BooksPeople & Culture

Reviving libraries in this digital age

How to sustain a library in the digital world. Photo courtesy: geralt
How to sustain a library in the digital world. Photo courtesy: geralt

Text by Poyani Mehta

‘When I got my Library card, that’s when my life started’, Rita Mae Brown, American Poet and Novelist.

Rightly said by Ms Brown, the library card must have started your adventure with life. Libraries are just that! Temples of knowledge, a book lover’s paradise, experiences and journeys and reflections. It is the excitement running through the veins when choosing a book, the touch of the paper on your fingers, a flutter. A friendly environment where you are comfortable and at peace, meetups with like-minded people and where you get to broaden your horizon.

Being a former Librarian of a South Mumbai school, I loved and appreciated the passion shown by the students. I would notice a happy twinkle in their eyes while searching for their favourite genres, works of their favourite authors and their unending requests to procure books of their choice. Seeing their excitement at finding the right book to read would make my day.

Times are changing. Libraries, as we have known them all these years, are disappearing one by one across the globe. Estimates according to the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and the Global Library Statistics show that the number of libraries has plunged over the last five years. While there were some four lakhs functioning libraries in the world just about a decade ago, now the number stands alarmingly low at a little over three lakhs. The reason being easy access to information at the click of a button i.e. social media, internet, e-books, digital media, or just people are not interested in reading books anymore. The academic, school and specialized libraries have nothing to fear but it is the public libraries that are sadly closing down.

However, to remain viable, libraries need to incorporate new changes in their outlook to bring in more members and readers. For instance, parents, librarians and educators organise storytelling sessions, perform plays in their premises, plan author interactions and it seems to be working.

How traditional book libraries are being revived across the country

The Mcubed Library, Bandra, in Mumbai was founded in 1981. Over the years, MCubed Library has hosted music recitals, plays, literary festival, and recently celebrated the World Storytelling Day by the Secret Passages Storytellers (a Mumbai- based Storytelling group) wherein members and non-members attended and listened to the storytellers regale the audience with chosen stories on epics, legends and myths.

Furthermore, while conversing with Mr Bipin Maru of Shemaroo Circulating Library in South Mumbai he mentioned that it was founded in 1962. They have a vast collection of fiction and non-fiction books in English and Hindi language which through the years has undergone several changes including a shift from a big space to a small library. He mentions that even though at present they have around 15,000 members, only 20 % use it regularly, which is approximately 3000 active members and last year 300 new members were added. Hence, even though the business has slowed down, they get by.

Trilogy at Bandra in Mumbai is a bookshop cum library, where they run a café in their premises and welcome all. It is environment-friendly and has a wonderful collection of books for kids and adults, fiction and non-fiction. They hold events pertaining to books and book clubs, launches and varied workshops.

Tanu Shree Singh, author of the book ‘Keep Calm and Mommy On’, professor of positive psychology has set up two libraries, one at Faridabad and the other recent one at Tirthan Valley for underprivileged children in Himachal Pradesh and a few more are in the pipeline. She has initiated schemes in 11 remote schools in Tirthan Valley and helping them get their own library in classrooms kits. Tanu Shree mentions that when she was at Tirthan Valley and the library was newly opened, a few kids who visited the library started reading storybooks and were keen to take the books home with them. She had been waiting for this day since long. After signing their names they promised to return the books. We can only imagine the look of glee on the children’s faces and satisfaction on Tanu Shree’s face.

Evolution is key for survival

In fact, there’s this new initiative around the world which is gaining popularity and is known as the Human Library. A place where real people are on loan to readers and Mumbai is celebrating its second year. Their last event just took place on 9th June 2019 on how to ‘Unjudge Someone’. A place where difficult questions are expected appreciated and answered and meet up at a certain location and discuss on a particular subject and topic or their life stories. Conversations that do away with prejudices and stereotypes and the buzz it has created shows that it is a happy success and people are lining up to attend it.

A recent tweet by the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Bengaluru, Shri. K. Annamalai IPS tells us how he has initiated libraries across each of their 17 police stations, with 20 books each. Their aim is to make the cops more learned, smarter and well rounded.

At Flora Fountain, Mumbai, ‘Book Street’, opens up for business early morning every day. 100’s of books, fiction and non-fiction are stacked one top of the other for selling. This tradition has been on-going for many years. Buyers would range from children, college students to office goers to just about anyone who has a love for reading. Plus, one needn’t always buy the books, they can open a tab and issue books for a nominal amount and return once done, so it is easy on your pocket and no space constraints.

To conclude, libraries are facing a crunch in membership and readership due to the onslaught of the various forms of electronic media and to survive and sustain libraries need to adapt to new concepts. Evolution is the need of the hour. Communities and society as a whole have to come forward. Pathways to change in libraries are happening not just in Mumbai, but even other metropolitan cities and towns of India and they need to be lauded.

poyani & daughter
Poyani & daughter

About our writing program student:

Former librarian of Gopi Birla Memorial School, a Storyteller, actor in children’s theatre with The Secret Passages Storytellers and The 3 Musketeers, a team member of The Peek A Book Children Lit. Festival, Poyani enjoys baking, is very for of animals, music and travelling. When she’s not busy with work, she likes to spend quality time with her 11-year-old daughter. She occasionally likes to write travel stories as well.

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Tanya is a graduate in Sociology from Sophia College, Mumbai, a post-graduate in Communications and Media from SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai and holds a Master's Degree in Journalis & Mass Communications from Chandigarh University. A former writing mentor and a seasoned lifestyle writer, Tanya writes columns on The Lifestyle Portal of life and living.

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