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Dolly Nath
Date of Publish: 2016-09-23

The road rarely leads to state – run libraries in digital age 


This is a digital age characterized by internet, world wide web, virtual information super highways where, given the opportunity, the younger generation has shown discernible affinity to get hooked to the `Net’ for indulging in both infotainment and entertainment. The upwardly mobile section of urban and urbane young generation in Assam is no exception to the global phenomenon. The `breaking everything’ (not only news) syndrome of satellite television channels is bent upon occupying many of us when we are having some time for ourselves out of the busy schedule.  No wonder that there has been marginal rise in readership volume in conventional state government-run libraries located mostly in urban centers of the state.

A study carried out covering 41 state libraries run by Directorate of Library Services, Assam, has revealed that there has been insignificant rise in number of readers visiting those in recent years compared to the rapid increase in population in all the urban areas in the state.

However, there is always a silver lining in an otherwise gloomy scenario. These libraries have remained temples of knowledge for some readers especially from the senior generation. Noted Assamese story teller, Jyotish Shikdar, a resident of Dighalipukhuri neighbourhood in Guwahati city, is a glaring example of an avowed reader who has been a regular reader in the sprawling reading room of Guwahati District Library for decades. It may be news to many of Shikdar’s fan that he is into the habit of leafing through books and journals in Guwahati District Library every day for five decades now.

His tryst with the serene atmosphere of the library’s reading room began way back in 1968 when he was just 13-14 years old. Since then, it has been an uninterrupted exercise that must have enriched him immensely as an intellectual and a thinker.

“Every day, I study for three hours from 1 P.M. to 4 P.M in the library on all working days. I have never allowed myself to deviate from this decades-long habit,” the revered story teller said.  Today, when people in our society are showing a general aversion to the most time-tested intellectual exercise of reading books, Shikdar’s habit and comment should drive many of us to portals of reading room of state libraries where a treasure trove of knowledge awaits the avid reader.

It is quite a dismal scenario when one goes through the statistics provided by the Directorate of Library Services, Assam, about statewide trend of readership. There has been marginal rise in number of readers, but that is not at all encouraging. For instance, average 78 readers visited Barpeta District Library daily in 2009-10. The figure increased to only 125 readers daily on an average in 2014-15. During the same period District Library in Lakhimpur registered highest increase in number of readers – average daily readers figure of 42 in 2009-10 increased to 105 in 2014-15.   The corresponding figures for Morigaon District Library for the same period stand at 100 (2009-10) and 125 (2014-15). Average number of readers visiting Jorhat District Library is 89.

As per information gathered from the Directorate, though there has been an increase in number of readers in 30 out of the total 41 state-run libraries in Assam, the increment is hardly encouraging in case of most of the libraries.  For instance, Rangiya Library registered visits by 14 readers daily on an average in 2014-15 compared to six in 2009-2010. The picture as reflected through the readers figures indicative of a general aversion to reading especially in libraries.

The district library in Guwahati, the gateway and main city of the Northeast India, though has registered a gradual increase in number of readers; the monthly average figure of readers is still below 2000. The total number of readers visited the library during 2011-12 was 17,540 which increased to 20,500 in 2012-13  ;  21,448 in 2014-15 and 23,000 in 2015-16.

May be the want of a modern readers-friendly atmosphere is the reason behind the failure of Guwahati District Library which is located in a posh area in the heart of the city,  to attract readers in significant numbers.

Readers borrowed total 11,835 books from Guwahati district Library in 2013-14 while corresponding figures for 2014-15  and 2015-16 stand at 13,100 and 12,040, respectively. The district library keeps 21 newspapers in  English, Assamese and Hindi languages for its readers besides periodicals in English and Assamese. It even subscribes to top-notch international news journal `Time’ magazine  besides Employment News and Career Guide for benefit of younger generation of readers.

The library movement was initiated in undivided state of Assam during the Fifth Five Year Plan period. The first library in the state under the name of `Dr Hiranya Kumar Bhuyan Memorial Reference Library, was set up in Shillong, the then capital of Assam. Subsequently, steps were taken to set up district libraries in different districts of the state. The district library in Guwahati initially operated from Curzon Hall till it was shifted to the present location in 1959-60. Curzon Hall was later named Nabin Chandra Bardoloi Hall  where a library is still functioning.

Rural Library Programme was introduced in Assam in 1985-86 under the supervision of State Directorate on Library Services. But the scheme has been by and large a failure in respect of promoting reading habit among the people. The Directorate has miserably failed in encouraging children and young generation.

In this era of rapid development in information technology, availability of only newspapers and magazines would not suffice to attract the younger generation. The development in information technology though have created tremendous opportunities, it has, at the same time, posed new challenges too. There is need for a well-coordinated strategy to overcome the challenges posed by information technology revolution, to attract the new generation to book-reading. Most of the contemporary newspapers published from Assam have Internet/Online editions which have done away with the necessity for the reader to go to library to read the hardcopy editions. Similarly, all the globally popular books are available in the internet. So, it is high time for district libraries in the state to make newspapers, periodicals and popular books available to the readers online by introducing Internet facility.

A source in the Directorate of Library Services, Assam, informed that senior citizens formed the lion’s share of present-day readers in state libraries. Still, the authority has not taken any concrete steps to attract the new generation to state libraries.

The atmosphere in a such a library can be made vibrant and attractive by making internet editions of periodicals available ; organizing meaningful deliberations on books ; initiating regular discussions between readers and leading lights from different spheres of the society ; holding competitions  and  making available popular and much appreciated books for children etc,.

Dolly Nath

( Dolly Nath is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. She can be contacted at 8752829229 ) 








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