A digital library is usually defined as a collection of digital resources such as books, magazines, journals, audio, videos and other documents and multimedia that are accessible electronically. Digital libraries have emerged as a game-changer and transformed the way students & teachers explore learning resources. They are growing in popularity among governments and schools as they enable easy and cost-effective access for students and teachers to research a wide range of subjects and get the most recent information. The ease and flexibility offered by a digital library setup allow students to study independently and pursue their academic and non-academic interests.
Digital Libraries’ Edge Over Traditional Libraries
- Accessibility: The ease of accessibility, irrespective of the location, makes them an apt fit for 21st-century pedagogy, especially for learners in rural regions. Ease of access is aligned with key characteristics of 21st-century education, such as flexibility and anytime-anywhere accessibility, thus making digital libraries a perfect learning solution for the diverse needs of current-age learners. Contrary to this, traditional libraries are set up at fixed places with limited operating hours and require extra effort from a learner to access them.
- Cost-effective: This is the most significant advantage of a digital library. Often, digital libraries are free of cost, whereas traditional libraries usually ask for membership fees or resource rents. For instance, the Ministry of Education launched the National Digital Library of India (NDLI) in 2006, which is a free virtual repository of learning resources that has become a one-stop solution for learners to access all sorts of learning resources in various languages. NDLI offers easy search, download, print, and share features, making it an ideal resource for students nationwide.
- Reduced Carbon Footprint: Digital libraries store and distribute information in a digital format, which eliminates the need for paper, ink, and other physical materials. This significantly reduces the environmental impact of traditional libraries, as the production and transportation of physical materials can generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, especially when we look at the scale of a country like India and its diverse educational needs. Additionally, digital libraries can be more energy-efficient than traditional libraries as they do not need to heat and cool large physical spaces and can use energy-efficient lighting and devices.
- Scalable: Digital libraries allow for scalability as required. Since there aren’t any physical space restrictions to expand the content collection, digital libraries can store a massive collection of resources and information in a very small space. On the other hand, traditional libraries have physical space constraints limiting their collection.
- Searchability and Content Discovery: Another important feature that gives digital libraries an edge over conventional libraries is the ease of search. Since digital libraries use digital search engines that can index the entire collection, it is easier for students to find desired resources in less time. With advanced search features, a learner can even search for “chapters”, “subtopics”, and “content” within a resource in addition to “search for resources” by title. On the other hand, with physical books, papers and other resources in a traditional library, it is not possible to have an index and content search.
Different Forms of Digital Libraries
The definition of a digital library can be contextual and expands to its various forms.
For state governments with different needs across districts, it may either simply mean an e-library hosting curriculum books, school-level books for reading and college books, or Smart ICT labs, ICT labs with all subject digital books.
For others, it may mean digitalising physical libraries, i.e., converting traditional books and documents into digital formats, making them accessible online.
Some other types of digital libraries may include:
- Academic Digital Libraries that support academic research containing scholarly resources.
- Public Digital Libraries that provide access to resources for the public.
- Subject-specific Digital Libraries that focus on a particular topic or subject area.
- National and International Digital Libraries that governments or international organisations created to provide access to information and cultural heritage.
- Corporate Digital Libraries that are created by organisations for their employees or customers.
The key fact here is that while there are different types of digital libraries, the basic infrastructure remains the same. It is either bundled as:
- A set of hardware devices that have pre-loaded content & a Learning Management System (LMS)
- or – pre-loaded content along with an LMS and digital books
- or both – hardware devices that have pre-loaded content and an LMS along with digital books.
However, the hardware could vary to include tablets, IFPs, PCs, laptops, or desktops.
