Library Networks: In Pursuit of convergence

What makes the library networks tick to the satisfaction of users? Perceptions vary. Some may think that computerization of library catalogue records in large number, though lacking in consistency, is enough for a claim to fame of being operational. Some more may feel that Internet access alone would meet all the requirements of a library user. Others may view that once an E-mail facility is established, their libraries are networked.

Though the situation appears to be akin to the proverbial "blind men describing an elephant", clearly enough, the two are quite apart. In the fable, the disability constrained the blind men to take a holistic view. In the libnet case, it is the intellectual dishonesty and opportunism to derive benefit out of personal or institutional image projection.

NISSAT has been a prime mover in the development of libnets in the country. In fact, it was NISSAT which mooted the concept of library network development in mid 80's and had carried out a detailed feasibility study in Calcutta and Delhi, in collaboration with the CMC Ltd. Recognizing that the haphazard discontinuance of periodical subscriptions under a financial crunch would be suicidal, NISSAT brought in the concept of rationalization of the acquisition of periodicals in all the large clusters. The implementation was to be backed up with the compilation of union listing of current periodicals and couriers services for document delivery. Further, in order to prepare the librarians to participate effectively in the new environment, NISSAT had initiated the debate on communication/exchange formats and organized appropriate training programmes on computer literacy, E-mail, CDS/ISIS, AACR-II and so on. After roughly five years of concerted efforts, it is felt that level of the performance of library networks is still far away and a lot of ground still remains to be covered.

All the networks offer the E-mail facilities, although connectivity at a point of time is subject to the vagaries of telecom facilities. Some of the libraries have developed computerized catalogue records, but the standards are yet to be strictly enforced. Lot of heat was generated and dust thrown up on the choice of bibliographic formats, but the matter has been settled. Similarly, library software of varying capabilities have been developed and these efforts need to be complemented. But a basic question remains unanswered: has any resource sharing been accomplished? Librarians have also been sensitized, but where are the users? The concept of networking, however, needs to be marketed to the heads of institutions; for, without their support and directive, the librarians would not be able to act even if they want to.

In the final analysis, the developments have so far been in the desired direction. Eventually the library networks should be able to crush the walls that have historically been built around them and together they would manage a vast reservoir of knowledge from which the users, irrespective of their institutional affiliation, would be able to access any bit of information they require.

Some more time is to be given for such seemingly disjointed action to converge suitably; and it would be worth waiting for. At this stage, we need to keep the interests of library users alive. One of the networks claims savings to the tune of one crore rupees on rationalization. Every year, the figure jacks up as if to prop up a personal profile. Sure a network may claim on credit for which the network has not contributed! The worst is the claim on "operational" status. We should restrain from making such tall claims about resource holdings and service offerings, lest the user is disillusioned with what he gets and what was made to believe he would get. And a dissatisfied customer may not show up again.

Frankly, the tangle is difficult to solve because the networking specialists and the librarians do not talk in the same wavelength. When the responsibility of network development is with a computer communications specialist, the librarians are not even consulted. Given the job to the librarians, jargons are thrown indiscriminately to impress (or to intimidate?) fellow librarians. Alas! a grand unification is still elusive.

— A. Lahiri