World Libraries, Volume 8, Number 1, Fall 1997
Library Automation and Networking in India: Problems and Prospects
This article presents the information scene in India during the last decade. Automation and the networking of academic libraries are still in their formative stages. The reasons for, prerequisites of, and benefits of networking are given. Networking systems at the national and local levels are described, as are the salient features of INFLIBNET, which has been functioning since 1988. There are also three metropolitan networks, viz., DELNET, CALIBNET, and BONET. The libraries of the three metropolitan cities are already reaping the benefits of networking. The constraints of networking in Indian academic libraries are explained. The conclusion is that major information library networks such as INFLIBNET should have a more realistic and timebound programme.
Recent years have witnessed considerable progress in the area of universalization of primary education in India. The nation has crossed the 50 percent mark with regards to literacy. Nevertheless, it still has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of illiterates in the world. Although there has been a considerable increase in the infrastructure of the education sector, the goal of providing basic education to all still remains a distant dream. In the changing scenario, there is a growing need to realize the importance of libraries in fulfilling the mission of Education For All by A.D. 2000. Hence, our policy planners need to deliberate on this issue of utmost importance.
Information is the communicating of news, knowledge, or facts. It consists of data endowed with relevance and purpose. Its main function is to present facts so that mans vision is broadened, thereby enabling him to fight against the problems posed by ignorance and superstition. It is therefore considered to be a basic need of man, ranking after air, water, food, clothing, and shelter. Modem means of transport, computers, and telecommunications have reduced the world to a global village, wherein one need only plug in, in order to be connected to the whole world.
It is only recently that information has been recognized as a valuable commodity, and the time may not be far off when information will function as a currency to be exchanged for goods and services all over the world. It is therefore imperative that everybody realize the importance of information and have easy access to it.
Impact of Information Technology in India
According to N. Vittal, Chairman of the Telecom Commission of India, two major leaps of man were the invention of printing by Gutenberg in the fifteenth century, and the introduction of computers . Technology has advanced quickly since the Second World War. The two main ingredients of technology are computers and communication. When combined, they generate information technology, and this has applications in all walks of life business, travel, industry, education, shopping, banking, defence, medicine, and leisure.
India is improving its infrastructure of information technology. Its real development is difficult to measure, because the gigantic population acts to the detriment of all plans put forward for the advancement of the nation. In fact, 52 percent of Indians are literate, and this group is larger than the combined population of the United States and Russia. Indias progress should thus be viewed differently. According to the World Bank Policy Research Bulletin, only one percent of Indias population has telephones and televisions, as compared with Singapores 40 percent, South Koreas 28 percent, and Taiwans 33 percent. Despite this, India has, in absolute terms, more telephones and televisions. The major problem confronting India is its rising population. In order to ensure that the fruits of progress reach each and every person, methods and strategies have to be evolved to curb the population. It needs to be emphasized that the real picture of development should not be hidden in percentage figures. Indias manpower with access to education and technology will enable it to emerge as a power in Asia.
Computers made a belated entry into our country, and since then India has not been able to keep pace with developments in other countries. Only 0.1 percent of the population uses computers, as compared with the USs 24 percent, Japans eight percent, Germanys nine percent, and Singapores 10 percent . The planners, policymakers, and those responsible for the implementation of plans at the central, state, and local levels must decide how to cope with this situation.
Academic libraries and research libraries in India need to coordinate their information requirements and plan for resource sharing. In this regard, the Indian government should allocate funds for INFLIBNET, but the Central Government allocated no such funds in the Union Budget of 199495.
Attempts Towards Automation in Indian Libraries
The scientific and technical libraries working under such R&D institutions as CSIR, ICMR, ICAR, and DRDO have taken the lead in library automation. Notable among public sector libraries are BHEL R&D and SAIL . They have funded several training programs and software development projects which have played an important role in increasing awareness of the potential of the new technologies. Their main emphasis was on database development and information retrieval services. Unfortunately, the academic libraries have made little progress in this direction. The reasons for the slow pace of automation in academic libraries are the following:
Networking in Libraries
Networking is the linkage of working procedures for the exchange of information resources. Presently, the term computer network is used in place of resource sharing or cooperative systems. Resource sharing or networking is defined as a mode of operation, whereby information resources are shared by a number of participants having the same objectives in mind. Thus the user of one library can have his requirements fulfilled by another library if the local library fails to serve his needs. Some of the essential prerequisites for effective resource sharing include
Even libraries with good budgets or collections cannot have enough resources to be selfsufficient. In fact, interdependence has now become a way of life. In recent years we have witnessed the establishment of a great number of networks around the globe through which technology is utilized to facilitate a vast flow of information. This ultimately will enable and support applications which influence peoples daily lives. The major factors which have created the need for networking include the rise in the cost of publications, a lack of funds and adequate manpower, and the geographical dislocations of libraries, i.e., the fact that libraries are now located in remote and farflung areas.
