Libraries provide free access to information: Hamid Ansari

New Delhi, Oct 26 (IANS) Vice President Hamid Ansari on Wednesday said libraries still continued to play a central role in providing open and free access to information and ideas despite the explosion of information now being produced in digital form.

Ansari was speaking after inaugurating the 19th National Convention here on Knowledge, Library and Information Networking (NACLIN 2016) organised jointly by Tezpur University and Developing Library Network (New Delhi).

“With the advent of the internet, the library is no longer a physical place, but has been transformed into a placeless resource. Despite this paradigm shift, it remains true that libraries continue to play a central role in providing open and free access to information and ideas,” Ansari said.

He said the internet not only accelerates the pace of knowledge dissemination, but also gives rise to changing conceptions of knowledge production and use.

He also advised libraries to be more active as the explosion of information now being produced in digital form has dramatically changed expectations about the production as well as the use of knowledge.

Giving an example of social networks and social media which have become more important in people’s learning strategies, he said: “Libraries must assert their evolving roles in more active ways, both in the context of their institutions and in the increasingly competitive markets for information dissemination and retrieval.”

“Libraries must transform and avail these opportunities to remain vital forces of knowledge dissemination in the years ahead,” he said.

He said we are living in the information age and this implies that the main sector of economic productivity is changing from agriculture and manufacturing to creation and processing of information and knowledge.

He pointed out that “the libraries have the obligation to act as equalizers in the present context”.

He further said that by providing equitable and affordable access to knowledge and information to larger numbers in society, they can allow a larger proportion of the society to participate in the knowledge driven growth.

“Libraries of the 21st century can thus help fight poverty and narrow the gap between rich and poor. For the first time in history perhaps, the poor have an opportunity to enhance their wealth through the creation and use of knowledge. And libraries can play a central role in this notable movement.”

Reading an interesting note of caution sounded recently by astrophysicist Stephen Hawkins, he said our digital future may be dystopian with the growth of artificial intelligence threatening the very human existence.

“It is relevant to remind ourselves that technology in the service of humankind has its limits.”

He also quoted technologist Elon Musk, who has said that the advancement of artificial intelligence can create a situation where humans become “house-pets” of the machines and warned that such power should be “broadly distributed” and not be “concentrated in the hands of a few”.

In this scheme of things, one should not forget the role of libraries. This was summed up by UNESCO in 1994 and remains valid, he said.

“The public library, the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision-making and cultural development of the individual and social groups,” he added.