A Policy Review of Public Libraries in India
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the status of policies, legislation and finance with respect to public libraries in India.
This is a descriptive study based on data collected from literature review and census data on public libraries, along with a field visit of government public libraries at Bangalore. It attempts a critique of existing policies related to public libraries in particular and the culture sector in general, which governs the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs) in India.
Of India’s 29 states and 7 union territories, 19 states have passed state library legislations, of which only 5 have the provision of a library cess or tax levy and it was found that states with lower literacy rates do not have library legislations. Bihar and Chhattisgarh in 2008 and Arunachal Pradesh in 2009 have recently passed these legislations without a library cess. Few states have progressed with the automation of public libraries, while 16 state libraries continue to function without any such legislation. The legislative process and legal issues involved in policy making, combined with the lack of political consensus and goodwill, have severely constrained the growth, coverage and development of public libraries for people in India. The existing national acts and state library legislations should be reviewed to adapt to changing times and to bring about integrated information services across GLAMs for the public. A RTI query sent to the Ministry of Culture revealed that there is no official data available on the per capita expenditure on public libraries in India.
In an online-networked environment, all GLAM institutions work towards collecting, preserving and providing access to educational and cultural heritage resources as social capital. However, there is a lack of national policy to govern GLAMs and the government bodies responsible for developing GLAMs are not integrative in their processes. A more holistic framework is required to assess funding needs and to ensure reforms in culture sector.
Central government should make it mandatory to have access to public library for every citizen of India, legitimating public library services, even as India celebrates 100 years of public librarianship and enters its second century of providing library and information services to the nation.
GLAMs should be inclusionary public spaces for intellectual engagement and community development and need greater attention of policy makers. Though the public library movement reached its peak in the nationalist movements of the early 20th century, developing integrated and contemporary policies for the growth and development of public libraries as a public good in the 21st century will make India a knowledge society.