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Resurrect plan for ghost libraries

New Delhi, March 9: You have come across them in your city, town or village — cramped, dusty and poorly lit buildings with racks of tattered, hard-bound books no one seems interested in.

Short of staff and new publications, these public libraries can count themselves lucky if they can attract a handful of readers looking for the day’s newspapers.

The Union culture ministry now plans to upgrade at least the top 10 per cent among the country’s 54,000-odd public libraries, most of which seem to be on their deathbed.

First, it wants to start a nationwide survey of about 5,000 of these libraries — the bigger and better ones.

“The survey has two components,” said K.K. Banerjee, director-general of the Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation in north Calcutta, the ministry’s apex bulk-purchase body for its libraries. The foundation will spearhead the survey.

“One, it will collect data about the number of titles a library has and the number of skilled personnel it employs. The second part is more important — we try and find out new potential users.”

The ministry wants to identify the reading needs of the population living near a library to figure out which books to stock it with.

“There are a whole lot of people who would benefit from these libraries but we need to reach out to them, like students enrolled in open schools,” Banerjee said.

The survey is part of the National Mission on Libraries, launched on February 3 by President Pranab Mukherjee. The mission has been sanctioned a budget of Rs 450 crore, of which Rs 100 crore has been earmarked for the fiscal year 2014-15.

During the mission’s launch, Mukherjee had described a public library as a “people’s university”, available to everyone regardless of age, gender or skill levels.

The ministry has not set itself a deadline but expects to complete the survey in ten months. The mission has two other objectives, too, the first being the creation of a virtual library.

Under this plan, 629 district libraries across the states would be provided network connectivity. At first, only the catalogues of the books available in these libraries would be put online. Later, a few select works will be digitised for online viewing.

The second component is about setting up model libraries, though the ministry is still undecided how to define “model” in this context.

Six libraries that come under the culture ministry — such as the National Library in Calcutta — are to be developed as model libraries along with 35 central libraries in the states and 35 district libraries.

“Once the survey report comes, we’ll know the way ahead. The baseline data will guide us,” Banerjee said.