Dr Akhtar Parvez: A Self-Possessed and Resourceful Librarian
Dr. Akhtar Parvez is University Librarian at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, (MANUU). Before joining MANUU he headed the library of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management Indore. He has about 30 years of professional experience of working in prestigious institutions, both in government and private sector, including National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), The American Center-USIS-New Delhi, DELNET, India International Centre and the leading credit rating agency, ICRA.
Dr. Parvez has authored one book, edited 11books/conference proceedings and has contributed 17 papers in journals and books. He is Managing Editor of Journal of Library Management; Member,Editorial Board, GYANKOSH: The Journal of Library and Information Management and International Research; and, Journal of Library and Information Science published by King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Besides these, he held several important positions including Chairperson, IIM Indore Website Committee (2013-2016), first Appellate Authority on RTI Matters, IIM Indore (2014 to 2016), Editor, IIM Indore Quarterly Newsletter (2012 to 2016), Member, Institutional Academic Integrity Panel, MANUU (2019- ), and so on. He is recipient of the AIMS International-IRMA Outstanding Management Librarian Award given by Association of Indian Management Scholars 2016, SRFLIS India Library Leaders: Promising Professional Award 2013, ILA-Promoter Award 2002, Best Young Librarian Award 2015 of Indore Division Library Association, VishwaLaxmi Best Management Librarian Award by INMANTEC Institutions, etc.
Dr. Parvez is an efficient and effective information manager and is very energetic library professional who also involves himself in various other professional activities. He is truly a knowledge repository with ability to go in to the minutest details of the tasks that are assigned to him. He leads by example and works diligently and with curiosity to explore new avenues for the betterment of the organisation.
Dr Preeti Sharda: Please tell something about your background. Also, tell whether you are in LIS profession by chance or by choice?
Dr Akhtar Parvez: I come from a middle-class family, born and brought up in Delhi. I did my library science graduation from Jamia Millia Islamia and PhD. from the University of Delhi. I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant and like many other people; I did not join the LIS profession by choice. My father passed away quite early when I was in the first year of Bachelor of Commerce. Being the eldest son, I had greater responsibilities, I even started thinking of discontinuing my studies and joining my father’s business. However, my mother did not allow this. After completing my graduation in 1987, I was looking for a one-year professional course which could get me a job quickly, this is why I joined BLIS in Jamia. Though I didn’t join this profession by choice, I love my job and I am very proud of it. So, basically, it is because of my mother that I could do this course!
Dr Preeti Sharda: Please share your journey from the American Center to MANUU.
Dr Akhtar Parvez: I am very happy and satisfied whatever little I could achieve in the profession. Let me share some of my experiences with you. During my library science course, I did one-month training at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in May 1988 under Mr. Joseph Sebastian, Librarian, NCAER. During my Library Science course (1987-88 batch), we were taken to the American Center Library (ACL), USIS, New Delhi, for an education tour (around Jan-Feb 1988). I found the ACL a great library and wished if I could get a chance to work there. After a few weeks of our visit, I sent an application for the internship to Ms. Heera Kapasi, the then Library Director, and, fortunately I was selected for 8-months internship programme at the ACL. The internship helped me all my life and is helping me even now. Apart from a clear understanding of library science principles, I was trained for discipline, hard work, sense of equality, self-help and so on.
I used to be a very shy person and my first boss, Ms. Heera Kapasi realised it quite early. She used to frequently call me in her office and repeatedly ask me ‘why don’t you speak, Akhtar, what is the problem with you, why don’t you join some speaking classes’. I used to quietly listen to all this and promised to her every time that I will start speaking, but interestingly, to her disappointment, it never happened during my internship of 8 months at the ACL. I have no words to thank her for everything she did for me.
