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Human library concept at VSSC: A new chapter for library users

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The Hindu | Saraswathy Nagarajan | Metroplus | Society |

Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre introduces the ‘human library’ concept for its space scientists and engineers

'Human Book', Dr. S. Ramakrishnan, Former Director, VSSC, participating in a Human Library Session

‘Human Book’, Dr. S. Ramakrishnan, Former Director, VSSC, participating in a Human Library Session

Space scientist M. Chandra Dathan has many experiences to talk about: of conquests and challenges of India’s space programme. Listening in rapt attention to the distinguished scientist and then head of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) was a select gathering of young scientists and engineers of the institution.That was in November 2014 when the first chapter of a novel concept was opened by Narayanankutty, head of the Library and Information Division at VSSC. It was called the ‘human library’ programme, wherein senior scientists would participate in knowledge-sharing sessions with interested participants. “Each scientist would be treated as a source of information that was up for ‘reading’ by participants. They could discuss their projects or ask doubts and it would be instantly clarified. It is a dynamic process that gives participants a chance to interact with experienced scientists,” says Narayanankutty.

Many users of the library were intrigued by the idea of a ‘human library’ when it was first presented at the VSSC in the capital city. Since only 20 users would be permitted to use this ‘book’ there was quite a rush to learn more about the book and the concept. Since then eight such sessions have been held at the library and the response each time has been overwhelming. All the sessions are recorded and documented. Looking back, Narayanankutty recalls with pride how the idea has caught on in the rarefied echelons of space science and scientists.  “The library and information division at VSSC is the largest in the Indian Space Research Organisation. There are about 3 lakh documents and 4,500 users of the division. It is the largest library under ISRO.” Although many of the senior scientists have a punishing schedule at work, Narayanankutty says that they have gone out of the way to participate in the programme.

“The innovative human library programme that has been initiated in VSSC is an essential one that is helping a lot of young scientists and engineers. Rocket science is a multi-disciplinary subject that is not confined to one book or a series of books. So, a young scientist who is searching for a particular piece of information may not find all that he/she wants in one book or at one go. But an experienced scientist would have it at his fingertips. That is where this programme is particularly useful,” explains K. Sivan, Director, VSSC. Comparing the concept to the gurukula system of yore, Dr. Sivan adds: “This programme is essentially like a transfer of knowledge from a guru to his students. A senior scientist at a place like VSSC has years of experience and knowledge, which he has gained from on-hand experience. Such practical and theoretical nuggets can be gained at one go by a participant of the human library programme. Moreover the inter-disciplinary knowledge a person acquires over the years is invaluable. This can be transferred to the participants as also pragmatic tips for problem solving for specific issues.”

Sessions are planned in advance and all departments are notified about the human book for a particular session. “We accept reservations in advance, much like placing reservations for a popular book that is in demand,” Narayanankutty explains. Recently, he took part in a seminar conducted by the University of Kerala, where he described the concept and its impact. “It is perhaps the first of its kind in India and we hope to expand it by creating a database of all space scientists to help the space scientific community at VSSC,” says Narayanankutty. He points out that though the idea is popular in Western countries, it is yet to catch on in India. At present, the human library is open only to personnel in VSSC. But Dr. Sivan hopes that other organisations will borrow a page from their programme and begin their own human library.

Brain power

The unique concept of inviting a person to share his experiences and knowledge was first begun in Denmark in 2000. The aim was to help people understand each other and promote compassion and knowledge of different cultures and so on. It was felt that such an approach might curb violence and foster understanding between different communities. The success of the concept motivated cities to set up their own human library projects. –  Courtesy


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