A Library Speaks Volumes about an Institution

Ajay Kumar Srivastava
Chief Librarian, University Library System, Central Library
Banaras Hindu University

“Today, the BHU Central library is a state-of-the-art information hub and the heart of the University. Thanks to the efforts of Prof Srivastava, it is quickly becoming an excellent space that houses computers and digital resources – databases, web-based tools, e-books, e-readers, applications and social media. Apart from books, these are perhaps the core components needed to develop successful 21st-century learners and facilitate cutting-edge research,” said Sudershan Mishra, a first year student at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences, BHU.

Hearing this, Dr. A. K. Srivastava, University librarian, Banaras Hindu University, looks at his library with a deep sense of achievement. He has transformed the library the way he has been dreaming of since last few years. The cyber library is now open for student access 24/7 round the year. Dr Srivastava has enhanced the usage of library resources, benefitting numerous students every day in Banaras Hindu University, a state (Uttar Pradesh) that is known for prolonged power cuts that hamper students’ academic activities.

A few months back in August 2012, Dr Srivastava visited Cornell University under the Agricultural Innovation Partnership (AIP) program to undergo training in library improvement and information literacy. The training he undertook at Cornell helped him create a detailed plan and seek the necessary infrastructural funding from Dr. Lalji Singh, Vice Chancellor, BHU, for setting up a fully air-conditioned digital library with a sitting capacity of 250, with automatic power back-up.
The Banaras Hindu University, one of the largest universities in India, with more than 30,000 students enrolled under its various programs and more than 140 departments, was facing various issues on digitization and information literacy when AIP joined forces to present the learning community with a vision. The vision was to enhance the library resources that could effectively cater to the needs of the huge number of students at any given point in time.

Here is an interview that provides a snapshot of how Dr Srivastava set up this storehouse of information.

1. Could you elaborate on how libraries are change agents in empowering the academic community? What new roles are envisaged by them?
Our society is undergoing a process of rapid change, moving towards the information society. We are moving from a paper-based to a paperless world. These transformations have posed fundamental challenges of the twenty-first century to academic librarians. They need to rethink on adapting their roles within traditional, but shifting paradigms. Challenges confronting academic libraries in the modern world range from adapting digital and virtual setting, open access, information literacy and online education or e-learning.

2. How the newly created facility is addressing the needs of the institute? How many students/faculty are benefiting every day?
The students can now access one hundred thousand e-books on the Internet and more than 20,000 online journals, apart from UGC Infonet Digital Library, World Digital Library, Digital Library of India, Hindi literature, Sanskrit literature, and much more. These resources are crucial to give the students access to cutting-edge research essential for keeping them abreast of recent developments. More than 1000 students are benefiting each day. BHU has invested more than INR 3 crore (about USD 551,837) in the project.

3. When did you feel the necessity of such a facility in Banaras Hindu University library?
We wanted to upgrade the library systems at BHU since last few years to meet the needs of the 21st century learners. However, we did not have the plan in place to take it forward. We began our journey towards planning to set up a cyber library at a time when we collaborated with Cornell University, USA under the Agricultural Innovation Partnership program. The collaboration proved to be a success since we achieved a lot in a short span of time.

4. What are the plans to improve the library?
Students who cannot afford computers and constantly hampered by long power cuts can now fully utilize enormous digital resources 24/7 in an engaging environment. Owing to the initial success of the cyber library, we plan to expand the capacity of the center to more than 1000 computers in the near future. We are also exploring the possibilities to introduce more digital resources, introduce a full-fledged studio to create webinars, videocasts, enhanced podcasts, mobilecasts, etc.

5. How has AIP supported you in your successful journey of creating the digital library?
AIP facilitated and sponsored our training at Cornell University’s Albert R. Mann library to help us acquire the necessary skills and plan the way forward to establish a state-of-the-art library system to support both online and offline learning in the university campus. The Cyber Library Study Centre narrates the tale of the concerted efforts of AIP in training us and empowering with the necessary skills to establish and manage a digital storehouse of information.

As an international development project that looks at boosting the entire agricultural education system in the Indo-Gangetic Plains, AIP envisioned to modernize the libraries at partner agricultural universities in India since its inception. As a stepping-stone to turn this vision into reality, AIP organized a two-day international workshop titled “Strengthening the Academic Library to Enhance Agriculture Education” at Central Library, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) on December 15–16, 2011 in collaboration with the Albert R Mann Library, Cornell University. The workshop was attended by participants from India and abroad. The workshop discussions and presentations enabled the participants to evaluate constraints, share experiences, and gain insightful knowledge in building capacity and strengthening the academic library to enhance agricultural education in India. This was a significant platform, provided BHU with the opportunity to discuss the necessity and benefits of a library system that could cater to the needs of the modern times in a technology-driven world. Because of the relationships formed and ideas exchanged during this workshop, Dr Srivastava was trained at Albert R. Mann Library, from June 17-August 26, 2012.

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