There was no looking back after this. I joined DELNET on contractual basis as its first employee in February 1989. DELNET (initially a project of NISSAT) was operating from Indian International Center (IIC). I was assigned the job of retro-conversion of books of IIC library. In addition to this, I was supposed to train the staff of various libraries situated in Delhi in the use of UNESCO CDS/ISIS software and CCF (Common Communication Format). After a couple of years of my stay at IIC, I witnessed the arrival of email services. To promote email service in the libraries of Delhi, NISSAT provided a good number of modems to DELNET and I was asked to train the librarians of Delhi in the use of email services. When I got an offer from Jamia Millia Islamia for the position of Semi-Professional Assistant, Dr. H.K. Kaul did not allow me to leave and he absorbed me at the IIC on a higher position i.e. Professional Assistant in 1991. DELNET/IIC experience was highly enriching and satisfying. However, in 1995, I started thinking of changing my job and in July 1995, I joined the Investment Information Credit Rating Agency of India (ICRA) as a full-fledged librarian on a very high salary. For me, ICRA proved an excellent workplace, both, in terms of the assignments undertaken by me and also financially. I spent almost 16 years at ICRA and got a chance to work with some of the finest human beings including Mr. P.K. Choudhury, Managing Director; Mr. D.N. Ghosh, Chairman (who is also the former chairman of State Bank of India, Phillips, L&T, etc.), Mr. Saumitra Chaudhuri (former Member of the Planning Commission and PM’s Economic Advisory Council during UPA-1 and UPA-2) and Professor Deepak Nayyar, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Delhi.
In 2010-11, a strange feeling developed in me of working in a premier management institution of the country. Luckily, Librarian position was advertised by IIM Indore in January 2011 and I got selected, it was like a dream come true. Since ICRA was a good paymaster, joining IIM Indore at a lower salary (more than half of ICRA’s salary) was a very big decision and that was one reason which took for me almost five months to decide about the joining. Finally, I joined IIM Indore in July 2011 where I got exposed to some of the finest resources in the world.
In October 2016, I got an invitation to deliver a lecture during a Refresher Course at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad which finally led to my joining at this University in January 2017. Leaving my IIM Indore colleagues was very painful, my farewell was so emotional that I will never forget that all my life. Had I known that my colleagues had so much respect and love for me (who did not do anything special for them), I would not have left IIM Indore. I am very happy to note that all the library trainees who worked with me at IIMI are doing very well in their career, a bright future awaits them.
During my professional journey starting in 1988, I witnessed several lows and highs in my career. I always looked at the positive side of the coin leaving the negativity behind. Throughout my career, I gave more importance to team-work and made my colleagues feel that their work was as important as mine. Taking people along is very challenging, but this is something which makes you a matured leader. Staying in the news brings popularity but making your colleagues feel happy about what they do, is the key to taking your organizations to the next level.
Dr Preeti Sharda: What are the noticeable changes in the library of Maulana Azad National Urdu University after January 2017?
Dr Akhtar Parvez: Like many university libraries in India, Maulana Azad National Urdu University library (named as Saiyid Hamid Library) had huge potential for improvement in every area in making the library a better place for library users.
There were a lot of challenges starting from library services, processes, managing human resources, etc. In a couple of months of my joining, I started focusing on some basic issues including training of library staff, improving the quality of catalogue records, developing process of acquisition of books, record keeping, user services, and so on. The biggest complaint from students and faculty were that they were not able to locate books on bookshelves. The major reason for this complaint was that the record-keeping (classification, cataloguing, shelving, etc.) was not up to the mark. So, we decided to improve the quality of catalogue records. My dedicated team of library staff started editing the catalogue records by physically taking every single book out from the shelf and checking the same for the correctness of bibliographic records.
In 2018, we migrated to KOHA from NewGenLib and it is heartening to note that not a single record/field got lost while migrating the data to KOHA software.
By making the best use of technology and especially the use of MS Office Excel, the complete process of book acquisition was transformed resulting in a significant reduction in the time taken for processing of books. In this interview, it would not be possible for me to explain how the transformation took place.
Ascertaining loss of books in a library is a very small outcome of any physical stock verification exercise. The major benefit of stock verification exercise is the maintenance of catalogue records. Let me very humbly say that none of the Indian libraries which I know follow the process what we did for conducting the stock verification. Despite the fact that we are supposed to carry out sample stock verification (as per the GFR 2017 guidelines), we carried out three complete stock verification in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The credit for all this, goes to all my library staff.
