Brief report on the Dr. T.B. Rajashekar Memorial Lecture (2009) held on Friday, 12 June 2009 at NCSI, IISc.
Topic: “Academic Access in a Globalized World: Scholars without Borders”
Speaker: Dr. Ram Ramaswamy, Professor, School of Physical Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
The event was set in motion with Mr. Francis Jayakanth of NCSI welcoming the well-attended gathering. He gave a brief life sketch of late Dr. TBR emphasizing on TBR’s contributions and initiatives while he served at NCSI.
Later, Francis Introduced Dr. IRN Goudar. Dr. Goudar, presided over the talk. Dr. Goudar being the alma mater of TBR at the DRTC, narrated couple of incidences that happened during their DRTC course and also after they started their careers. These incidences only exemplified the fact that TBR was very clear as to what he intended to do and went about in completing it with dedication. Later, Dr. Goudar introduced Dr. Ram and requested him to deliver the lecture.
Dr. Ram’s talk is accessible at:
Dr. Ram began his talk by giving some insights into the higher education in the country, which is the largest in the world. GoI is playing a major role in the higher education system in terms of framing of major policies for the system. He briefly mentioned about poor library system in most of the colleges and Universities, which is hindering access to the library holdings. For accessing the online journals, though INFLIBNET administered UGC Infonet is in place, poor Internet connectivity beyond the metros is an hindrance in accessing the online journals.
He also emphasized on Books and book publishing in the country especially in the social sciences, where scholars publish their findings in books rather than journal articles. The speaker also presented some interesting facts about Books and Book publishing in India. Annually, India publishes between 70,000 to 80,000 titles, comes from between 16,000 to 17,000 publishers, ranging from those who do as many as 300-400 titles a year to one person operations-who may produce only two or three titles/year. According to Federation of Publishers, Booksellers Associations in India, the Federation of Indian Publishers, as well as a study of the Indian book market conducted by the British Publishers Association (2007) puts the value of the Indian book market at Rs.10,000 crores. In this 10,0000 crores, approximately Rs.3500 crores comprises educational books and Higher education Books market is at Rs.2500 crores.
He also gave some insights into publishing business in the western world by citing Thomson Reuters as an example. The speaker expressed his concern in the poor distribution network in the country for quality textbooks and lack of University Press culture in the country are contributing to the growth of low quality academic publishing.
He then touched upon the growth of e-books with big players in field like Thompson, spending great deal of their budget on e-books. He cited the example of JSTOR. JSTOR was founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. Working with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources.
In the context of our country, there was a mention of Language/Literacy barriers such as * Computing in regional languages remains a somewhat distant goal. * Low investment in local technological solutions. * Need for more video content if primary educational goals are to be addressed.
There was a special mention of ALUKA, an international, collaborative initiative building an online digital library of scholarly resources from and about Africa. Now a part of JSTOR. The speaker said, similar initiatives in the country are need of the hour to showcase India’s academic publishing.
Then Ram presented the demographies of India
- Total India population: 1.037 billion
- Rural population: 72%
- Literacy: 52%
- Computer ownership per 100 inhabitants: 0.6
- Telephone lines per 100: 4.2
- Internet hosts per 10,000: 0.35
- Internet cafés/telecentres per 10,000: 0.1
- Internet users per 100 0.33 subscribers: 1.65 users
- Cell phone subscribers 10.81 million
- Number of websites in the national language(s): 20,000
- Number of websites in English and other language(s): 130,000
- National bandwidth to and from the country: 1,670.3 Mbps
Thus he proposed to have something like SwB:
www.scholarswithoutborders.in (Academic Books from India delivered Everywhere).
Few facts about SwB are:
- Scholars without Borders (SwB) are an online bookstore for academic books from India.
- Also other material such as journals, periodicals, reports, documentaries, CDs.
- Facilitates online ordering and purchase.
- Offers a range of payments: money orders, VPP, cheques, cash, credit card, etc.
- Over 6000 titles from about 100 publishers.
The motivation for such a SwB by Ram is “To make access to quality academic books simple, regardless of location.” SwB runs a blog on books from India. It has a presence on Twitter, Facebook and other networking sites.
Ram also presented the visitors to SwB from various parts of both India and worldwide. SwB’s documentary site (scholarswithoutborders.in/video). This site is developed in collaboration with TCS. It provides, Semantic search of video content and partially view documentaries. Presently this site is undergoing Beta Testing.
Access equity is the major item in Ram’s presentation. An initiative to promote the distribution of books/academic material through the Internet and mobile phone. This will largely be a vehicle for the physical product initially, but they are aiming to increase digital content, especially of textbooks. The distribution of books and other published matter across India, especially to places with poor access to books and bookstores will be a major activity of this Initiative.
While talking about future plans and the path ahead: Ram mentioned about the book readers such as Amazon Kindle and Olai. He also spoken about Cell phone based services.
After the question and answer session, Dr. Goudar nicely summed up Dr. Rams talk. Mr. T.B. Anand proposed vote of thanks.`