Interview with A.R. Sethi

The Bottom Line

ISSN: 0888-045X

Article publication date: 1 September 2004




(2004), "Interview with A.R. Sethi", The Bottom Line, Vol. 17 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Interview with A.R. Sethi

Interview with A.R. Sethi

Edited by Kent C. Boese, Arts Cataloger, Cataloging Services Department, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, DC, USA.

Keywords: Librarians, Academic libraries

TBL interviews A.R. Sethi, University Librarian, Panjab University Library, Chandigarh, India.

TBL: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Sethi: Receiving a Fulbright Fellowship in 1988, and setting up a Trust for Advancement Librarianship.

TBL: Who are your heroes in real life?

Sethi: My heroes are library pioneers. Two people that I especially admire are Mr Girja Kumar – a retired librarian – and Proffessor P.B. Mangla – a retired teacher – for their uprightness, devotion, and dedication to the library profession.

TBL: What writings on financial management best inform you to do your job?

Sethi:I do not believe that writings make managers. Rather, I believe that experience does.

TBL: What do you think of corporate sponsorships? While they bring significant funds to libraries, do they threaten the library’s neutrality?

Sethi: My library is not a fragile institution which will get swayed by corporate sponsorship.

TBL: How do you see the funding mix for public libraries shifting over the next ten years? Will the local, state, and federal pieces of the pie grow or diminish?

Sethi: The government agencies are slowly distancing themselves from the higher education scene. Libraries are the most affected, especially with shrinking serial and book budgets. Also due to diminishing budgets, vacancies are not being filled.

TBL: In 20 years, will libraries purchase (as opposed to license or lease) any information resources?

Sethi: As long as books are published, they will be purchased as well as other resources.

TBL: What do you perceive to be the most compelling financial concern facing libraries in the next five years? How would you address this issue?

Sethi: Dwindling official support is of great concern to us. It has caused us to increase our attempts to make our case to government agencies as well as heighten our public relation efforts. While the results have not met our expectations, awareness of our plight has increased.

TBL: Given the opportunity, how would you resolve the copyright protection vs unfettered Internet access conundrum?

Sethi: I do not believe that copyright violations can not be stopped, but we can work to minimize them.

TBL: If money were no object, what is the most significant change that you would institute in your library?

Sethi: I would create a congenial and aesthetic reading atmosphere. The building that houses my library was constructed over 40 years ago, and needs improvements in its infrastructure, which have not kept pace with the demands of time.

TBL: What fundraising activities have worked for your library?

Sethi: Appealing to the conscience of authorities and alumni. One success we had was a special grant for updating the reference collection, which was managed through a “friend of the library” who happened to be a member of the board of finance.

TBL: How have you dealt with the rising cost of serials?

Sethi: Official consortia have come to rescue. Our library is a member of three nation-wide consortia, namely INFLIBNET (UGC), INDEST (Government of India), and DELNET. This gives the library access to hundreds of on-line journals.

TBL: How important are digitization projects to your organization, and how did you allocate funds to undertake this initiative?

Sethi: We feel they are important. So far, we have been able to persuade a foreign alumnus to donate digitalization equipment. We have focused our digitization efforts on manuscripts with date to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Our next priority will be rare books.

TBL: What has been the hardest decision you have had to make in your career?

Sethi: It was not a hard decision, but a foolish one. The decision was to switch institutions.

TBL: If your budget were decreased by 10 percent, what would your response be?

Sethi: To cut the coat according to cloth available. However, we would try to minimize the reduction by looking into resource-sharing or alternative methods to generating funds.

TBL: From your years of service in the profession, is there one piece of advice on fiscal responsibility that you would like to give today’s library managers-to-be?

Sethi: Management is all about meeting challenges and converting them into opportunities.

TBL: How did you first get involved with library finance issues? Did you have a mentor?

Sethi: I became involved in financial issues after assuming the responsibility of University Librarian. I did not have a mentor, merely my instincts and training of life.

TBL: What do you think libraries can do/offer to make better funding of libraries a higher priority in our society?

Sethi: Libraries need to make sure that library minded people are involved in decision-making bodies at all levels. This can best be done by cultivating persons in authority to an awareness of your point of view and issues. Members of legislative bodies need to be kept on your side, and this requires long-term investment of effort.

TBL: What is the most significant cost savings measure you have implemented in the course of your career?

Sethi: By minimizing unnecessary expenditures. One way we did this was through computerization, which decreased the number of staff we needed for some jobs.

TBL: What do you think are the best ways to help insure free and equal access to information for library users?

Sethi: By treating all information resources equally. Some examples would be to display all new books near the library entrance and to make Internet access available to all readers.

TBL: What are the most important skills that new librarians need to succeed in the twenty-first century?

Sethi: To managing people effectively.

TBL: Are library schools doing enough to prepare librarians to be sound financial managers?

Sethi: No, not in India.

TBL: Which authors or books would you recommend on management?

Sethi:Books written by practicing librarians, not by teachers of library science programs. When you examine a subject’s treatment by a librarian and a library science teacher, you notice the difference. Unfortunately many librarians do not read any more; and many teachers do not visit their libraries.

TBL: If you had the opportunity to do it all over again, would you still choose a career in this profession? Why or why not?

Sethi: For me, librarianship has been a way of living life meaningfully, a route to achieve four purposes, namely duty (dharma), living means(artha), pleasures of life (kama), and salvation (moksha).

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