TCLP's Student Council member Simpy Sharma was chosen as one of the two Emerging International Voices from India for the IFLA – International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and Goethe-Institut-Deutsch lernen program. On completion of the project she wrote about her learning, and experiences while setting up TCLP's digital library platform Duniya Sabki.
It was a big step for a community library in New Delhi to build a digital library during the lockdown. This global platform highlighted the potential of what digital libraries can accomplish, provided they are accessible.
We are, first and foremost, a community library and we always try to think about our members first. Any new initiative is based on what our community needs, how it will benefit them, and how it fits into our goal of creating excellent and thoughtful community spaces for reading and thinking. In March this year the lockdown put us in a position where we had to try developing a free digital library for our members. We knew that so many of our members did not have basic digital rights and acknowledged that the online library would be good for only some of our members. Even those members who had devices were struggling with technical knowledge and accessing education, so we knew that there were major gaps we could fill through our digital library.
My main reason for participating in this webinar series on digital libraries was that I wanted to represent the ideas of my library. We run free community libraries in New Delhi, India, in neighbourhoods which have largely working-class populations. It is important that we become a part of global discussions on digital libraries. I participated because I wanted to learn and help my library through the ideas and discussions shared with all the participants in this webinar.
During the pandemic, when everyone was at home and everything was closed, we started the digital library by thinking about the needs of our members. One of the strengths of the digital library is how it has connected us with our members and provided a sense of solidarity among patrons. We never envisaged that we might one day open a digital library, but this is what we have done. Just as the physical library is important to us, the digital library now is too.
During the webinars Luke Swarthout affirmed that digital libraries are powerful, and he also talked about the distinction between build/buy/join strategies in relation to digital platforms. I had not paid attention to this difference before. For me, a digital library had only meant an online library. I had never looked at how a digital library was made, or understood that for a digital library we either had to create a new app, purchase one, or join an existing app or platform.
For our digital library we have joined an existing app, but we have also built some groups for our library. We have created some groups on WhatsApp, through which we send a lot of stories, distribute read-alouds and communicate important news to our members. We have also created a website. Maybe it is better to build our own platforms where we can keep things as we wish and where no one can stop or limit us.
Marie Oestergaard spoke about library apps and how they try to engage their members and community using such apps. But in our libraries in India, the use of such apps may not be as successful due to the vast numbers of people who do not have the tools to use the app, the resources to access the internet, or a device. Such an app will prove useful in a future where we have more equitable access to basic digital rights. Our physical library ran a lot of workshops, including a book club and groups for reading fluency, drama, dance, guitar, poetry, teenagers and film. With our digital library, we are trying to continue a lot of things online for our members. We have held some online workshops through our digital library like the six-week intensive reading fluency programme, a poetry workshop and a book club. In the future maybe we will do many such online workshops so that our members will get to learn something new.
In her presentation, Katie Moffat asked an important question: ‘How can we make sure that we create platforms that suit the users’ needs?’ In the early days of creating and running the digital library, we also thought about this question, but after many surveys and phone calls we got to know that our online library is working. We continue to address ongoing problems as they arise.
Marie Oestergaard talked about the relationship between the library and its members/community. She told us about Denmark's e-learning system, communication about literacy. The library mix includes: relation, intimacy, safe togetherness, digital community building, contemplation, and peer-to-peer learning using all platforms! We have to be clear about how our libraries value our communities. We always think about our members and their needs; we used to do community walks to learn what they think about us and whether we are doing good work or not. As part of our digital library we make phone calls to canvas our members and to maintain our relationship with them. All our digital library efforts are built on the relationships that we have with our communities. They play a huge role towards maintaining and improving them.
I know that the online library can be a powerful tool. Our physical library is closed, so our members are using the online library and when we reopen the library, not all our members will come back. They will take some time and some members may have found the online library easier and better to use. I think we will run both online and physical libraries in the future, to increase our members’ opportunities for accessing the library.