'Libraries are fundamental for the transformation of society'Indira Dali, a librarian advocate, talks about her passion for libraries and how such a facility has been neglected over the years of the country’s development.
For Indira Dali, books are her whole life. The 72-year-old librarian, who is also an advocate of libraries, has worked to build the foundation of many libraries in the country. She is currently the chair of the Dilli Raman Kalayani Regmi Memorial Library Development Board. She was also the coordinator of the library master plan committee for the Nepal National Library and the library digitisation and automation committee, a task force committee created in 2016 by the Ministry of Education to develop the library system and services in the country.
After the national library was ravaged by the 2015 earthquake, it was Dali who had pushed forward the conversation of having a separate space for the national library with former chief librarian Yadav Chandra Niraula. And ever since the government called off the construction of the library, she has been angry. Dali says the news has only consolidated what she’s always felt: the country cares little for the development of libraries, and for its people’s minds.
In a conversation with the Post’ Srizu Bajracharya, Dali talks about her love for books, her dream of studying and her view about the national library’s construction halt.
How were you introduced to the world of books?
My father was a teacher, and at our home in Yangal, where we lived in the 1950s, there were six to seven shelves full of books, mostly containing English literature. My father used to read them to me.
As a child, I used to dream of reading books from all around the world. And I was innocent to believe that I would be able to do that. Every morning, I used to announce to my father: “I don’t want to do anything in life but study. I want to be the most knowledgeable person in the world.”
Did that dream change with time?
In grade 6, my whole life crashed. After my younger sister was born, my father left us to marry another woman in Kathmandu, as my mother could not give him a son. And we didn’t have money and I had stopped going to school.
I was broken but I really wanted to study. One day, my headmaster, in Tika Bidya School, came to visit me and gave me the opportunity to study in a free seat. And that’s how I continued my education.
How I got into higher education is another interesting story. I was trying to get into Madan Memorial Girl’s High School for grade 10, and Parijat [the writer] was incharge of holding the test. She asked me to write an essay about books, but I struggled. By the end, I could only write two lines, which I thought would not be good enough. But Parijat insisted that I should get a chance to study, because of the two lines I had written. And to this day, I remember the lines very clearly: Book is the medicine of minds that cures even those diseases which can’t be cured even by any medicine or doctors.
How did your journey as a librarian start?
In 1967, I started working for the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology as a senior climatological assistant. But it was really difficult to juggle studying with the job because of long shifts at work. I was trying to complete my PhD and it was really difficult for me to even meet my guide teacher or visit the Central Library. And Tribhuvan University had announced a few vacancy positions for assistant administrators and so I applied for it. But I later realised the position was not for the Kirtipur-based university but the campuses around the city.
And they sent me to manage Padma Kanya Campus Library. At first, I was reluctant to go with the offer, as at the time I was only thinking of completing my PhD and I knew nothing about running a library. But they insisted I take library science training for a month, and in 1975, I started working in the Padma Kanya Campus Library.
But with time I realised the importance of libraries and came to learn the job of a librarian is one of the most pious professions in the world. A librarian welcomes each and everyone without any discrimination to fulfill their knowledge needs. And I wanted to be that person who could connect people with knowledge.
Were libraries popular in those days?
No, it was the opposite. You can imagine how our attitude has been towards libraries just by looking at the recent state of the Nepal National Library. And those days were no different, it was never given the respect it deserved. And that was why I became determined to do something in this field. And so, instead of pursuing my PhD degree in Economics, in 1980, I went to study Bachelors in Library Science at Punjab University, Chandigarh, India.
And after that, I came back and worked at Tribhuvan University’ Central Library. There I met Nobue Yamada, who was a volunteer from Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers. She worked at the UN section of the library. Yamada really liked my working style and she recommended my name for advanced library science training in Japan. This was in 1983 and I visited many libraries there.
And then in 1998, I went to Bangalore University in India to pursue Masters in Library and Information Science, as I dreamed of achieving an advanced level of study. And after that I also went to teach in the Department of Library Science in Tribhuvan University.
You have always emphasised the importance of children libraries, but when did you realise its importance?
In Japan when I was visiting libraries, one time when I made it to a bookmobile amid a storm, I saw a child trying to pick books for herself. Her mother was already carrying a bulk of books for her but she wanted more books. And that moment just struck me.
I used to work in the Central Library in those days, and I knew not even 25 percent of that collection had been read or borrowed. Because Nepal didn’t—and it still doesn’t—have a reading culture. The academic libraries were only used to improve grades, but people never came to the library to learn or expand their knowledge. And it struck me that for that to happen, children need to be introduced to books and libraries from a young age. So, I promised myself there that I will open a children library. Because a children library is the foundation of all types and levels of libraries.
And just as you dreamed you did start a children library. How is that going?
In 2010, professor Dr Jiwan Shrestha, human right activist Ganga Kasaju, professor Biddya Hada Shrestha shared their idea about starting an organisation for women and children and asked me to be a member. But I told them I was not interested in the idea.
But when they insisted we work together, I told them I always wanted to open a children library. I also told them I would provide all necessary books and educational toys, furniture and take on the management of the library by myself. In return, I asked them to arrange for a space, which they accepted.
Since then we have been taking turns to run the library through four rooms in Sanepa at Biddya Hada Shrestha’s house. About 15 children from the neighbourhood used to visit almost every day before the pandemic started, sometimes the children number reached up to 40 to 45. Many of the children who visit the library are from the lower economic strata, for them our library is a safe learning space.
But my dream to open a library is still not fulfilled. What I want to do is open a National Children Library, and then I will be able to die in peace.
What does the current situation of the National Library reflect about Nepal?
People still don’t know the difference between public libraries and community libraries. People think it’s the same. And that itself says where we are at in the development of libraries. Not many understand the need, importance and the role of the national and public library in the transformation of society as well as national development.
A national library is an apex body that needs to collect all kinds of intellectual and cultural heritage created and published within and outside the country. It’s a cultural heritage that a country can take pride in.
However, our country’s library has been in ruins since the earthquake. More than 5,000 sacks of books are still stored in two rooms and about 21,000 books are shelved in open racks. And many of these books are rotting away.
It is so sad to see the National Library that was established in 1957 in the condition it is in today because authorities still haven’t understood why the national library should be a separate entity. For the first time, we were developing a master plan to make the library a separate entity in itself. But the government abruptly halted all our plans. The politics and corruption is clearly visible but we are stuck. And this really hurts because libraries are fundamental for the development of the country. What was more disheartening was that this obstruction didn’t see a public outcry, which only solidifies what I was saying earlier: that the country doesn’t value an institution like the library.