The National Library at Kolkata "is now in a state of stagnation which can only lead to its downfall unless it is given urgent attention," says Krishnan Srinivasan, former foreign secretary, writing in The Telegraph (March 08, 2006). He blames the Central Government for neglecting the National Library.
The National Library, the largest library in India which has a genealogy going back to the first half of the nineteenth century, is unique not only for the purpose for which it was created, but also in terms of its survival against the odds.Srinivasan is critical of the Indian publishing industry too and bemoans the lack of proper data and research on the current size, and the state of affairs, despite the rapid growth in the past few years.
Accessions to the catalogue of the National Library, still in the form of long-outdated card indices, are several years behind acquisitions. This is hardly surprising considering the fact that the library sustains about two hundred vacant posts. The Book Deposit Act (The Delivery of Books and Newspapers Act, 1954) by which a copy of every publication in the country needs to be deposited with the library, seems to be observed more in the breach than in compliance, and publishers brazenly admit that they would rather pay the penalty of a fine than take the trouble to comply. So the Act has been rendered meaningless by being flouted, with the Central government standing by idly. The multiplicity of languages complicates matters further. Among the vacant posts in the National Library are several pertaining to librarians with competence in various Indian languages.
According to the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, which is unreliable as a reliable source of information on the country’s publishing industry, there are 15,000 publishers with 75,000 books published annually in India. The first number is not likely to be correct, because if it is, many of the publishers must exist only on paper if on an average they produce only 4 to 5 books each per year. The second figure is also highly dubious if it is supposed to include books in all Indian languages and text books as well. There is a lack of proper statistics in this industry, despite its phenomenal growth in modern times.
Indian publishers have been among the main beneficiaries of globalization and outsourcing, and the industry hopes to attract about a quarter of the world’s publishing within a decade or so. But not everything is rosy in Indian publishing. One thousand copies is the standard print run even if it is not a specifically limited edition. Advances are usually unheard of and royalties rarely accounted for. Publishers are comfortable because there are too many authors chasing the publishing houses. The result is a multitude of titles with little or no regard to quality. Frequently there is a lack of professional editing. There are no literary agents and no active search by editors for what might be original, innovative or ground-breaking. There is an absence of nation-wide distribution. Publishers in India are only interested in recovering the production costs, after which all the revenue is profit. Hardly any publishing house in India even bothers to maintain accurate records of its own back-lists. Everything in the industry has the appearance of improvisation and breakneck profit-making with no concern for building good traditions.
A book is like any other commodity that needs merchandising. Apart from the cases of authors who happen to be on their own staff, publishers have no interest in marketing a book or providing an author with the promotion required for literary success. The ubiquitous book launches, with celebrity chief guests who have not taken the trouble of reading the book in question, are no substitute for the proper projection of a title. Little wonder then that in this overall climate, the National Library lies in a state of neglect.