The ultimate aim of networking is to achieve maximum results with minimum input. This is clearly consonant with the nature of our economy, in which capital is scarce. Networking is inevitable in all types of libraries, for it enables users to have access to the resources of many other libraries, in addition to their own. The benefits which accrue from resource sharing are the following:
Against all odds, India has made rapid strides in recent decades in the field of telecommunications via satellite and microwave links. Networking systems have been developing fast at local, state, national, regional, and international levels all over the world since the 1980s. In order to keep pace with the world, the Indian government is developing its own networking systems via NICNET. Surprisingly, the government does not consider libraries to have a high priority. Thus, libraries have to plan their acquisitions keeping in mind the resources available in other libraries in the area, so that they can get the maximum number of books and publications which are not available in their vicinity. In the past few years, considerable progress has taken place in the planning and building of library and information networks. As a result, four major networks INFLIBNET, DELNET, CALIBNET, BONET have started functioning in libraries.
INFLIBNET started functioning in 1988 with the aim of optimizing the utilization of resources and avoiding their duplication. INFLIBNET has proposed to network 200 universities, 7,200 colleges, and over 200 research organizations attached to scientific, agricultural, medical, social science, and defence organizations. It would be a multiservice network aiming at providing cataloguebased services, access to databases and document supply services, and facilities for computer mediating. In the initial plan, the thrust is on linking the most remote and needy universities with rich and rare collections. In the later phases, other university libraries would be linked. These are some of the salient features of INFLIBNET:
Communication Hierachy of INFLIBNET
INFLIBNET is designed to operate at four different levels national, regional, sectoral, and local. The networking will be hierarchical in nature. A college library will be linked to a university library, which in turn will be linked to the Regional Centre and Sectoral Information Centres. Multilateral communication is possible, but only via the Central hub in New Delhi. The whole network is envisaged as a star configuration except in the large cities where libraries are to be linked by terrestrial Local Area Network (LAN). According to L.J. Haravu, Library Manager, International Crop Research Institute of SemiArid Tropics (ICRISAT), multilateral communication in most cases will be only for message transfer and not for database access. Such an approach is all right in the beginning, but at a later stage when more and more libraries will become proficient at using computers, libraries will begin to look for more and more autonomy in computer use, database development, and access to external databases. Such a phenomenon has occurred in the West . It remains to be seen how INFLIBNET will cope with this situation.
DELNET began its operation with the introduction of email service in 1991, and has since then linked 35 libraries in the Delhi area. Participating libraries are using different software, such as CDS/ISIS, LIBSYS, CFS, DELMS, MINISIS, and dbase-LCMARC. These libraries have saved a considerable amount by avoiding duplication of journals and other reading materials. The DELNET database has become one of the major bibliographic databases in India.
The network adopted Common Communication Format (CCF), developed by UNESCO, and AACR2 as the code for developing cataloguing. H.K. Kaul, Director of DELNET, says that DELNET saved Rs. 25 lakhs in 1991, 25 lakhs again in 1992, and nearly Rs. 50 lakhs in 1993 through rationalization of foreign periodicals. NISSAT and the Department of Electronics played a vital role by providing free modems and email software . More libraries in Delhi are joining DELNET and making inquiries about online access to the Union catalogue. The British Council and NIC have helped DELNET in providing necessary assistance. The DELNET Newsletter, first published in January 1994, provides information about its activities.
This network links 38 science and technology libraries in the Calcutta metropolitan area. The plan focuses on the introduction of automated systems into the participating libraries before networking them. Each library will have to automate its book acquisition, cataloguing, serials control, fund accounting, and circulation control. Libraries participating in the CALIBNET will use AACR2 for bibliographic description. The MAITRAYEE software, which supports MARC records, will enable records to be imported/exported through the CCF. CALIBNET will be linked to DELNET via dialup access, and to external networks through the GPSS .
Another landmark among the library networks of our country is BONET, which was inaugurated on 6 November 1992 at the National Centre for Software Technology (NCST), Bombay. BONET is the latest project sponsored by NISSAT. The network has the following objectives:
This is just the beginning. In the years to come many libraries will be automated and linked to a network. This will result in reducing the expenditure incurred in purchasing journals, research materials, etc., and it will improve access to information .
