Nagpur: If you are cherishing an idea to gain extra knowledge on any subject of your liking, do not dare to visit libraries run by Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) for disappointment could be staring at your face. The libraries run by the civic body have been found in total disarray due to more reasons than one. Lack of qualified staff, mismanagement and the poor quality and quantity of the content have turned the NMC-run depository of books redundant to say the least.
As scholars have said, “Libraries are essential in a process of giving citizens access to knowledge. In digital times they are needed more than ever before. Most importantly, however, libraries are the places where you can expect smart and clear answers to even most difficult questions. Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one. Libraries allow children to ask questions about the world and find the answers. And the wonderful thing is that once a child learns to use a library, the doors to learning are always open. If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. In today’s era, a library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.”
The most important asset of any library goes home at night — the library staff. And here lies the crux of this report.
According to an RTI reply shared by Nagpur Municipal Corporation to a question posed by activist Abhay Kolarkar regarding the status of staff manning its libraries, as many as 90 posts out of 141 sanctioned ones are lying vacant. In percentage, the figure stands out as 63.83 per cent vacancies. The posts lying vacant include the all-important posts of Superintendent and Librarian. Moreover, of a total 15 posts of Assistant Librarian, as many as 11 are vacant. Same is the case with Library Assistants. 15 posts of Library Assistants out of 17 sanctioned posts are awaiting the men of matters. No guessing for the affairs being run in NMC libraries. With such huge vacancies, one could imagine the condition of the libraries.
Of a total 32 libraries, NMC is running 14 and has handed over operations of 18 other libraries to different organisations/ women’s self-help groups. In the reply provided to Kolarkar, the Library and Study Room Department of NMC has stated that it does not have any ‘compiled information’ on lost or unreturned books. As far as allocation and expenditure are concerned, NMC spent around Rs 2 crore out of total allocation of Rs 2.675 crore in 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16. Of the total allocation in these years, an amount of Rs 57.5 lakh was released for repairs and maintenance of libraries and study rooms, while an amount of Rs 2.10 crore was meant for ‘recurring expenditure’.
The RTI reply further said that for the year 2016-17, the allocation and expenditure figures ‘were not available’ as the NMC accounts were being finalised. Between 2013-14 and 2016-17, NMC purchased books worth Rs 19.20 lakh. However, in reply to Kolarkar’s query, the officiating Superintendent of Library and Study Room Department of NMC stated that the ‘compiled information’ about number of books was not available currently. There were 2,095 life members of NMC’s libraries but the figure of regular members was not available as ‘it varied every year’. The number of lost/unreturned books also was ‘not available’ with NMC. Such vague reply aptly points out that libraries and study rooms of NMC have become victims of serious neglect.
It is required of any library, small or big, to keep record of books in its inventory. Also, it is required to maintain record if any subscriber has lost/not returned any book issued in his/her name, so that he/she may be penalised as per the rules of a library. But in NMC, the issue has nothing to do with smooth working of its libraries and study rooms. In the given situation, it could be assumed that NMC gave its official sanction to plunder of rare and now out-of-print books from its libraries.