People view librarians as peons'
K nown for his efforts in documenting thousands of records relating to South Asia, James Nye , the bibliographer for south Asia at the University of Chicago Library, was in Bhubaneswar to speak at the Odisha Knowledge Lecture series hosted by the state government.
His connection with India began in 1960s, and since then, he has been coming to this country twice every year.
His initiatives also include making the records available online. Anwesha Ambaly of The Telegraph spoke to him on various issues related to archiving of documents and his association with India's history .. How did your interest in South Asian culture develop? It came from one man, Norvin Hein with whom I had studied.
He is the author of The Miracle Plays of Mathura . I was always interested in comparative religious studies, but he encouraged me to study Hindi and Sanskrit texts.
Gradually, I was exposed to interesting stuffs from the entire South Asian region and went deep into it.
.. And why did you find it necessary for archiving content for South Asian studies? I was in a PhD programme studying South Asia when I became aware of the problems such as lack of available records from this region.
Gradually, preservation became a fascination for me, and I got interested into libraries during the early 1980s.
.. When did the need for developing digital resources take shape? We were getting pressure from students and faculty members that people studying South Asian culture did not have proper access to content. So, we started the Digital South Asia Library at the University of Chicago in 1999 and began digitising records.
Over the years, the vision grew and we aimed to make all of our resources open for anyone in the world to use free of cost. Anyone looking for information related to South Asia could have a one- stop platform to access information on the web.
.. Don't you feel Internet is still inaccessible to large sections of people in Odisha? Yes, it is a cause of concern. I feel that until people have computers, supporting book movement in physical form would work. Thereafter, we could move to the digitised formats such as CDs, and later on, Internet might come handy years down the line. It is a long way to go, but things will take course with time.
.. How do you look forward to collaboration with Odisha for better archival purposes? The government has a great role to play in it. They have assured me of connecting with the state archives and other museum, so that more records could be included. That apart, we are also looking forward to working with private collectors such as the Dasarathi Pattnaik Library or local organisations such as Srujanika that already have digitised records. I am looking forward to joining hands and helping one another.
.. How is the collection in the open archives from Odisha developing? Initially, we included dictionaries or encyclopaedias. We are focusing on rare resources, especially newspapers and periodicals these days. We will shortly include the collection of Odia paper Utkal Deepika that is with the state archives. But, there are many that have gone out of trace. We should work collectively to bring them together and make those available.
This goes not only for Odia, but also for other regional languages.
.. Your idea of Odisha's culture… This is my first visit, but I have studies the culture. I am fascinated by the very large population of tribal communicates, and that learning about the diversities, including their music or religious practices, was indeed admirable.
.. What are the challenges that one faces in the field of preservation? I think financial challenges are a big one. We need a lot of money to do this. Also, there are not many library schools that are producing people who could do this. More dedicated manpower is required for preservation. Sometimes, the government is also a hindrance.
It brings joy to collaborate with people, who are passionate, and until one has the devotion for the purpose, things would not be any good.
.. Do you feel that the study of history is gathering momentum or is it on the decline? It is continuing to rise in the North America and Europe, but it is definitely decreasing in India. Not many people would go to Utkal or Ravenshaw University to engage in language or historical studies.
The same goes for library sciences. People these days prefer medicine, law or economics instead. The scenario makes me sad. It is very important that the upcoming generations realise the need to study ancient or modern history.
.. Do you feel that the role of a bibliographer is significant in India as it is in western countries? There is also a cultural problem where people have viewed librarians nothing more than peons. There is a deep need for people across all the fields in library sciences. From people selecting or cataloguing to administrators, who could run library as organisations, the needs are rising but the gap is huge. But, there are great opportunities and the country needs to realise that.
.. How has the process of sharing of resources from India with libraries abroad evolved over the years? Initially, there was no one collecting serious stuff related to India except for texts on classical languages such as Sanskrit.
There were almost zero records on regional literature.
It was when the Library of Congress set up its office in 1962 in New Delhi that they began shipping books and the collections increased. We got a lot of regional materials, including ones in Odia, and we were able to preserve old books properly. Recently, we have expanded our efforts by digitising them as well.
.. How do you view the archival process evolving in India 10 years down the line? I hope it improves. There will be better descriptions and cataloguing of manuscripts. I also feel that many more books will be visible online. This is possible through collaborations among various stakeholders in the field. Around 3.5 million people from this country hit the open archives every month.
One of my deep commitments after retiring in April next year will be to ensure that people from the most rural parts of India have access to Internet . James Nye in conversation with The Telegraph . Picture by Sanjib Mukherjee