an institution.

The librarian acts as a mediator to ensure that researchers are accessing high quality, relevant information and they play a critical role in helping users spend less time researching and more time discovering and reading valuable content.

Ramesh C. Gaur of Jawaharlal Nehru University, comments: 'The days are gone when libraries are considered the only place to get research material. Libraries now need to change their ways of working and providing information.' In an academic arena overwhelmed by electronic resources, demonstrating the value of content and using an array of software in order to do so is part of the librarian’s role to properly plan collection development. The librarian as an agent of value is becoming a more common concept.

Tailored services at the heart of libraries

As well as identifying, filtering and demonstrating the value of content, the librarian must now understand how their library users access their research and make provisions accordingly.

Rameshwar Dayal at the Indian Social Institute explains that the majority of users are 'using the library online either through computers or using their mobile device'. In response to this need, the Indian Social Institute is planning to launch its own mobile app, demonstrating the importance of tailoring services to meet the technological needs of their researchers.

As Dayal goes on to say: 'Time is changing and technology is growing very fast. In this fast moving world, we have to connect with our users and act according to change.'

The requirements of the user are becoming an increasingly core influence on the variety of library services offered. Gaur talks about the emergence of ‘embedded librarianship’, describing how librarians are creating social spaces for their patrons to enable them to connect with each other.

Jawaharlal Nehru University now offers a vast array of services that creates a ‘partnership’ between library patron and librarian. Gaur attributes the main change to librarian roles to the need to offer more 'personalised services rather than the physical services'.

This sentiment is echoed by Mahesh Singh of the National Institute of Technology Patna, who comments: 'Earlier, librarians were the custodians of reading material, but now librarians are the key contacts for any academic institute which disseminates information.' User engagement is becoming an increasing priority in library life.

Extending beyond the library

The way librarians are interacting with users extends even beyond the library’s physical space.

Social media and library websites were pinpointed during the interviews as being the most common tools for user engagement and for increasing awareness of the library's products and services. Facebook is used as a customer service tool to create updates of what is available at the library and also to communicate with users by fielding enquiries.

Use of social media in the library, according to Abdullah Al-Modabber, librarian at South Asian University, also serves a different purpose – to connect patrons not only with librarians but also with each other. Websites are used to inform about available resources and to promote library events and user education programmes. Communication and interaction between library staff and the end users occurs outside the library space.

'The role of the librarian is not only providing books and journals, but now in this digital age it has grown so far, librarians are teaching the teachers, students and even the public,' Al-Modabber observes.

The 'librarian as educator’ adds a new dimension to the traditional library role and seems to be an increasingly common element of academic library services. A key concern is to support research outputs and the librarians interviewed described running training courses on plagiarism, reference management and online resource tools. At many of the institutions a structured and detailed information literacy program is often provided.

It is clear from the experiences shared through the interviews that the role of the present day librarian in India is multi-fold: educator, knowledge navigator and partner to the researcher, a facilitator of content in terms of accessibility, discoverability and usability. These interviews offer a fascinating insight into the practical reality of library services in a digital age.

Shafina Segon is head of marketing at Taylor & Francis India


Digitising valuable dissertations and theses

ProQuest has been working with partner libraries across the world and has recently expanded this into India.

Dissertations are an important and valuable tool for literature reviews, as they provide deep coverage and extensive bibliographies which surface sources and ideas that would otherwise be missed. These have become a highly valued and important resource in India with their own researchers and students producing high quality Masters and PhD Theses. Graduate research from Indian universities is attracting world-wide interest and making these valuable resources available within the country and further afield is a key priority.

ProQuest has been working with partner libraries across the world to enhance the content of its PQDT database and has recently expanded this into India. Five universities have recently joined the programme and have worked with ProQuest to digitise their dissertations and theses archives into easily-viewed PDF files: Gauhati University, Gujarat University, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Sri Krishnadevaraya University and Dr. NTR University of Health Sciences have all joined the programme.

Providing digital preservation for converted-from-paper graduate works ensures access by researchers for decades to come. The ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (PQDT) Global database allows for fast and seamless discovery of such graduate works from a single access point. Direct access to full text for more than two million works reduces delays in finding materials and enhances the user experience.

Further, PQDT Global enables students to cross-search its content with other scholarly material within the library’s own online service. Indian universities are eager to have their works included in PQDT Global to enable access across the globe to these researchers papers from India.

One of the programmes used to create PQDT Global is the Digital Archiving and Access Program (DAAP) which is an easy, cost-effective way for an institution to digitise the valuable historical record of its dissertations and theses. Digitisation projects increase the visibility of research output within the academic community across a range of dissemination channels including PQDT Global, Institutional Repositories and the library catalogue. Development of a digital collection of dissertations and theses saves libraries time, frees up space, preserves the material and reduces costs of inter-library loans.

Librarians at the universities have been quick to praise the ProQuest system. Yogesh Parekh, university librarian at Gujarat University, said: 'It has been a wonderful experience working with ProQuest who have demonstrated absolute professionalism in conducting this project beginning with the scanning standards, thorough understanding of Shodhganga (repository for theses for the scholarly community in India) specifications, creation of metadata, and preservation techniques.  We are very satisfied with their overall execution of the project and would highly recommend them to any university for digitisation projects.'

The archive includes full text from 1,800 institutions in more than 60 countries and receives content regularly from more than 3,000 global partners. 
Mayank Trivedi, university librarian in Shrimati Hansa Mehta Library (HML) ( at M S University of Baroda, concluded: 'HML has a well-built print as well as e-resource collection, and we need to make sure its stays relevant, accessible, and affordable. By introducing new e-resources, the usage has increased along with its accessibility. With ProQuest’s latest addition to our collection PQDT, we were able to assist researchers for higher degrees.'

Nicola Bacon is global marketing manager, public relations, at ProQuest