Public Librarian with a Distinctive and Dynamic Role
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur Sandhu, presently working as District Librarian at District Library Amritsar has over two and half decades of experience working in different types of libraries of Punjab. She is a Public Librarian with a Distinctive and Dynamic Role. She has been actively working for promoting reading habits and the use of public libraries among natives. She is making lots of effort to make the District Library Amritsar a very inviting place by organizing various activities and programmes from time to time. Dr. Prabhjot is very active in the LIS field and has written a number of research articles for national and international conferences/ workshops/ seminars, training and has delivered invited lectures and motivational talks and has organized a number of workshops for library professionals. She has more than 25 research papers to her credit and has authored a book in the library and information science.
Dr Prabhjot Kaur has represented International Emerging Library Innovators (INELI) of India and South Asia at ‘Global INELI Libraries Meet’ at Seattle (America) on an invitation of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and MSSRF. She was also a member of the ‘Indian Public Library Movement Impact Group’- a monitoring body which was to observe changes in the public libraries of India. A vice president of Punjab College Librarians Association, she is also a life member of the Indian Librarian Association and other national and regional professional bodies.
Recognizing her selfless services towards the community, the Punjabi Samvaad (NGO) honoured her with Women active for social cause Award 2017 on International Women’s Day 2017, Naari Chetna Manch (NGO) honoured her for her zeal, self-motivation, dedication and un-ending commitment to work for society. She is bestowed by Award of Honour on 72nd Independence Day (2018) by Finance Minister, S.Manpreet Singh Badal for delivering the best public library services. Sri Guru Ram Dass Avatar Purab Committee Amritsar on its Golden jubilee honoured her with the ‘Special Service Award 2018’ for selflessly working towards society. Literary forum- Punjabi Sabiyachar Sath te Sahit Santha honoured her on International Women’s Day 2019 and also Rotary Club conferred her with the “Influential Women’s Award 2019 for serving the people through the public library.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: Tell us about your background. Also, tell what led you to libraries?
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: You know, I was destined to be a librarian. I got two post-graduation degrees one in English and another one in Library and Information Science (LIS) and Ph.D. in LIS from Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar. My journey as a librarian started when–after getting my masters in English; I happened to visit the library science department to meet my uncle who was then Head of the department, he suggested me to do BLIS rather than wasting one year waiting for the admission in M.Phil (English). I reluctantly joined, however, later on, I finished MLIS securing the second position in the university. While I was working on my MLIS dissertation, I was offered the post of librarian in Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School for Girls where I worked for two years. Deciding to pursue research in library science, I made a quit my job and joined the Department of Library Science and Information Science, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar as a research scholar. However, I was not able to continue my research work as I was on my family’s way. I was completely bedridden for six months, thereafter I was entirely occupied with my premature baby girl. Pre and post pregnancy kept me away from my profession for a while. To overcome this agony, my husband advised me to take up to do B.Ed. I completed my B. Ed. degree from Khalsa College of Education where I later also worked as the librarian. While applying for a job at Army School, Cantonment, I submitted applications for two posts; for an English teacher and for the post of librarian. As destined, I was offered the post of the school librarian and this is how my journey as librarian resumed.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: What was your career path before coming to the District Library Amritsar?
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: After my selection by Punjab Public Service Commission in 1997, my first joining as a college librarian was at Government College Karamsar, District Ludhiana. Every day commuting from Amritsar to Karamsar was arduous, tiring which at the initial stage I did for my little daughter who had already suffered a lot due to her premature birth. While traveling, many times, I fell sick which made tough to travel every day. For a few months, I shared a room with my colleague at Ludhiana. Later, I was transferred to Government College Bhulath, District Kapurthala, first librarian to join that college since its opening. The college had no library as such, few books in almirahs that’s it. It was to start from the beginning, laboratory tables were altered and used fora library. My one and half year stay in the college was totally devoted to establishing a library. Thereafter I was transferred to District Public Library Amritsar.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: You said “A smart city needs smart libraries, especially public libraries that have the potential of becoming community development hubs. I want to build up the district library one step at a time, until we reach our goal,” What efforts you have put in for this?
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: It is very much clear that public libraries are people’s universities and the main role of public libraries is to keep the public well informed and provide information freely and easily. Libraries have to serve beyond books especially public libraries which are to serve the community by fulfilling their information needs they medium they choose and also provide solutions to them. It has to be relevant and useful free space for life to the communities in the present scenario where patrons have access to the flow of information and build their skills needed in the globalized world.
So with an aim to establish a connection between library and community, I started organizing activities at the library with the support of individuals and institutions. Various activities were organized in the thematic category of culture and heritage such as mother’s day was celebrated, in the category of health, Meditation sessions were held for both school students and adults to learn the knack of focusing. Apart from this, Seminars on reading habits and health awareness were also conducted. Another unique aspect of this library is that it conducted many live health sessions (IPLM, MSSRF) covering a broad range of topics like nutrition and diet, etc. In the category of personnel development also this library has not failed to leave a mark. They have contributed immensely by conducting storytelling and drawing competitions and have also tried to impart knowledge about the environment and gender sensitivity among the young
Amritsar is one of the cities to be developed as a smart city, taking this opportunity, I submitted a proposal of a smart public library to then CEO of Amritsar Smart City Project Ltd.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: Please share your experience as a writer.
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: As a writer, I had done several paper presentations and attended several conferences and seminars at national and international levels.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: You were a pioneer in establishing a library in Jail. Please tell me something about how you we re involved in this project and how you actually established the library?
It was a call from district administration to contribute books for the new library. There were no guidelines to give away books from the district library to open up a library. It was an initiative to start with a new library which I do not want to let it go. So I gave a call to the community to donate books for opening new library for inmates of jail for which I got an overwhelming response. The library was able to donate more than thousands of books on various subjects for the new library. I also trained an inmate for accessioning the collection and for issuing process.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: How you decided to put in your efforts to promote National Reading Month 2019. Please share the experience and activities during this month?
