Agents of value: the evolving role of librarians in India

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Academia is experiencing significant change in technology and research methodology. The role of the librarian in India is transforming to keep up with this digital change, write Shafina Segon (pictured), Aalia Oosman and Jodie Bell.

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.

The 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; Aalia Oosman is a former communications manager at Taylor & Francis; and Jodie Bell is communications manager at Taylor & Francis