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Sugamya Pustakalaya - India’s Accessible Online Library and Its Three-year Journey

Posted on September 12, 2019

Nirmita Narasimhan

Senior Fellow and Program Director Asia-Pacific, G3ict

India’s accessible online library ‘Sugamya Pustakalaya’ (SP) recently celebrated its third birthday on August 24, 2019. The library, which was a project driven by the Daisy Forum of India in partnership with the Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment and powered by TCS Access Infinity, has covered lots of ground in terms of expanding its readership and content. This blog looks at the journey of SP over the past three years and its achievements today.

As of today, 74 libraries from all over India are registered on SP with more than 31,000 downloads and 27,820 members registered with the library. In addition to access to more than 15,700 books from registered libraries, Sugamya Pustakalaya also offers any of the 29,000 books from ABC Global Books Service to its members as well as integrates search from more than 4,00,000 titles from Bookshare.

The Access Infinity platform, that is the backbone of Sugamya Pustakalaya has been conceptualized and developed by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). The platform enables conversion of publishing material in different source formats to the four types of accessible formats. “We have built a robust technology platform that allows multiple stakeholders to publish and consume in real time,” says Dr Charudatta Jadhav who heads the Accessibility Centre of Excellence in TCS and key architect of Access Infinity platform. “Access Infinity platform helped in creating a countrywide ecosystem, which is driving accessible digital publishing transformation in India. The platform is a scalable one and therefore future-ready.”

The highlight of 2019 has been the integration of the SP catalogue with the ABC Global Book Service, which enables the exchange of books at a global level, thus providing significant impetus to the addition of Indian books, which are now available to a global readership.

Out of the many books on the SP portal, a book in Hindi language is titled "Man Banjara". It merits special mention as in a first of its kind donation, its accessible format was gifted to the library by Mr Suresh Raghuvanshi on the occasion of the birthday of its author, Dr Gopal Amte.

A significant milestone in the journey of Sugamya Pustakalaya was its availability through the Simply Reading app, which is provided free of cost by the international DAISY Consortium for Android phones and tablets since last year. This app has direct connectivity with SP and has made book searching, download and reading very simple, easy and convenient. It does away with the need to have access to a computer and the skills to use the internet to download books from this online library. The app has enabled a large number of readers to download books on their mobile phones independently.

Prashant Ranjan Verma, Chairman of the Sugamya Pustakalaya Committee of DAISY Forum of India, said,The launch of Sugamya Pustakalaya three years earlier marked the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream of the many organizations that form the DAISY Forum of India. India badly needed an online library platform like Sugamya Pustakalaya to significantly increase the availability of books in accessible formats to persons with print disabilities including persons with visual impairment. I am delighted to have been a part of the journey of Sugamya Pustakalaya from its conception stage to now when it is benefitting hundreds of organizations and thousands of disabled individuals. With Sugamya Pustakalaya, the disability community in India has leap-frogged to the higher level of development seen in the western countries. Now persons with print disabilities across the country can access lakhs of books in a format which is easy to read for them on a device which is easily available like a smart phone and all this from the comfort of their homes”.

The DFI team has taken considerable steps to raise awareness about SP in the country. Today, it is the go-to place for accessible books for universities and public libraries. The DFI team and its member organizations are constantly making efforts to connect more and more people to SP. Presentations are made in conferences and hands-on sessions are conducted in training programs related to disability to raise capability to enlist more users and contribute content to SP. Messages about the usefulness of SP and availability of popular books are communicated through email lists, Whatsapp, community radio and social media.

The SP team also provides technical support to users and takes requests. Santosh Khare, Manager SP said that he gets at least five to six calls from users everyday seeking technical support. “ For me, working on the SP project has been a very satisfying experience. When users express their pleasure and gratitude at having books, it makes me so happy; it brings in a rush of energy and motivation into my work and drives home the life altering force that SP can be in the lives of persons with print disabilities. We have users located in rural areas who are members, who would otherwise not have access to books, but for this library. ”.

The advent of SP in India has significantly accelerated the task of providing access to persons with print disabilities to accessible books. However, despite its significant growth, there is still a long way to go. The present number of users and books are barely a fraction of the content and population of persons with print disabilities in India. An effort is underway to reach a million users soon as a first target. The task ahead is, however, not an easy one. There are several challenges in reaching out to the vast population which uses different languages, has different levels of literacy and digital skills and lacks resources. Some short term goals include connecting SP to more mobile apps and easy to use hardware eBook readers, getting more books uploaded to the platform and catering to more languages.

Creating a library like Sugamya Pustakalaya in a country like India is no easy task. India is the second largest in terms of global population, has 22 official languages varying from state to state and where a majority of persons with disabilities are below the poverty line and most DPOs work with very limited resources. The success of SP so far amongst the community of persons with print disabilities acts as a booster to expand and accelerate the growth and reach of this library to include all persons with print disabilities, both within and outside India. A critical success factor in its development and promotion is the wonderful collaboration which has blossomed out of this project between the government, industry and DPOs, and further extended to libraries and universities. For effective and sustainable change to occur, beyond the project, there should be a kindling of collective thought and engagement to the addressing of access barriers and creating solutions that are scalable, profitable and sustainable. Hence, such synergy is significant. The DFI team is constantly expanding in all areas, books, members and partners. The dedication and momentum created by DFI and its partners is an excellent example for the world to see and emulate.