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: Being an INELI innovator, I had an opportunity to be part of this mission since its inception in 2017. The library was already organizing various activities for the community,by joining this mission I was more focused on promoting reading habit among all. I find, it is very important to motivate people to read as the sole aim of libraries is not a mere collection but to encourage usage of resources of the libraries which will make libraries alive, a knowledge hub. Public library functioning is not limited to mere circulation of books for academics or for research,its much more than this. Through this mission, I am able to motivate people for leisure reading which a total miss these days. During reading month -19th June -18th July, focus is to organize reading related activities not only in the district library but also outside the library. In 2019, library organized activity promoting reading everyday during the reading month, many times two or more activities within a day in the library and in schools. Such activities have brought the library in publicity as the knowledge hub.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: Please share your experience at International Emerging Library Innovators (INELI) of India?
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: Before being part of INELI program, I had ideas to improve library services but was implementing these ideas with uncertainty and not very confidently as I am doing now after joining MSSRF’s programme- INELI of India and South Asia. I am implementing ideas to improve library services and connect community with library. As INELIAN, I am working selflessly to make my library a community knowledge center. I am actively engaged with the community to create awareness that public libraries can successfully function beyond books.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: You were a part of South Asia at Global INELI Libraries Meet at Seattle (America) on an invitation of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and MSSRF. Please provide a brief on it.
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: It was a wonderful learning and a great honor for me to represent the country and INELIANS. Global INELI libraries convening organized by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation held at its Headquarter, Seattle, America from 28th February to 2nd March 2018. In this meet, participants from the other 7 regional chapters of the world learned innovative library services of outstanding public libraries. This meet brought together public librarians of various countries to share their experiences of demonstrating diverse need-based knowledge services for their communities through public libraries, across their countries. It was a big platform for me to share my journey as an innovator with the other seven regional INELI innovators. The First time, I had an opportunity to share my journey as an INELI with the help of igniting presentation which was appreciated by all. In words of NancyJ.Annabel, director of the project—-
Dr. Preeti Sharda: You are also a member of the Indian Public Library Movement Impact Group- a monitoring body which observes changes in the public libraries of India. Do you think your presence has made a difference?
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: It was a great opportunity to be a member of the IPLM Impact group. We had many brainstorming sessions to bring momentum to this movement across the country, to involve others and to improve the working of public libraries. Sadly this movement is not picking up due to some unknown issues.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: Describe your experience as a member of the National Organising Committee of P.N. Panikar and Reading Mission 2022-a a mission initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to connect 300 million people with reading.
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: Recognizing the importance of Reading and its influence in human development Honourable Prime minister Mr.Nadrendra Modi ji launched on 22nd National Reading Day- reading month celebrations at Kochi on 17th June 2017 and requested P.N.Panickar foundation to Initiate a National Level movement to promote reading habits with an emphasis of digital reading. For 23rd National Reading Day- Reading Month celebration 2018, a meeting was held on 21st May 2018 at the constitution Club, New Delhi.
As one of the members of the National Organizing committee from 19 states, I attended for planning the proceeding of Reading mission for the year 2018. The Committee was chaired by P.J.Kurien, Honourable Deputy Chairman of Panickar foundation and the RajyaSabha, Baby Sahib, Afrose Ahmad, Ministry of Water Resource Mr.BalaGopal, Shadrack, Ms.Meenakshilekhi, Member Parliament from New Delhi, AnibanSarma, National program officer, Unesco officials. All the special invitees promised to extend their full support and cooperation for the Reading Mission and also suggested to a co-related Reading mission with the Environment., each participant provided ways to achieve the target in the four years and ways to organize the reading mission. This year, NitiAayog notified to chief sectaries of all states to organize activities related to reading
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: Since its establishment, PCLA has been working very actively for the librarians of Punjab. College librarians in Punjab had got parity of status and scale because of the untiring efforts of PCLA. I thank my seniors for their contribution to the upliftment of profession in the state and always seek their guidance as vice president of PCLA 2019-20.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: You are the recipient of ‘Women Active for Social Cause Award 2017’, ‘Special Service Award 2018’, “Influential Women’s Award 2019’ and you have been honored many times for serving the people through the public library. Do these awards have motivated you to work harder?
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: In my opinion, awards bestowed are recognization of one’s sincere efforts that one put in one’s work. I am sure nobody does it only for an award. Awards bring along more responsibility, to perform, act better than earlier .to outdo oneself. Definitely, it’s one’s commitment towards its work and oneself that gets the award . It is a kind of recognition one gets in the form of award.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: Library an engine of change – promoting reading, Elaborate.
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: “Libraries change lives”. In my opinion, whosoever enters the library is not the same when he leaves it. He is enriched with more information, knowledge when he leaves the library. I would quote an example of ex -watchman of the library who was illiterate when he joined his duty. He learned reading and writing after coming to the library and he gives credit to the library for his education. He shared that every day he saw people reading newspapers, magazines, etc in the library which inspired him to do the same. It may seem an ordinary incident but has a deep message. If the library is part of your routine, it brings change and promotes reading too.
Dr. Preeti Sharda: You message to students and literature lovers.
Dr. Prabhjot Kaur: My message to everyone – ‘Begin your journey as a reader from a personal library and reach out to your public library’. Both libraries help one to be a better human and a citizen.
(It was a great honour to take an interview with a dedicated, very humble and a very hardworking professional like Dr. Prabhjot Kaur. Thank you so much, Dr. Prabhjot, for sparing time from your busy schedule. Interview can also be found at https://indialibrarians.blogspot.com/)