Punjab is still without a public libraries Act that has been implemented in 20 other states for a single, unified system of control and organisation of these sources of information.
The Act facilitates sharing of resources and access to the largesse of funds from the central government under various schemes. Punjab was to implement it in 1993 but political apathy has caused it to linger for two decades. “A fresh look at the Act was taken in 2011 when Sewa Singh Shekhwan was education minister,” said Balbir Kaur, librarian at Patiala’s Central State Library, largest in the state and run by the department of higher education.
For the past four years, languages, the nodal state department for the drafting and implementing the Act (when it comes into being), has been corresponding with the government on what it will include. “Last month, we sent the government a final draft but again there are some queries on it and we have to reply to those and then see what happens,” said Chetan Singh, director, languages. He hoped that the law would be in place soon. “Once the draft Act is approved, it should get the cabinet and assembly nod, too,” he said.
The draft Punjab Public Libraries and Information Services Act provides for a single department that will take over the various functioning libraries in the state. “Right now multiple government agencies run libraries. The villages have panchayat libraries, municipalities have their own, the higher education department has own. Even the languages department has a reference library in Patiala. All will come under one control,” said Chetan Singh.
Because of this multiplicity, there is a lot of wastage of resources. The modernising libraries employ different resources, software, and companies. “Once we have the Act, these resources can be shared,” said Balbir Kaur.
The state loses out on a host of funds available under the central schemes aimed at maintaining libraries and books. The departments of culture and education department, as also the University Grants Commission (UGC) also have funds.