From the shushing librarians to the subtle musty smell of books filling the room, libraries were once considered the gateway to the world of knowledge.

With the beginning of each academic session, it was a homecoming for  bookworms, as it would signal the opening of school libraries.  The walk down the aisle, through the mountains of books delighted and empowered individuals.

However, with growing technology, traditional libraries in the country today are confronted by several challenges. With almost all information now available online, books are being pushed aside for digital learning centres.

In an effort to improve the library system in the country, a five-day library symposium is underway in Thimphu with the theme, Good Libraries for a Strong Society. The seminar is also being held to standardise library procedures among the various libraries in the country.

One of the senior most librarians in the country today, Yeshey Dorji, said that Bhutanese always had a strong sense of reading and the concept of libraries started along with the introduction of the modern education system in the country.

A small room and or for that matter a small closet would function as a rudimentary form of a library in the past. Every school had its own library. Yeshey Dorji said that when he became a full-fledged librarian in 1991, everything was done manually with no computerised system in place.

“There were limited number of collections and the facilities were rudimentary,” said the 57-year-old. “There was no librarians back then and library periods in schools were looked after by teachers.”

With the advent of the Internet, Yeshey Dorji said that things have become much easier but at the same time, libraries around the country have lost their customers. “With multiple sources of information now available online, people have turned towards technology for knowledge.”

However, Yeshey Dorji is optimistic about the future of libraries in the country. He said change is inevitable and libraries cannot afford to remain static with the changing time and technology. “Printed books will remain and there will be people who would always prefer the books over technological knowledge-based systems.”

One of the participants, Namgay Dorji, said that assistant librarians across the country are facing several challenges in providing better services. The assistant librarian of Punakha Central School said that lack of qualified human resources and technology in terms of cataloguing remains one of the biggest challenges.

Namgay Dorji has been serving as an assistant librarian for the past 30 years. “Most of the assistant librarians like us are either class X or XII pass-outs. There is no upgradation option for us and we are stagnated in this position for the rest of our lives,” he said.

Yeshey Dorji said that the Samtse College of Education in 2016 started a three-year diploma in library and information management for the in-service librarians to upgrade the knowledge of the librarians.

The programme, however, came under scrutiny by the Royal Civil Service Commission. Yeshey Dorji said that the college was asked to drop the programme since it violated certain sections of the Bhutan Civil Service Rule 2012, where in-service civil servants cannot undergo diploma programmes.

Currently, 16 assistant librarians are undergoing the programme.

The seminar yesterday at the National Library discussed the role of libraries in the United Nation’s 2030 agenda. Participants said that libraries have huge potential to support and compliment in achieving all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

A total of 70 assistant librarians from schools, colleges, NGOs and autonomous agencies are undergoing the seminar.

This is the first seminar organised for librarians by the National Library in Thimphu. The programme will be an annual event.

The National Library in Thimphu houses the largest book in the world; A visual Odyssey across the last Himalayan Kingdom. The library has a collection of over 10,000 foreign language books and about 338,000 Choekey books.

Younten Tshedup