There were other small steps like more sitting area for students, extended library hours, regular interaction with students and faculty, faster processing of newly acquired books, etc. which witnessed a significant increase in the use of the library by MANUU community. The circulation figure rose by 70-80% compared to the previous year i.e. 2017. However, this is just the beginning, we need to do more for our users and society.
Dr Preeti Sharda: What differences found between the working in the libraries of Maulana Azad National Urdu University and IIM, Indore?
Dr Akhtar Parvez: This is indeed very interesting and difficult question. Handling IIM Indore library was far less challenging than MANUU in terms of services, HR, finances, etc. Like all other established first-generation IIMs, money is never an issue and we could buy anything which was considered important by the faculty or the Librarian. On the other hand, finances are always scarce in universities, hence, one has to be very careful about the product to be purchased/subscribed. Managing a small number of staff is always easier in IIMs compared to universities. In IIMs, we have well-trained staff whereas the same is not true for people working in university libraries. At IIM Indore, I was supposed to manage one library whereas, being the Nodal Officer of all MANUU libraries, I am supposed to look after a few departmental libraries in MANUU and libraries of satellite campuses of the university. At present, there are 12 satellite campuses located in various cities of the country.
I feel that there is a sea difference in working at IIMs and Universities with regard to the kind of completely different exposures one gets in these institutions. Both have their positives and negatives and I am one of the very few fortunate library professionals who got exposed to various kinds of institutions ranging from the High Commission, private sector, autonomous bodies to the government sector.
Dr Preeti Sharda: Please elaborate on your experience about Moot Court Session on “Copyrights and Anti-Plagiarism Vs Fair and Open Access”.
Dr Akhtar Parvez: I am thankful to late Dr. S. Venkadesan of ISB, Hyderabad who invited me to participate in a moot court type session of an international conference on the topic Copyright and Anti-Plagiarism vs Fair and Open Access. It not only proved to be a great learning experience but was also very entertaining. Venky was the accused of copyright infringement and we all were lawyers. I never knew that Venky was such a lively person. At the end of the session, the so-called jury pronounced him guilty of copyright infringement. His passing away in May 2018 was a great loss to the profession. During my train journey from Delhi to ISB Chandigarh to participate in the discussion, I read the whole judgment, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press vs Rameshwari Photocopy Services of 2016. I also read related newspaper reports and editorials on this issue. I feel that the judgment does not give license to library professionals or library users to photocopy books or other materials as has been propagated by some of the teachers and librarians. The Hon. High Court judgment is in a particular context. An editorial published in the Indian Express on October 14, 2016, argued that the ruling in the case reflected the inability of Indian courts to integrate legal outcomes with robust business models and even suggested that the recent verdict suffered from a deeper problem i.e., a serious lack of vision. Hence, I am of the opinion that academic institutions should interpret the judgment in the right spirit and should not consider the court judgment as a license to violate the prevalent copyright and intellectual property norms. However, I am happy to note that the publishers (Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, UK; Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd.; Taylor & Francis Group, UK; and, Taylor & Francis Books India Pvt. Ltd) decided to withdraw the case against Rameshwari Photocopy from selling photocopies of parts of their books to students as they believed that it was not correct to engage in a legal battle with their stakeholders.
Dr Preeti Sharda: You served as a member of the six members committee of the Indian Library Association on IFLA Project for Translation of Public Libraries Guidelines in 18 Indian Languages. Please tell something about that.
Dr Akhtar Parvez: Oh, that was long back when I was Treasurer of the Indian Library Association (ILA) during the period 2002-2004 & 2004-07. ILA got a project from IFLA for the translation of Public Libraries Guidelines in 18 Indian languages. My role was very limited in the project and all of us at ILA were basically coordinating with various senior librarians and teachers of LIS who contributed immensely in the translation work.
Dr Preeti Sharda: “Akhtar sir sharing a rare moment with the legendary immortal soul: Dr. Kalam”. Please describe this moment in your words.
Dr Akhtar Parvez: It is extremely difficult for me to express my feelings about my brief interaction with Kalam Sahab at IIM Indore in 2012. I never thought that there will be a time in my life when I will be able to meet someone who is an ideal for every Indian citizen including me. It was not even like a dream come true. In our brief interaction, he asked me so many questions about the library and; I believe that I was able to give him satisfactory answers. India will always miss this great soul.
