Book Reviews

M.P. Satija

Government of India Libraries: Their Growth, Development and Services. By Anuradha Gupta. Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1994. xxvi, 262 p. ISBN 8–170–18790–0.

India is a democratic federal republic made up of 25 self–governing states and seven union territories. The Government of India presides over the world’s largest democracy and governs the fate, aspirations, and welfare of more than 900 million people (half of whom are illiterate, and one–third of whom live below the poverty line). The government is the single largest publisher of books, the single largest body to own or finance libraries, and the largest single producer and consumer of information. Flow of information in the governmental decision–making machinery is characteristically inadequate. Decisions may be irrational and the process is opaque.

The book is a published form of Anuradha Gupta’s Ph.D. thesis (accepted by the Delhi University). It is the first major study of the sorry state of libraries attached to the ministries and departments of the central government, which is located in New Delhi. The study concerns 162 libraries, 22 of which are located outside Delhi. The libraries range from the Art Reference Library (of the National Gallery of Modern Art) to the Ministry of External Affairs Library and the Supreme Court Judges Library. Also noted are prominent institutions including the libraries of the Parliament, Central Secretariate, and Planning Commission. Out of 500 libraries originally selected, 80 Delhi libraries and their 140 users were studied via two detailed questionnaires. Data were supplemented by personal visits and published literature (most of which concerned Western governmental libraries).

The study comprises six chapters, including a chapter on conclusions and suggestions. The prologue states the aims and methods of study. The rest of the chapters deal with the importance and role of information; growth and development of government libraries (their status and services); and users’ impressions of the libraries. The book ends with suggestions for the speedy development of government libraries and effective roles for librarians.

The first government library was established in 1832. At the time of independence from British colonial rule in 1947, only 35 such libraries existed. Their growth has been slow and steady: 30 (22 percent) of these libraries were established during the years 1951 –1960. Seventy–eight percent are managed by professional staff, with 37 percent of the total staff in the professional category. Pay at government libraries is lower than that offered by academic libraries, and chances of career promotion are minimal. In these libraries, average collections range from 15,000–50,000; the average number of books added per year comes to 1,263. Surprisingly, 55 percent of the libraries do not keep government documents: most of them work with printed sources in the form of books, journals, and reports. The majority of the libraries subscribe to 25–100 current periodicals; most operate without any book selection policy. The budget per annum (1988/1989 financial year) ranges from 5,000–65,000,000 rupees. Budget allocation is mainly arbitrary, without benefit of criteria.

Library use is somewhat dismal. Fifty–six percent of the 140 respondents use their libraries regularly — for what purpose, it is not known — and 38 percent are occasional users. Twenty percent of these libraries do not allow anyone other than departmental users to use the facilities. Forty percent of the libraries charge up to 10 books per day; another 20 percent charge up to 20 books per day. Interlibrary loan services are not much in demand. Twenty–four percent of these libraries provide photocopying services, and 59 percent claim to provide reference service. Thirty–four percent provide documentation services, and 24 percent provide current awareness services, although quality and extent of such services have not been described. The majority (65 percent) of the readers have rated their library services as good, while 18 percent grant an excellent rating. At the same time, 30 percent of the readers ask for more staff, 65 percent ask for more space, 75 percent suggest better maintenance and cleanliness, and 49 percent feel a need for improved organization and management.

The book ends with a summary of findings and many suggestions for improvement, the most critical being the establishment of a coordinating body, or “Central Library Agency,” and the compilation of a union catalogue. Problems to be researched further include a study of the information needs of the governmental officials. The work makes no mention of the state of automation, cooperation among libraries, job satisfaction, professionalism of staff members, public relations, and status of government librarians in the eyes of their bureaucratic colleagues. Misprints exist in the text. So do spelling mistakes: Samuel Johnson is repeatedly spelled as “Sammual Johnson.” Otherwise, the physical quality of the book is high.

The study is in–depth, systematic, and painstakingly well researched. The book is unique and fills a gap, and is thus immensely valuable to librarians, students, and scholars. Government officials would benefit from seeing Gupta’s conclusions and recommendations. Perhaps they would realize the importance of libraries. Perhaps they would be moved to help these libraries regarding expansion and improvement of services. In turn, libraries would help them to make the innovative, information–based decisions needed in a welfare state like India.

floral device About the Author

M.P. Satija is Professor at Guru Nanak Deve University, Amritsar, India.

© 1995 M.P. Satija.


Satija, M.P., “Review of Government of India Libraries: Their Growth, Development and Services, by Anuradha Gupta,” Third World Libraries, Volume 5, Number 2 (Spring 1995).