I risk repeating just about everything you are about to read in this issue when I say that if there is a space where one can not only be oneself but find the self that one would like to become, it is inside a book. Correct that: there’s one other place/space – and that is the library, in the company of those who love and know books.
For those of us fortunate enough to have grown up with access to such spaces, there are many fond memories we carry, of many formative moments and interactions, both with books and the people who have made that access possible. It becomes, then, for many, a restless passion that drives them to (for want of a better word) evangelize, to introduce others to the pleasures of reading, and also to the joys of building communities of readers. As Sujata Noronha, our guest editor for this issue of Teacher Plus puts it, “Library as both a concept and construct is so full of possibilities,” possibilities that go much beyond a collection of books or a place of knowledge curation and reference. Building a library and sustaining it requires not only an expansive imagination, but using it productively (and that can be a troublesome word) also needs us to go much beyond the instrumental framing that limits the popular understanding of such a place.
The ongoing section in Teacher Plus, Off the Library Shelves, has attempted to offer a continuing exploration of what a library is and what it can be, drawing from varied experiences and contexts. This issue is a natural extension of this journey, bringing together in a very concentrated package some of the rich experiences of librarians, library enthusiasts, book lovers and educators. It takes us into a little bit of history, and gives us plenty of hope for what learning and the pleasure of knowledge seeking and even escape, can look like when books and other resources are organized into what becomes a library by many names.
We discovered very quickly that so much can – and needed to – be said about libraries, and the slim space of a magazine doesn’t quite do it all justice. But think of this as a beginning (or maybe a middle) of a conversation that doesn’t really have to end when you turn the last page. That’s what happens with a good book, isn’t it?
Welcome to the Library
Imagine you are in a quiz on great Indian thinkers and you find a question being asked about the Father of Library Science in India. If you do not know this answer, rest back, there will be a librarian in the audience – if not on a team – who will quickly call out Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan or S.R. Ranganathan as he is more commonly referred to.
Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan (1892-1972) was a mathematician, a university teacher who lived in south India and was known for his ‘active’ teaching methods. He was beloved in the classroom and dynamic in the ways in which he brought his students to ideas and topics. He was selected to become the librarian at Madras University in 1924. But having no experience and training in librarianship and dreading the lonely life of the librarian, S. R. Ranganathan (S.R.R) asked for a reprieve. He was invited to study librarianship in a University/Public Library in the United Kingdom and to decide thereafter if he wanted to continue as a librarian or not. The nine-month observation study appeared to have transformed S.R. Ranganathan’s mind towards this field of library study and practice, and thereafter changed his ideas about the science of library. In India and many other countries, library science gets its philosophical foundation and social recognition from the immense contributions of S.R. Ranganathan. He is widely known for the Five Laws of Library Science and for his classification and indexing theory. However, for those of us who work with young people, S.R. Ranganathan’s contribution to the imagination and nature of school libraries is a treatise that can inform best practices in the simplest of ways. He was a strong advocate of the public library movement and enabling book access to all.
In an essay written in 1941, based on a speech commemorating the silver jubilee of the installation of the Public Library in Bangalore, 80 years ago, S.R. Ranganathan made an argument for public enthusiasm to form a library movement within the public library stream. He felt very strongly that this movement would impact government policy and funding, professionalism for the field of library science, practice of librarianship and dissemination and access to libraries in the country.
Eighty years have passed and in early 2021, when the editors of Teacher Plus decided to devote a special issue to the library, it felt like the winds of that very enthusiasm beginning to stir again. But this time for library work with children and young people.
When I first accepted this wondrous opportunity, all I could think about was that this is a chance to document more deeply and share more widely the range of library practices that make up our world in India in 2021. As I began to think of how to include and structure the issue, I realized that the breadth and width of library work is fuelled by so many micro and macro aspects that it is foolhardy to think of it from the point of view of practice or existence of library spaces alone.
Library both as a construct and a concept is so full of possibilities that it was suddenly within my scope to imagine a more expanded issue because of the work that has gone before and the people who have enabled the domain to form. Without imagination, a market, a professional community, policy, school systems, the curiosity and open mindedness of children, the human pursuit for learning and pleasure, our compelling need for social justice, library work would be hollow. This formed the basis of imagining this issue. It is with immense pleasure that I present to you a collection of essays that cover the gamut of library work from points of view that intersect with the library and are of the library as well. I trust, based on my learning of bringing this issue together that you will find fresh insights and learning and that ideas of practice and possibilities will open up for us as librarians and teachers.
I have had the honour of partnering with many colleagues who devoted themselves to writing out essays or editing essays that make the picture whole. I am indebted to each and every one of them and hope that this special issue marks the continuation of the library movement envisaged by S.R. Ranganathan for our future – through our children.
The issue is divided into three sections that open up life lines into the library. From the physical library as place to the cerebral library in our imagination and thinking, matters of collection, inclusion, literacy, technology, policy, school and community find place and purpose in this issue. Each section is highlighted with art work to set the tone of the section and provoke us to imagine further and interact with the ideas that we present.
Welcome to the library!