Dr. Mohsen Haji Zeinolabedini said in an interview with Public Relations Office:
Libraries and cultural centers are pillars of the society and should be seriously supported
Dr. Mohsen Haji Zeinolabedini is an assistant professor in the Department of Knowledge and Information Science, Faculty of Education and Psychology, Shahid Beheshti University. He is also the head of the central library of the university. Here is part of Dr. Zeinolabedini’s interview with Public Relations:
To start the discussion, tell us about your experiences in the last two years and the conditions of education during the pandemic. In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of virtual education?
This condition has both positive and negative points. The positive thing is that our university was able to quickly adapt to the new conditions due to its experience in virtual education before the pandemic, and our classes started in early March 2020. Especially my colleagues and I in the Department of Knowledge and Information Science, who had the experience of virtual education and were familiar with the virtual systems and classes, quickly managed to organize these classes. It is a good and interesting experience that students can be in any corner of the country and classes can be held easily. It is possible to share a lot of information in this space, which is a good advantage. Of course, there are also disadvantages such as the lack of face-to-face communication. Virtual classes are boring for professors, because they have to sit in a fixed place and communicate via a headset and microphone. However, thanks to the saving on commuting, we were able to make good use of time to do things that were hardly possible in the past.
Considering your expertise in the field of librarianship, how do you evaluate the impact of the Corona period and virtual life on the future of librarianship? Are we moving towards the elimination of physical libraries and the replacement of virtual libraries? If the answer to this question is positive, how desirable is this process and what are its advantages and disadvantages?
This is a fundamental question. It should be clearly said that physical books and libraries will not disappear anytime soon. Umberto Eco says in the book "Don't hope to get free from books" that some human inventions have been so good since the beginning that we have not yet been able to replace them. The book is one of the same. Various media have claimed that they want to take the place of books, but none of them have been successful. This issue has an important reason, and that is the quality of paper books themselves; when you open a paper book, you can access the content without the help of any tools or software. This element makes it impossible for any media to remove paper books. Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and audio files all require charging or accessories and may not be easily usable in any situation, but this is not true about books. It goes without saying that the life of nothing in the world is eternal, but its length and period are important. Paper books, despite the existence of all digital libraries, libraries without borders and libraries without walls, still exist and move along with the rest of the media. When television came, some people said that cinema would be removed, but this did not happen and each has its own place and path. For this reason, virtual books and libraries are used in the current situation, but paper books will remain in place.
Studying statistics in Iran are obviously lower than developed countries. What are the causes? How has the current state of libraries in the country affected this?
We are always against the studying per capita and statistics, because statistics and numbers are disrespectful to the matter of studying and reduce it to numbers, while studying is for improving the quality of human life and mental peace and having a better life. When it comes to statistics, we are entering a race. The important issue is using the read materials, and the quality of reading is more important than its quantity. Statistics and numbers tell us that we are lagging behind developed countries in this regard, while we do not have any correct source to show the amount and our country has not yet provided accurate research-based statistics. Even the statistics are contradictory. The main reason that we may read less books is that the spirit of written knowledge and materials is weaker in us. We are auditory and verbal people and we prefer to hear stories rather than studying and doing serious work. Many may be exceptions in this regard, but if we consider the whole society, we will realize that our situation is unfavorable in this regard. Another reason is that science, culture and education have degraded in our country and the proper education and cultural situation where people feel that there are specific frameworks and moral, behavioral, social and economic stability is less visible. All this causes studying to not have the necessary place. At this moment, people ask themselves, "Why should I study?". When a person without education and right thinking can have a good economic situation, ordinary people do not see a reason to study. We will not be able to strengthen and develop studying until we see different social issues together and think about them in a systemic way so that we can see that they are all connected and affect each other.
How do you evaluate the state of Iranian public libraries and libraries in Iranian academies in particular? Have we been able to employ the experiences and methods of developed countries in this field? What is your suggestion to correct the current situation?
The level of our public libraries is lower than that of the developed countries and this is due to cultural issues. The culture of a society that highly respects books, documents, science and knowledge and expects people to think like this and all politicians speak and act in accordance with documents, makes more visits to libraries. On the other hand, for the intellectual and mental improvement of the society, having more knowledge is valued in such societies. Hence, the library is a good reference. When we don't have this culture and infrastructure, our libraries will also fail and bitter experiences of the past have caused a false impression to form in people's minds that libraries are not in a favorable condition, they do not provide proper services, and we cannot use them. Of course, this is true in many cases, because our public libraries are more politicized than they are subject to cultural factors, cultural freedom and freedom of speech. For this reason, the resources and type of services they provide are selective and cannot meet the needs of all classes. We believe that cultural justice should prevail, everyone should be able to order the resources they need and libraries should be required to provide them with these resources, regardless of religion, ideology, thought, gender and personality. Only service delivery is important. In university libraries, the situation is better, but again, professors and faculty members who should be the promoters of libraries, refer less often, and serious reference to the library has decreased in academic work. For this reason, the prosperity of libraries is not high. In our country, we constantly have the wrong idea that the place where there is no income generation is a consumer and everyone is dissatisfied with allocating budget to it, while libraries and cultural centers are the pillars of society and should be seriously supported. Even income should be generated from other places and spent in this field. Lack of resources, funds and facilities is harmful in university libraries. For example, in our own university, students demand that the libraries be active on holidays and late in the evenings, but due to the lack of funds, we are not able to do this. We also have limitations in purchasing resources that make us unable to respond to the needs of all audiences. To solve this problem, we must first understand the place of libraries. The library is not a place that wastes money, but it is a place that causes people's thoughts to expand. This is how society develops. Then we should provide the necessary resources to the libraries and create a culture that professors and students can refer to and use them. On the other hand, librarians must also be experts, have love and interest in librarianship, respect the users and do their best to meet their needs.