Dr Preeti Sharda: In LIS field so many awards have come up. Rather it has become a give and take a job. Please comment.
Dr Akhtar Parvez: You are absolutely right. In every conference we find that awards are given, not one but many awards to make people happy. I genuinely feel that if we continue giving awards to so many people who do not have any significant contribution to the profession, nobody will value such awards. And, it has started showing up. However, it is still not too late, we should introspect
Dr Preeti Sharda: You have served as general secretary of MANLIBNET for many years. This professional body has initiated several activities including offering international travel grant to library professionals. How its functioning different form other LIS associations.
MANLIBNET was started in the year 2000 and let me acknowledge that all the members of Executive Council in different tenures played their role in making this body a success. Initiated by late Shri Ashok Jambhekar, former Librarian, IIM Ahmedabad, MANLIBNET has matured as one of the most professional LIS associations today. With regard to your question as to how it is different from other bodies, I would like to say that all our awards/recognitions (International Travel Grant, Best Librarian Award, Best Paper Award, etc.) are given only to deserving candidates. Secondly, we truly work on no profit no loss basis and our aim is to contribute to the profession and not to make profit out of MANLIBNET’s activities. Our Librarians Development Programmes (LDPs) are unique programmes of MANLIBNET with an objective of training those librarians who work in remote areas.
Dr Preeti Sharda: How important are the Refresher Course for LIS professionals?
Dr Akhtar Parvez: Extremely important in my opinion provided that the participants are serious about learning and organizers ensure that they are doing justice to the process of learning by inviting learned teachers/librarians to deliver the content. Unfortunately, some UGC-HRDCs focus more on discipline than the content, there needs to be proper balance of both.
Dr Preeti Sharda: Among your friends, you are known for your patience and persistence, goodness and calmness, positivity and happiness. Comment.
Dr Akhtar Parvez: I am very thankful to my friends and well-wishers for their kindness. I do not want take the risk of naming them as I may miss out to mention some of them. I value them a lot and they know it.
Dr Preeti Sharda: Please tell how some innovations can be brought in LIS profession.
Dr Akhtar Parvez: There is a huge scope for bringing innovations in libraries for improving user services. Innovative processes in every section of the library starting with Acquisition, Cataloguing, Circulation, etc. can bring in efficiency in our libraries. I always say that good libraries are those which develop innovative processes and are process driven, and not those which are dependent on librarians and library staff. I am and will keep propagating to my professional friends that developing innovative processes leads to user empowerment.
Dr Preeti Sharda: What are your views with regard to the unethical practices by LIS professionals?
Dr Akhtar Parvez: Unfortunately, we have given up all the values our parents and teachers inculcated in us. Every now and then we hear about corrupt practices people follow in every profession. Apart from financial corruption, in my opinion, If I am not doing the job that has been assigned to me (for which I am paid for) is also corruption.
Dr Preeti Sharda: Any suggestion for upcoming librarians and your final thoughts.
Dr Akhtar Parvez: Honesty, humbleness, commitment and dedication to the profession and organisations we work for, will make us good human beings, and of course, good librarians. There are no shortcuts to success and wisdom. Make libraries process driven and not person driven. Never forget that the library user is the King and libraries are service organisations.
I take this opportunity to thank Dr. Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz, Vice-Chancellor, MANUU; Prof Rishikesha Krishnan, IIM Bangalore; Dr. N. Ravichandran, former Director, IIM Indore; Mr. D.N. Ghosh, former Chairman, ICRA; Mr. P.K. Choudhury, former Group CEO, ICRA; Dr. H. K. Kaul; Prof SP Singh; Ms. Heera Kapasi; Prof Shahabuddin Ansari and Prof Khalid Kamal Faruqi who contributed to my personal and professional development all these years. My wife and children have always been very supportive of all my decisions I took in my career.
I also take this opportunity to thank you, Madam for your support during the whole interview process and for making me so comfortable.
Please accept my sincerest thanks and best wishes to you and your family.
(It was a great honour to take interview of a dedicated, very humble and a very hardworking professional like Dr. Akhtar Parvez. Thank you so much, Dr. Parvez, for sparing time from your busy schedule).