The Next Wave – Smart Digital Libraries Gaining Adoption
Smart digital libraries, specifically those with pre-loaded content on Tablets/Notebooks with a charging rack, are gaining popularity in the school ecosystem. A typical example is the iPrep Digital Library. Such a smart ICT digital library solution comes with digital content & integrated reporting for personalised learning in schools and a complete hardware stack. It replaces the traditional and complex setup of physical books or computer labs with a much more compact, scalable, cost-effective, yet powerful tablet/notebook-based setup. It also places a central storage and charging rack to ensure device safety and reusability.
iPrep Digital Library solution is gaining adoption across many public and private schools as it offers comprehensive digital content for classes 1st to 12th, all subjects, including non-academic reading material. It also supports personalised adaptive learning along with student-wise learning outcome tracking.
With this new setup of mobile devices and charging racks, many Indian state governments and other NGOs/NPOs see it as an edge over the conventional computers-based libraries as this tablet/notebook-based solution solves issues like power cuts and portability, especially in rural areas. Computers typically run only for 10-15 mins on UPS power backup, whereas tablets/notebooks, once charged, can be used for 7-8 hours, that is, for the entire school duration, without needing a power supply.
Government Recognising the Importance of Digital Libraries
Schools are seeking solutions to enable better learning environments & outcomes for their students while also setting them apart from other schools. Schools can engage and motivate students better by giving learners access to a cutting-edge learning environment. Digital libraries also give students a non-judgmental environment to learn at their own pace.
Likewise, the Indian government has also recognised the importance and use of digital libraries. It has made ICT smart labs a prime focus in its newer schemes for education, like the Samagra Shiksha. Under the Scheme of Information and Communication Technology in Schools, the government of India launched ICT labs in schools in 2004 and revised it in 2010 to include computer-aided learning to support secondary-stage students’ learning.
In 2018, MHRD revamped school education programs and integrated them into the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan to improve implementation and outcomes. They reviewed usage, setup, and historical learning outcomes from the ICT & RMSA scheme and other aspects of school education. They noticed that government schools were not using computers due to complex hardware, maintenance, electricity dependence, and infrastructural challenges. To address these issues, MHRD added tablets, laptops, and textbooks as preferred options for ICT labs. The scheme covers nationwide tablet/notebook-based ICT smart lab implementations in government and aided schools. Additionally, open-source software and cloud-based solutions can help set up digital libraries at a minimal cost.
In fact, as a continued focus as per the revised ICT Lab policy by MoE, the financial provisions include a one-time non-recurring grant of up to Rs. 6.40 lakh per school, along with a recurring grant of up to Rs. 2.40 lakh per school per annum for a duration of 5 years.
How Schools Benefit from Digital Libraries
Both public and private schools are now adopting digital libraries, considering the benefits. Here are some ways educational institutions across the world are using digital libraries that make them a non-negotiable choice in the 21st-century learning ecosystem:
- Cater to different learning styles: Digital libraries offer a plethora of varied resources that can cater to various learning styles. You can find audiobooks, texts, images, videos and resources that fit diverse learning needs. Teachers can use digital libraries to find resources specifically designed for students with learning disabilities to create inclusive classrooms. Further, instructional resources like lesson plans, exercises, and assessments are available to students and teachers within the digital library setup. Digital libraries can also supplement classroom learning via DIY lessons or a flipped learning model, where students revise topics in assigned periods for better understanding, engagement and participation.
- Access to vernacular resources: Digital content is easy to translate, making digital libraries a perfect solution for learners who need vernacular content. Digital libraries offer resources in the preferred language at scale at a low cost, and there’s no limit on the number of copies of any resource restricted by limited stock, storage, cost, etc.
- Reading materials beyond the curriculum: Digital libraries are often utilised to provide students with access to reading materials outside the curriculum. This can help pupils with casual reading to encourage them to develop a love for reading and help them learn about other cultures and viewpoints.
- Self-study: Students may access digital libraries for self-study. Students who are ahead in their coursework or wish to learn more about a specific subject may find this helpful.
- Collaboration: Digital libraries allow students to collaborate and learn together by providing tools for simultaneous content access, sharing resources, brainstorming, and more. Features like discussion forums, chat rooms, and shared workspaces can add great value for all learners.
