Library services in the new normal: An Indian perspective

From his perspective as Librarian & Head, Central Library, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Nabi Hasan reflects on how libraries in India responded to the pandemic situation and celebrates the exciting stories of innovative library services formed during these difficult times.

The world is still passing through a very tough time, due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation, resulting in limited mobility and lockdowns. This scenario is unprecedented, strange, unknown, weird, confusing, risky, and requires social distancing, mobility restrictions, use of masks, soaps, and sanitizer. In today’s unusual circumstances, every walk of life, profession, economy, industry, education, and markets are affected.

Libraries and librarians are also finding it difficult to handle different situations. However, many of these are physical labour-intensive industries. Because the library profession is IT-supported, there is a hope. As a trusted platform, libraries always play a significant role for the users by providing valuable resources and support in a crisis situation. Libraries can help us to be more flexible and well-prepared, whether individually or as a community.

The benefits are not only limited to teachers and students in academic or non-academic institutions but also useful for refugees, disabled, ethnic, and people from socio-economic backgrounds. In response to Covid 19 mandates, teachers, students, and librarians globally are being forced to transition to an online-only environment. For example, the Central Library of IIT Delhi or other such libraries, including the Public Library system of India, which include National Library, National Mission on Libraries, Raja Ram Mohan Roy Library Foundation, Delhi Public Library System, National Digital Library of India and also through National Virtual Library of India apart from regional entities working in this direction, are serving and helping people with different types of physical and off-campus access of the valuable resources to its end users.

More E-Resources

During the period of closed libraries, the focus remained to build more and more eBooks and other e-resource collections and provide easy remote access to the authorized users. Physical books could also be delivered to the extent possible on the campuses or from the library and were taken back in the drop boxes. Funding has been severely reduced. Overall, there is a loss to the collection development and difficulties in the management. When we are open now as per the new or next normal, we have to do a lot for staff and patrons' physical and mental wellbeing, by smart library services during the pandemic, and through different innovative ways to keep people relaxed and engaged.

The “future of the library” has been brought forward as a result of this time of closures and reopening during the crisis. We must see this as an opportunity to continue innovating, evolving, and adapting to these changes and building future programming for our libraries and ourselves as professionals. “Never waste a crisis”. As a member of the SLA Task Force on Reopening Specialized Libraries, I have studied and researched the background and responses to lockdown by academic and public libraries in India, effects on teaching-leaning, collection management during Covid, reopening libraries in the new normal, protocols or SOPs being followed and opportunities in general for libraries to serve the different segments of the society, with focus on the role played by significant library systems of India with niche area stories as well.

Library Contributions

The exciting stories on the functioning and contribution of the libraries in the new normal from India noticed the unusual contribution of the library community as individuals and as organizations. These include playing a vital role in making our life relaxed and calm and trying to keep the stress level away by engaging through their different valuable contents as per user convenience. The pandemic has made our life difficult but has also given the world an opportunity to improve on other aspects of life, like there is a change in demand from patrons, and people have adopted innovative ways of providing library services to the patrons.

There is an improvement in ICT infrastructure and knowledgebase, investments in online education have increased. Since the online contributions are measurable, there is a recognition and acknowledgement of the efforts of the people. We have now more family time and understanding, restricted movements—saving fuel and making the environment better. So, together, we are attempting to create a better NEW NORMAL or NEXT NORMAL.

Nabi Hasan is Librarian & Head, Central Library, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi