An interview with
Dr. Ramesh C Gaur
University Librarian, JNU
Wafa: How did your association with JNU begin? What were your first impressions about the university?
Dr. Gaur: My association with JNU can be traced back to 1980s-my college days, when I often frequented the JNU Library to consult books and journals. I have been in this profession for the past 20 years. I have worked in the corporate as well as the government organisations. Before coming to JNU, I was at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi which functions under the aegis of Ministry of Culture. I have worked at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai and various corporate as well as management institutions. I consider being a Librarian in JNU is a challenge as the Library is supposed to cater to the information, academic and research needs of a vast user population ranging from undergraduates to Professor Emirates. The library has to support the vision and mission of the University by providing timely access to quality and relevant information resources in a variety of media. It is supposed to be an active service providing Centre. Moreover, its surroundings, the campus, are things that automatically attract people who have an academic or a research bent of mind and these are the impressions of JNU that were there when I joined and have stayed with me. So, I am very fortunate and it is an honour to be part of the JNU community.
Wafa: What changes have you brought about in the library till now and what more do you plan to do in the future?
Dr. Gaur: Immediately, after joining office, I took a tour of the library and observed that a lot needed to be done in each and every sphere-proper allocation of staff had not been done, staff lacked necessary technical skills, space had not been properly utilized, proper arrangement of reading materials was lacking, over 20,000 books were not in stock. We needed to work on the layout, renovation, expansion and so on.
Secondly, quite a number of positions are vacant – though they have already been advertised they are yet to be filled. So we have scrutinized and finalized the applications and intend to hold the interviews shortly. I personally feel that that new recruits with young, new minds will definitely infuse new energy in the system and help in its growth.
Besides, I am also looking to the issues of weeding out old books and stock verification which has not taken place for many years. Concerted efforts are being made to replace and upgrade the furniture. We are also looking in to the renovation and the expansion plans for the library building.
There are many other important issues which need to be attended to. My focus would be to fine-tune the present system and use innovative ways to reach out the students. I will integrate Information Communication Technologies throughout the library services which we intend to offer. Concerted efforts will be made to develop and transform the Library into a vital knowledge hub of the university. We aim at providing services where the students will have 'one stop shopping experience'- they will get each and every facility for advancing their learning experiences.
Soon, we are going to implement bar-coded issue/return system in which only the bar-coded card will be required (no reader tickets will be given). Also, in the near future one would not need to renew the library ID card every semester. We need to work out a certain kind of system where the concerned schools or admission department may inform the library if some students discontinue the course. This will save our time and library resources as well as time of the students.
Since my joining I am in consultation with the Vice Chancellor, Rector, Registrar, Finance Officer and various other authorities on our plans for future and expect support and benign cooperation in executing them. They all are very supportive and have assured their fullest cooperation for the development of the Library. As I specialise in application of ICTs in libraries, I will apply my expertise in IT and past experience in management, government, research as well as corporate organisations in reaching out to the students through innovative and novel ways and also in developing the library in such a way that the technology complements the structure, needs and the environment.
Thus, in the future, our goal is to digitize the Theses & Dissertations, Rare Books, News Clippings, Microfilm / Microfiche and similar collections for preservation and access, and to make the Library one of the best not only in India but across the world where the students will enjoy and discover rich print and full text digital collections and services. When I decided to join JNU I did not know that there were so many issues which required immediate attention and rigorous planning .But the best part of the whole thing is that I have the support of students, faculty, library staff and management, particularly support and guidance of our Vice Chancellor who is a great library user, excellent human being and a professional par excellence. So I am enjoying this very challenging new responsibility.
Wafa: As the main users of the library are students have you thought of creating a medium to get suggestions and feedback from students to further aid you in your task?
Dr. Gaur: I believe that students are the backbone of every academic institution and all the facilities of the institution should be provided keeping in mind their needs. Thus, when I joined JNU as the Librarian, my first letter was addressed to the students where I requested them to give us suggestions and feedback. I have also been trying constantly to interact with students through various channels - in person and through email, which I hope will increase further student participation. Apart from this, in the future we will hold day long open session in every semester in order to familiarise the students with the various facilities and resources of the library. This open day will serve as a platform for the students to interact with the staff and offer their valuable suggestions and feedback for improvement of collections and services.
Wafa: Are there any particular improvements you have in mind to make the library more disabled-friendly?
Dr. Gaur: We are definitely thinking of upgrading facilities and making them more disabled friendly. We have upgraded the Helen Keller Unit - latest version of JAWS and MAGic software have already been installed. We are in touch with Saksham Trust to set up an online Braille library. Furthermore, the library will facilitate disabled access to property counter and cyber library by constructing ramps shortly. We are also planning to redesign the circulation counter to create more space to move around; and we will procure more wheelchairs to aid the movement of physically disabled students in the library. As I mentioned earlier about the one day open session, we are planning to conduct a similar session for disabled students to make them aware of the facilities available for them and get their feedback for further enhancement of the services.
We also plan to reach out to students' hostels etc through networking technology so as the students have access to library material wherever and whenever they want. Putting drop boxes at some places near the hostels is another option we are exploring. I don't believe that every time and for all kind of information students need to come to the library but instead the library should go to them by being available wherever they are, in their hostels, centres, schools and so on.
Wafa: On a somewhat unrelated note, what would you say about your experience in JNU so far? Any memory or experience that stands out?
Dr. Gaur: One moment that I would always remember is the kind of welcome I got when I joined. On the day of my joining JNU, I had gone to theVC office to meet the Vice Chancellor and he along with the Registrar came to my office in the library and offered the seat of the librarian to me. That kind of welcome and affection shown towards me by the head of the institution is something I have never experienced. Similarly I got support and welcome from my staff, administrative staff and students, and faculty. I will always cherish these moments.
Wafa: What message would you like to give to the present JNU student community?
Dr. Gaur: Please cooperate with us like you have been doing ever since I joined. There are a lot of things which we want to accomplish but it all needs time. We want to initiate a culture of e-books and create a repository of e-theses and dissertations so that the research of our academic fraternity can reach outside JNU and get wider and global visibility and recognition. We also want to make the library including the reading rooms completely air conditioned. Our focus is not only on acquisition, collection of books and other reading materials but on developing a comfortable and congenial ambience where the students will be engaged in the pursuit of knowledge. Our ultimate focus is to serve the students and support them in achieving research and academic excellence. I don't see any reason why we can't be the best in the world. But for this to happen we need the students to be patient, cooperative with us (by following the library rules) and to have trust in our abilities and potential.
In the end, I offer my very best wishes to the users of the Central Library and readers of this Newsletter.