Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Controversy at Indian National Library Over "Missing" Books

On 4 August, the Times of India reported that an audit of the Indian National Library in Kolkata (Calcutta) had revealed that up to 40% of books and documents were "reportedly not found" when called for. These items included "books, manuscripts and letters associated with Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and Sarojini Naidu." The report also claimed that the "register containing records of the library's Rare Books Division itself is untraceable."

The following day, another report (also in the Times) quoted R Ramachandran, director-in-charge of the National Library as saying: "No such documents relating to Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and Sarojini Naidu are missing or stolen from the library. The rare books division of the library maintains catalogues of its holdings, which is the necessary record of the collection. No departure has been found between the records and actual collection."

Ramachandran's statement 'clarifies' the library's "not found" policy: "'Not found' books do not mean that books are stolen or missing. Some books are misplaced while some other are unfit for use. So these books could not be issued to readers when requisitions are placed. It is also to be noted that in big libraries 'not found' is not an uncommon phenomenon."

The BBC has more, including comments from an unnamed official in the Comptroller and Auditor General's office who said "We have found readers complaining that they cannot get most of the rare books and manuscripts they like to read for research purposes." Ramachandran further rebutted the charges, saying that when the CAG team came to the library, "we gave them all co-operation but some of our staff were on leave and we could not provide all documents. We can provide them now." He said the library has set up a five-member panel to examine the allegations levelled in the CAG report, and blamed staff shortages for the library's inability to properly account for all items all the time (it has been 11 years, he said, since a complete inventory of the national library's collections has been conducted).