The last few years have witnessed some useful initiatives in the development of library automation software. BHEL R&D, SAIL, ICRISAT, INSDOC, NIC, DESIDOC, and IIT Kanpur have succeeded in this sphere. MAITAYEE, LIBSYS, and TULIPS are software packages used by various libraries.
Constraints of Networking
There are several constraints in the networking of Indian libraries. Higher education authorities still have a dilemma as to whether or not resource sharing is possible through networking. The potentialities of INFLIBNET are still not known to many academic libraries. Besides, UGC has failed to provide appropriate funds to academic libraries for computer software and hardware. Therefore, if INFLIBNET is to be of any help to the libraries, it surely has to provide funds for capital investment in software and hardware. These are the problems faced by the libraries:
Automation and networking of libraries are still in their formative stages in India. Their full impact on libraries and library resources will be known in the course of time. INFLIBNET, DELNET, and other metropolitan networks are providing training facilities for computer applications. The Indian Library Association, Iaslic, and NISSAT have jointly helped academic libraries in the choice of software and hardware, and in manpower training. Every year, INFLIBNET organizes a conference CALIBER (Convention of Automation in Libraries) to discuss issues related to the computerization of academic libraries. In the first convention of CALIBER, held at Ahmedabad in February 1994, the Chairman of INFLIBNET, Professor Yashpal, said that the government of India should provide more funds for the speedy networking of higher education and research and libraries. According to him, the progress of INFLIBNET is far from satisfactory, and so the UGC should provide funds for hardware and software to accelerate the pace of library automation and networking. Unfortunately, technological advances do not percolate to the grass roots level, and so the rural community is denied the benefits of progress. Therefore, efforts should be made to remove the barriers, so that India makes rapid strides in the field of information technology in general and networking in particular. In addition, the plans prepared by the decisionmaking bodies should be more realistic, so that they can easily be achieved. The time frame which has been set, and the expenditure to be incurred, should be fixed keeping in view the fact that capital is scarce in the nations economy. If the above facts are taken into account before designing any information policy, then the policies are bound to be fruitful.
Kumar, Krishnan, and Shailendra Kumar, 1989. An Overview of Computer Activities in Library and Information Science in India in the Year 1988, Library Herald, volume 28 (October), pp. 118123.
Ranjan, Vandana. Perceptions of Tulips (Tata Unisys Library Information Processing System) as a User, In: C.P. Vashishth (editor). Library Movement and Library Development in India: Seminar Papers.
Kumar, Shailendra, 1988. Networking of Databases Created by CDS/ISIS Using Common Communication Format Tags, Library Herald, volume 27 (April), pp. 913.
Venkat Reddy, K., 1994. Libraries as Intellectual Workshops, In: C.P. Vashishth (editor). New Horizons in Library and Information Sciences: Dr. Venkatappaiah Festschrift. Madras: T.R. Publications, pp. 7176.
List of Abbreviations and Acronyms Used
BHEL Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited
BONET Bombay Library Network
CALIBNET Calcutta Library Network
CMC Computer Maintenance Corporation
CSIR Council of Scientific and Industrial Research
DELNET Delhi Library Network
DESIDOC Defence Scientific Documentation Centre
DRDO Defence Research Development Organisation
GPSS Gateway Packet Switching System
IASLIC Indian Association of Special Libraries and Information Centres
ICAR Indian Council of Agricultural Research
ICMS Indian Council of Medical Research
ICRISAT International Crops Research Institute for SemiArid Tropics
IIT Indian Institute of Technology
INFLIBNET Information Library Network
INSDOC Indian National Scientific Document Centre
NIC National Informatics Centre
NICNET National Informatic Centre Network
NISSAT National Information System for Science and Technology
R&D Research and Development
SAIL Steel Authority of India Limited
UGC University Grants Commission
 DELNET Newsletter, 1 (January 1994): 1.
 World Bank Policy Research Bulletin, 4 (MarchApril 1993): 3.
 L.J. Haravu, Library Automation and Networking in India: An Overview of Recent Developments, In: New Horizons in Library and Information Science, ed. C.P. Vashisth.
 Ibid., pp. 500501.
 INFLIBNET Handout. Ahmedabad, INFLIBNET.
 Haravu, p. 512.
 DELNET Newsletter, 1 (January 1994): 2.
 Haravu, pp. 512513.
 Rajyalakshmi, Impact of Technologies on Communication and Information Networks: Indian Scenario, In: Library Movement and Library Development in India, ed. C.P. Vashishth. (Delhi, Indian Library Association, 1994), pp.365384.
 Choudhary, Library Networks in India: An Overview, In: New Vistas in Library and Information Science, ed. A. Raju, et al. (Delhi: Vikas, 1995), pp. 468469.
© 1997 S.D. Vyas.
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