March 09, 2009

Today the Auroville Library is online

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A library in crisis - Priya Sundaravalli
The Auroville Library urgently needs a new building

Jürgen himself is not trained in the library sciences – he studied philosophy. “I learnt along the way, and I am still learning.” When Jürgen first came to Pondicherry , he was assigned the task of managing the little Auroville library then located in Pondicherry overlooking the beach. “That was for a short time,” he says, “but it was the first thing I was called to do.” Later he moved on to other things. Eleven years ago, when Lloyd decided to stop working at the Library, Jürgen took over.

In some ways, Jürgen reminds one of a character from one of the books on his shelves, a philosopher-scholar-pioneer-librarian all rolled into one – quirky and sentimental when it comes to books, gruff and grumpy with patrons who break the unwritten codes of library etiquette but quickly forgiving too, and tech-savvy, unafraid to embrace the developments of 21st century library science. But managing and running the Library, he confesses, has been an uphill battle.

For over three years, he has been working to get a new site and building plans approved. “We found a location opposite the Solar Kitchen in what is called the city centre area. It would also house the existing audio and video libraries.” He explains that Roger Anger had approved the building site before he passed away and L'Avenir d'Auroville also gave its support. But the project got stalled for lack of funds. At the moment Jürgen, with the help of architect Suhasini, has resubmitted a revised and scaled-down proposal.

Jürgen has a grand vision of uniting the different libraries in Auroville under one virtual platform. In 2005, he initiated the ‘All Auroville Library Project'. Its goal was to create an electronic database, linking all the libraries' databases, and to make this accessible from any location via the intranet. The idea found support from Stichting de Zaaier but the project could not fully manifest as not all the Auroville libraries wanted to participate. “The reason given was lack of manpower,” says Jürgen. Yet he went ahead and demonstrated the viability of the idea using an open source software, NewGen Lib. Today the Auroville Library is online. Registered patrons can renew books electronically, place reservations, or even download e-books from this site. The Library's catalogueing and readers registration systems are now state-of-the-art.

Jürgen has managed the near-impossible, with an insufficient budget, a derelict building, lack of infrastructure and unqualified staff. The Auroville Library now needs a better building. Urgently.

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