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Digitizing knowledge

Source: The Energy and Resources Institute - Tue, 17 Dec 2013 06:57 AM
Author: SS Jeevan
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Digital libraries have the potential to revolutionize modern societies, and developing countries must take the lead in making digital knowledge accessible to all

The international conference to bridge the digital divide – held in New Delhi on November 27-29 – went beyond establishing a new order for people’s access to knowledge in a more effective manner. The conference, organized by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), led to the formulation of several landmark recommendations, including a call to amend the current Act suitably and a new legislation for legal deposit of digital publications. Titled ‘Vision 2020: Looking back 10 years and Forging New Frontiers’, the speakers called for the development of digital libraries as an instrument for change in national development, and for advancing towards international digital library development. The conference called on developing countries to undertake a survey of digital libraries in their countries to assess the status of development in all areas of digital library technologies, such as information infrastructure and digital technology applications. And, in India, such a survey may be undertaken in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, National Mission on Libraries, and the Department of Information Technology.

Access and development

Earlier, Vice President Hamid Ansari, who inaugurated the three-day conference, highlighted the important role digital libraries can play in enabling people access, share and apply knowledge in a more effective manner. “The challenge before us would be to overcome the digital divide that exists between countries of the north and the south, regions within national boundaries and on the basis of socio-economic stratification. Democratization of access to knowledge by bridging the digital divide would be essential for inclusive, sustained development,” Ansari said in his address at the International Conference of Digital Libraries 2013.

He said digital libraries provide a valuable platform for achieving the desired results. They provide an efficient and cost effective medium through which information can be delivered and knowledge shared in formats that are easily accessible to the masses, he said.

Ansari underlined the importance of libraries in human society could be best summarized in a statement attributed to the Roman statesman, Cicero, who said: ‘to add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.’ “This wisdom could be easily extrapolated to a nation or even to humanity. In all periods of history, civilizations built libraries as repositories of knowledge and information stored in the form of books, scrolls and manuscripts,” he said. “In modern age, libraries became a more universal institution and have played a critical role in the higher evolution of human civilization,” he added.

Human Resource Development Minister M M Pallam Raju said digital libraries have the ability to make a wide repository of information accessible in a digitally connected world.  “The Commission’s overarching aim is to transform India into a vibrant knowledge-based society. This entails an improvement in existing systems of knowledge, as well as the creation of avenues for generating new forms of knowledge,” Raju said. He said libraries of India stand as a rich repository of knowledge, and the goal is to transform them from guarded storehouses of publications into open stockpiles of knowledge.

On the importance of digital libraries and the systemization of knowledge it can bring about, TERI director-general R.K. Pachauri said: “Digital libraries are a significant outcome of the unprecedented technological changes in the information sector that have taken place across the globe in recent years. These make it possible for documents, publications and knowledge in every field to become accessible to every section of society.”

Role and relevance

Digital libraries occupy the heart of knowledge societies; they enable people to access, share and apply knowledge. Digital libraries provide access to many of the knowledge networks around the world, which is a necessary component of a knowledge society. Digital libraries have traditionally been positioned at the intersection of library science, computer science, and networked information systems. E.A. Fox defined the digital library as the “New way of carrying out the functions of libraries encompassing new types of information resources, new approaches to classification and cataloguing, intensive use of electronic systems and networks and dramatic shifts in intellectual, organizational and electronic practices”. Similarly Larsen defines, “A digital library as a global virtual library-the library of thousands of networked electronic libraries”.

TERI had understood in early 2000 that the era of digital library and digitization had started for capturing and dissemination of knowledge in developed world and many users and organizations across the world were immensely benefited from it. TERI Library had positioned itself accordingly and started working toward development of digital library and conceptualizing knowledge management.

Being a front runner in research, TERI through its library had initiated periodic workshops in the areas of electronic resource sharing, resource management, digital library development and many more. At the same time, TERI also started its knowledge management (KM) processes and in 2003 development of KM platform in TERI initiated. Upon receipt of positive feedback and professional demand TERI library professionals first thought of hosting an international conference in coordination with foreign and national experts, ministries, and decision and policy makers in India and abroad. The aim was to bridge the gap between India and other developed nations.

The journey of ICDL began in 2004 with financial and intellectual support from Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Several DL luminaries came forward and join hands with TERI to make this event a grand success. The first conference was inaugurated by Hon’ble Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the then President of India. The recommendations were submitted to Ministry of Culture for implementation. Evaluation poor state of public libraries in India, one of the recommendations was allocating funds for developing public library system in India. It triggered a large number of DL developments such as DLI initiatives by the Indian government and several national/international events in India aimed at bridging the digital divide between the developing and developed countries. It also provided a platform and enable interaction among DL amateurs and luminaries.

Seeing overwhelming responses from all corners - government, librarians and publishers, the International Conference on Digital Libraries (ICDL) was held in 2006 and 2010 also. Since beginning, ICDLs were fortunate to receive support of Indian government, online publishers, renowned speakers, organizations and participants. In the last three ICDLs speakers have been invited from over 25 countries.

This year’s conference went a step ahead in strengthening new bonds in the digital world. While summing up, V Srinivas, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, said, “ICDL 2013 is a huge success as it has pioneering recommendations with regard to taking digital library movement forward. It is a significant international movement.” Added Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharti, New Delhi said: “Having such a variety of experts can yield benefits only if post conference digestion of knowledge is organized systematically and extraction of relevant recommendations are sent to those who need to work on them.”


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