The main task of a Library*
Rabindra Nath Tagore
A human being is driven by passion; greed to accumulate more and more is one of them. Once started to accumulate, the purpose of accumulation is forgotten. A person becomes addicted to the habit of collecttion. The hobby, be it collection of money to fill-up the iron-chest or mobilizing people to strengthen the community drives his mind. The objective of reaching the goal becomes obscure. It is forgotten that the truth lies not in quantity but in quality.
Most of the libraries are maniac to collection. Three fourths of their books are generally not used.The remaining one fourth remains hidden under the vast collection. A person who has much money is called great. That means greatness lies in wealth not in human qualities. Likewise the pride of a big library rests mostly on the number of books it has. The pride on the contrary, should have been rested on providing opportunity to the use of the books. We stand up to show respect to a multimillionaire when he arrives in a meeting. It is not his benevolence, but stock of wealtth that attracts respect.
The words in our language are contained in two containers- one is the dicttionary and the other is literature. If counted it can be found that most of the words in a dictionary are seldom used. Colleection of these words, however, is necessary.Words used in literature are live, and every word is indispensable.It must be admitted that literature is more valuable than a dictionary.
The same holds true in the case of a library.The part of a library where books are collected, has utility but its success is derived from the other part that is used everyday in a diversified way. Most often a librarian does not want to accept the necessity of labour and idea to make a library completely usable. It is because people can be overwhelmed with a huge collection.
To make a library usabe it is essential to have a clear identity and completeness in all respects. Otherwise entry there proves futile. In such a case a library looks like a city with multitudes of houses and buildings yet unapproachable in the absence of any road.
Those who visit a library especially in the search of books devise on their own urge ways through the difficult terrain of a library. But a library has an obligation; obligation of its resources. It feels contented getting somehow those books read. It should not remain passive. It has to play an active role to invite [users]. Anything is a waste, if it is not used.
Generally a library says _ I have a list of books, see on your own and choose. But the list does not invite, neither it has an identity, nor any interest. The library, where the interest is manifest, welcomes readers with pleasure, that is what is called graciousness.That is the library, not in size, but in nature. Not only readers build up a library; but also, a library builds up readers.
If it is kept in mind, then it could be understood that the duty of a librarian is very important. His duty does not end with the shelving of books in an orderly manner. That means, the work with the number or division (accessioning or classification) is not a big work. The librarian should have the knowledge of books and he should not be a mere stockist.
If the library is very large, no librarian can grasp it in true sense. That is why I think big libraries are mainly storehouses; smaller ones are like eating joints, daily frequented by many.
By a small library I mean, there will be worthwhile books of all subjects carefully selected. There should not be any book only to add to the largeness of the collection but each book will exist there with its own worth and speciality. A librarian should be a devotee, non-greedy, and will have to give up the pride of filling up the shelves. Whatever is available in the library should be able to satisfy users' need and the librarian should have the efficiency of a hospitable host and not that of a storekeeper.
Think of a library that subscribes to many good Indian and foreign periodicals. If a person of the book selection division prepares a classified list of important articles from those periodicals and displays the list at the entrance of the library then the probability of reading of those periodicals will definitely increase. Otherwise three fourth of these periodicals will remain unread and occupy floor space and increase the burden of the library. Very few librarians make efforts to know the contents of new arrivals and to inform readers accordingly. The arrival of a good book on any subject should be announced forthwith.
To whom the announcement should reach? To a special group of readers. Every library has to have a group of readers as intimate members. In reality, this group of readers will infuse life into a library. If a librarian can create such a group and sustain it then only he will be credit-worthy. He will be the mediator in forging a amicable tie between this group and the library. In fact, a librarian has the responsibility not only of books but also of the readers. A librarian's capability is proven by his effort in nurturing the both.
A librarian's duty does not end with the books he could collect. He should also know about the publication of important new books in specific disciplines. Once need arose for children's books in Shantiniketan school. I had to select the books enquiring at different places. Every library should extend its help in such matters. A great service will be rendered if a library can keep a list of the famous books that are published every year in different subjects. If a library earns credentials on this, and if people come to know that information about good books is available in the library, the publishers on their own will dispatch their catalogues and details about their identity.
In fine, I like to suggest that a quarterly, half-yearly or yearly periodical should be brought out by the All India Library Council that will provide information at least on important English books published on science, history, literature, etc. If we want to encourage the establishment of libraries across the length and breadth of the country, then it becomes imperative on the part of this organization to help them on the selections of books to be procured.
What I have tried to convey in this essay in brief is that the primary duty of a library is to bring both the readers and the books together, collection and preservation of books are secondary activities.
* It is a translation of the Presidential speech delivered by Tagore in Bengali at the All India Library Conference, Calcutta, December 1928. The views expressed by the author are found to be relevant even today.
Information Today & Tomorrow, Vol. 21, No. 3 & 4, September & December 2002, p.9-p.10