In India, engineering education lacks quality and only less than 24% graduates are employable. Similar is the situation in other professional courses. Research, especially PhD theses, are also lingering with a comment of lack of quality and plagiarism.

The reasons for this situation in this country may be due to lack of teachers, infrastructure and accountability. Lack of quality is a consequence of non-achievement of exalted objectives of education, resulting in lack of knowledge/capabilities in learners. 

Libraries and librarians can make a difference and improve the quality, both in education and research, by providing access to authentic information to faculty, researchers and students. It is a known fact that information is a commodity the cost of which is increasing year after year. Libraries are community centres which make all efforts to provide needy information. 

Now-a-days, libraries are being neglected by governments as well as institutions, allocating meagre budgets, which lead to cutting down on subscriptions to high quality magazines and journals.  Even text books are old but they are procured as new editions. MHRD/ UGC gives funds to provide journals to select universities. From 2018, such subscriptions will also be stopped, putting institutions in great distress.

Under N-List, about 7,000 journals and about two lakhs of e-books were given by INFLIBNET at nominal subscription, which will also be discontinued. The government has also started levying GST on subscriptions, which increased increased burden on libraries going for subscriptions.  

The MHRD/UGC should prepare standardised plans for resource sharing for enhanced access to published information, library resources, research data, at least among public-funded institutions. The government does not seem to have any serious plans for optimising access to knowledge resources available in institutions.

IIT-Delhi spends about Rs 16 crore a year on purchase of resources. One can imagine the total amount spent at least by government-funded institutions and it is the duty of funding agencies to see that every paisa is optimally used. 

The Concept of Open Access (OA) can make lots of authentic resources (journals, books, research articles) available at free of cost. USA and many countries have made it mandatory to publish all public-funded research output in OA journals. But India is yet to adopt such policy widely, barring one or two departments. Such apathy of the government has resulted in purchase of public-funded data/output at enormous cost.  

The government is guided by influential people but not knowledgeable professionals to make things move in right direction and resolve issues. The OA resources are generally authentic, as standard publishers are associated with them.  It is necessary to remember that last year they found that more than 990 journals published from India are predatory. One has to be cautious to publish and procure quality output.  

When one looks at free books, there are three types of websites / digital libraries which give millions of books.  They are: copyright expired books, OA books, and pirated editions. The books include general/subject and text books. Single website may include both public domain and payment books.

For example, Hathi Trust Digital Library gives more than 16 million documents and 37% of them are in public domain. National Digital Library of India claims to have 65 lakh documents and every item is freely accessible.  If anyone searches Hathi Trust Digital Library, one may find about 19,000 documents on William Shakespeare, out of which over 11,000 are in public domain.

There are many such websites/digital libraries. www.pdfdrive.net has 300 million documents (public domain) wherein one may get needed resources free of cost. OA text books/ curriculum-based lessons are accessible. It may be worth to note that every website has its own norms and users should learn how to make use of them. 

The new trend is to make articles available – prior to their publication – at preprint websites which are free for consultation. These articles will have almost same information like published articles, which may be revised and published in journals at later time, which needs to be purchased. There are plenty of such resources on free online education sites, content pages. The librarians offer competent help to access such resources.

They can also train readers in using the reference management tools, through which they can create list of references for research projects and organisation of citations into specific formats for preparation of manuscripts/bibliographies. The governments should establish and support the libraries at various levels to support quality education and research. (Writer is President, Telangana Library Association)

By Prof N Laxman Rao

Tags: Libraries, GST