Click instead of turning pages

Remember the old college days when one would pick up a stack of books and head to a nearby public library, as the exams approached? Often the dilapidated condition of the library would make you stare at the creaky, dusty fan hanging from the ceiling with plaster coming off the walls and books nibbled by mice crouched in shady corners.

Yet, the visit to the library was inevitable due to the quiet that the place provided, away from the noisy hustle-bustle of friends and classmates. As companions, one would have retired elderly men sitting on the next chair, indulging themselves in the pleasures of reading. Still, libraries get a “Majority of readers in the age group of college-goers and people over 60. But the reading habits are declining steadily,” rues B S Paswan, director of Delhi Public Library.

“The times are a changing,” he adds as Metrolife speaks to him about the virtual library that will be announced by the Prime Minister as part of National Mission on Libraries, on February 3 and the efforts afoot to facelift the public libraries across the country.

“We need to embrace technology which is the future,” he says as V Srinivas, joint secretary, Ministry of Culture adds, “It is a huge challenge since we have scarcity of resources and a huge manpower. We are often struggling to meet good plans, but most of the money goes into salary payments in the case of State-funded libraries as compared to other libraries, such as the one at Nehru Memorial which is offered a grant of Rs 450 crore under allocation of resources.” This is massive in comparison to what the Delhi Public Library gets, nevertheless, the latter sees more crowd and rightly requires significant modernisation.

If the proposed plans are to be believed, new library buildings will be constructed while the existing ones will be renovated and enabled with Wi-Fi reading rooms with modular furniture, modern lighting system, carrels (personalised reading rooms) for scholars, senior citizens and specially-abled persons, modern signage, power backup, purified drinking water facilities and washrooms. In addition, there will be specially designed furniture and games facilities for children, besides Internet, conference room, recording room and training-cum-meeting room. It does sound like a rosy dream for those who have got accustomed to poor infrastructure and ill-kept books in public libraries across the city.  

“Though libraries in schools and colleges have improved majorly overtime, the public libraries are still in a deplorable state,” says Riturparna, an avid library-goer. While the Ministry plans to invest in making the public libraries more virtual, Rituparna fears losing out on “The pleasure that a hardcopy of a book provides in the reading room of a library than an e-book.”

While V Srinivas says that the Government is also planning for “massive training of manpower to assist the readers in the libraries”, B S Paswan rightly points out that “In our pedagogy, teachers

often link reading to the search of references for academics. Also, investment in social sector such as libraries requires long gestation and is not really sought-after. Politicians are often reported saying that people ask for roti, kapda and makan.”
Therefore, in the absence of a strong public demand for public libraries, one cannot question the capacity of the State to fund this free service!  

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