- Personalisation and Adaptive Learning: Digital libraries can be accessed via the internet or in fully offline mode via pre-stored data on a computer, laptop, tablet or phone. Digital libraries can also be integrated with a Learning Management System (LMS) to record and monitor learners’ progress and make tailored content recommendations. With such a portable setup, students can learn at their own pace and time, allowing for a personalised adaptive learning experience.
- Learning Analytics: Digital libraries may gather information about a student’s learning process, including the materials they’ve visited, their time spent on each resource, and how they performed on tests. By making individualised suggestions, identifying areas where the user needs additional assistance, and monitoring the user’s development over time, the data may subsequently be utilised to enhance the students’ learning experience.
While most of these benefits are common for both public and private schools, in addition to the above-mentioned, private schools specifically who recognised the potential of digital libraries early are seeing:
- Easy adoption of digital libraries for their lab needs, i.e., Language Labs, STEM, Tinkering Labs, etc.
- Effortlessness in daily content recommendations for self-paced learning or homework.
- Support in inquiry-based learning as the teachers with readily available resources can make it feasible for students to conduct meaningful investigations using digital library resources as part of their classroom activities and doing research in the classroom.
- Increased Engagement as tablets or mobile devices offer a combination of view, touch, play or read forms of interaction/ DIY activities/ Group projects/ Practicals that maintain excitement for young learners.
Impact of Digital Libraries in Public Schools
In addition to solving for unlimited remote access to multi-category, multi-grade content for conceptual learning, digital libraries are being utilised to tailor learning by integrating personalised and adaptive learning engines, preserving historical learning data, offering custom learning paths, content recommendations, and detailed learning analytics to cover learning gaps.
Here’s a case study on how learning tablets empowered girls’ education in the government school of Shimla to help you better understand the impact of digital libraries. iDream Education established a digital library at the Govt. Girls Sr. Sec. School, Lakkar Bazar, Shimla. The digital library reduced internet dependency, increasing engagement and curiosity among girls, influencing their career choices and potentially shaping their life’s trajectory for the better. Also, the school’s results improved from 67 % to 100 % as students continued to improve their conceptual clarity across topics and subjects.
Image Source: idreameducation.org
Another interesting case study shows how iDream Education was able to strengthen the learning for students with special needs through their digital library solution at the Mook Badhir School in Indore, MP. The case study demonstrates the impact of tablet-based learning on the education of children with special needs. Students and teachers were excited to see tablets and began navigating through the content on their own as soon as they were given one. Teachers showed videos to students with special needs and explained concepts in sign language, resulting in increased engagement and interest. Students were amazed by the visuals, animations, and digital content in Hindi, aligned with the MP Board.
Introducing a tablet-based digital library at Mook Badhir School improved education quality for special needs students, as only 5% of hearing-impaired children receive basic schooling, and only 1% have access to quality education nationwide.
The demand for digital libraries is increasing and, with time, will advance and become ever more potent “learning and content discovery” resources. With a huge selection of pre-loaded digital materials, including videos, books, articles, journals, and films on portable devices with long hour runtime on a single charge, digital library solutions like the iPrep Digital Library can potentially change how instructors and students access educational content.
As one of the most powerful and cost-effective solutions available to governments to offer high-quality learning content at scale, digital libraries also break language barriers. Since the content is digital, it can be updated as and when required and be transformed to adapt to newer pedagogies as needed (e.g., offer supplemental AR content that works with physical textbooks). Overall, instructors and students in both public and private schools are already benefiting from digital libraries.
It is evident that digital libraries are a perfect solution to solve the needs of 21st-century learners irrespective of where they are used. Digital libraries are equally effective for remote public schools as they are for metro private schools. For their ease of access, low-cost & low-infra implementations and reduced carbon footprint, the government of India and an increasing number of Indian schools are betting big on digital libraries.