Belinda Ramnauth: ‘National Library seeks to foster the reading habit’

Qs & As

Belinda Ramnauth: “In each shopping mall, there should be one library. This will boost people’s interest”

Although much information is available online nowadays – a trend that cannot be stopped – there is still a place for ‘physical’ libraries where people can actually handle books and other reading material, and enjoy their reading in a congenial and conducive atmosphere. However, even such ‘physical’ libraries are offering access to digital platforms in-house, which they have access to through institutional arrangements not possible for individuals. Libaries can also foster interactions among their readers and build up a culture of reading and exchange which can take the coming generations to another level. Mrs Belinda Ramnauth, Director National Library, in answers to our questions sends encouraging signals that her institution is moving in the right direction for the future.

* Things appear to be moving at the National Library. Funds have finally been earmarked and a MOU signed with the Université des Mascareignes for the digitisation of documents stacked at the Library. A new building to house the National Library is also in the pipeline. Tell us what’s happening and why it took so long in the making?

It took so long because the necessary funds were not given to us in the preceding budget. It’s only last year that a sum of Rs 9 million has been earmarked, over a span of 3 years.

Last year, some two months before approval of the budget, a staff from Université des Mascareignes came to see me to discuss a collaboration on digitisation.

  1. The matter was approved by the board. An MOU was drafted and then vetted; after final approval, the date of 11th April was finalised for the signature.
  2. The following week, a meeting was held, comprising Université des Mascareignes and National Library staff to discuss the planning and scheduling of the project (i.e., “who is doing what”).
  3. Tender and Quotations have already been launched for the above project by us. Meanwhile UDM is bringing a consultant from abroad who will give us further training on digitization.

* What happens next in terms of access by the public to the digitised documents? Have cost to the public and copyright issues, etc., already been addressed?

This will be discussed at a later stage. We must start with the project first.

* There must be some overlaps in the responsibilities and activities of the National Library and National Archives with both institutions operating in more or less the same areas of interest. Has this issue been addressed to the satisfaction of both institutions and other stakeholders, namely the general public? Or do we need to revise the laws so that there is no duplication or misunderstanding about the functions of both institutions?

No, there will not be any overlapping. National Archives is digitising its manuscripts and some very old documents. Here at National Library, we shall digitise the newspapers first. Our documents are not of the same nature.

* Is there more that the National Library does and can do beyond what has been defined in its legislation many years back? Would you also say that its mission and objectives need revisiting in view of challenges ahead?

At the National Library, we do much more than what people know or is visible. Apart from research and reading offered to the public, we compile an annual list of all local publications, bibliographies, keep a close contact with publishers and printers for all publications, book fair, debates, allocate number to periodicals and have a control herewith, attend to users’ request, etc.

Yes, we envisage to review our mission and objectives in the near future.

* Whose responsibility is it, at the institutional level, to popularise reading in the country. Is it the National Library’s?

I can say National Library is amongst the several other intuitions which must encourage reading and reading culture. Since our main collection is ‘books’ so obviously we must do our maximum, to make people come to our library to read or do research. The National Library is also the central depository of Mauritiana books.

* The view has been expressed in different quarters that more public libraries should be set up across the country with a view to facilitating people’s access to reading materials. Besides the funding required for such a project, would you say that extending this facility all over the island would indeed be of interest to the people?

You will definitely agree that quality and quantity are two different things. There are few “libraries” set up in places where hardly one or two persons visit per day (especially in villages). On the other hand, one wonders why should people go to libraries when the collection is poor and stagnant. So, I believe, yes, opening more libraries but with current and uptodate books and magazines, comfortable tables and chairs, pleasant reading corner, open up to late evening – these may attract people. In each shopping mall, there should be one library. This will boost people’s interest and ultimately, they will start visiting the library.

* Is there scope for the National Library to act as facilitator for students and researchers to get access to the documents and archives of national libraries based in Europe, USA or Asia without their having to be physically present in those places?

Obviously. We already do help the users in this domain. We offer free internet access to the public, printing and scanning services and my staff are always there to help those who have difficulties to search for their information. We guide them in their request and research.

Today being located in Port Louis we have two major problems which are: no parking facilities to the users and we cannot open till late. I am convinced that once we move to our own building in Ebene, the above problems will be eliminated and users will come more often to the National Library. We shall also introduce other new services to the public.

* Published in print edition on 17 May 2019

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