TN govt boost to public library movement; allocates Rs 10 lakh for annual library conference

Chennai, July 17: Tamil Nadu School Education Minister Mr K A Sengottaiyan on Tuesday announced that Rs 10 lakh has been set apart by the State government to conduct a state-level public libraries conference every year. The minister was inaugurating the 1st Regional Public Libraries Conference at M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai.
Speaking of the role of public libraries in knowledge dissemination, Minister Sengottaiyan said the Tamil Nadu Government would set up 32 IAS study centres at government public libraries, one each in every district of the state, within the next two months. “Rural students preparing for the Indian Administrative Service exams have always relied on public libraries to support them; these study centres are a further step to assist them,” said Mr Sengottaiyan.
The Minister urged everybody to visit the Anna Centenary Library in Chennai, which he said matched global standards. The library which was set up at a cost of Rs 742 crore by previous governments has been allocated Rs 5 crore this year, the minister said.
Mr Sengottaiyan also listed the allocations made to upgrade other major libraries in the state.
At the inauguration, the minister inaugurated a Public Library app launched by MSSRF, INELI, IPLM (hosted by NASSCOM). The app enables users to locate the closest libraries and find information on the total availability of various books and services offered, maintain an events calendar and receive details on education, employment, agriculture, fisheries and so on, receive news feed from public libraries, access resources on knowledge and finance, and share information across social  media.
A Memorandum of Understanding was also signed between Dr V C Rameswaramurugan, Director of School Education and Director of Public Libraries, Government of Tamil Nadu; Dr V Selvam, Executive Director, MSSRF; and Dr Shubhangi Sharma, Executive Director, IPLM in an endeavour to redefine the role of public libraries as knowledge centres in India, which is the theme of the conference.
Dr Basheerahmad Shadrach, Founding Chair and Advisor, Indian Public Library Movement (IPLM) and Chair, International Network of Emerging Library Innovators (INELI) praised the Tamil Nadu Public Library system as the best model in the country.  He also noted that Kerala had a unique and democratic model where there was a library for every panchayat.
Dr Shadrach said it was Professor M S Swaminathan, Founder, MSSRF who first thought of the concept of ‘Reaching the Unreached’ through the library movement. “Professor Swaminathan had the inherent belief that knowledge empowerment of farmers was the mainstay of the evergreen revolution (a sustainable agricultural and rural development movement proposed by M S Swaminathan), where Information and Communication Technology had a large role to play,” said Dr Shadrach.
Emphasising the value addition by librarians in the dissemination of knowledge, Dr Shadrach said the conference today would discuss further “how we are relevant to the community by going out and learning what the community needs, and upgrading our skills to be able to provide it”.
The IPLM was started in 2012, said Dr Shubhangi Sharma, Executive Director, IPLM, New Delhi, “by people and organisations convinced that public libraries would become vehicles for equity in every sphere through knowledge empowerment”. She noted that India had more than 1.5 lakh libraries but IPLM was able to work with just a few hundred of them. Pointing out the role that MSSRF played through its plant health clinics, Dr Sharma said, “It was an innovative endeavour. Who would have thought that libraries would be able to make such a difference to farmers!”
Professor M S Swaminathan said that when MSSRF was conceptualised the aim was to empower the poor through knowledge. “We had no money or land to give away, but we had knowledge to share,” said Professor Swaminathan.
“When we started the Village Knowledge Centres, we set aside one room for a public library. Despite the presence of government libraries, information was not reaching people — especially when it came to the objectives of the National Health Mission and the National Rural Mission; Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) and Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) continued to rise,” he said.
We need to make a stronger effort to bridge the knowledge gap, said Professor Swaminathan as, “in many places, there is a conflict between public opinion and government’s actions, such as with regard to the Koodankulam nuclear plant.” Only libraries can dispel myths and empower citizens, he said, noting, “You can bridge all the divides of gender, caste and so on by bridging the information divide.”