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City’s libraries struggle for survival in digital age

By Sana Husain| 18 March, 2016

Gone are the days when everyone used to regularly visit a library as if it was a religious ritual. Today, books have been replaced by mobile phones or other gadgets that have reduced it to a mobile application and even computer software. The relationship between the reader and the tactile book has changed, as readers prefer accessing it at the touch of their fingertip.

In 2011, when Amazon’s Kindle Fire, an e-reader entered the market, there was a sharp spike in its sales. This is where the reading experience changed altogether. According to The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, those who didn’t own any e-book reading devices said that either they don’t need or want one, can’t afford one or they just prefer printed books.

Faced with growing technological options and decreasing attention spans, lending libraries struggle against obsolescence in the digital age.

In the face of this anomaly, British Library sells more than just books, such as DVDs like Agatha Christie’s “The Seven Dials Mystery”, Pride and Prejudice, ‘Walking With Dinosaurs, Best of British Classic Comedy to Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, that are stacked neatly in one row below the other. Its view enthralls one’s eyes.

The books organized at the book stands tagged as “Contemporary UK”, “Arts”, “Management”, “Fiction”, “Literature”, “ELT collection” seem to be a beautiful treasure, handpicked and organized into one layer of the building.

On the opposite side are rows of tables where old men and college students work on laptops or read a thick literature classic, like The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

The typical library setup is made interesting with the secluded little corner for kids, floored with blue mat and colourful bean bags and toys, to suit the reader’s comfort zone.

Leighton Ernsberger, assistant director Bengaluru and skills said that the Indian Council for Cultural Relations is the legal parent of British Library. It runs as a charity, where membership suffices for the running costs.

To supplement its finances, or rather “Making room for new things”, said Leighton, British Library sells about 20,000-25,000 old books for a considerably lesser price. They increase readership by updating resources online and thereby, providing a database of 1,30,000 books.

Fifty to sixty per cent renewal of memberships is observed every year, at British Library.

Apart from conducting reading challenge/ book-review contests for children and workshops on topics like Shakespeare’s play, that form a recurring part of the routine, the events are centred around the anniversaries of important personalities or subject.

To draw readers to the library, 2016 was marked as the Shakespeare year, celebrating his death anniversary and not just one day in the month of April.

According to Ugandhar, assistant manager at British Library, the readers in Bangalore want to buy more instead of borrowing books from the library.


Sanveer Singh‏@sanveer23

Torn between libraries in Bangalore – JustBooks, British Library or both.

6:39 AM – 1 Oct 2015


A red and robust structure stands tall amidst the vast, lush green stretches of Cubbon Park.

This is State Central Library, a product of public ownership, originally built in memory of Diwan Sir Seshadri Iyer, the Diwan of Mysore. It has units in all the districts of Karnataka.

Raghu, an engineer who said he reads everything, has been a patron at State Central Library for 20 years talks about its drawbacks: “This place doesn’t allow using laptop, even after having the infrastructure. Their indexing is bad. Every time, I have to spell the name of the book.”

He visits Alliance Francaise library more than the State Central Library. “Here, the bulk of readership is formed by students and 20 percent is comprised of by other kind of readers. International readers can be rarely seen here,” he added.

In the suburbs of HSR Layout is a unique library called Discover Kids.

In the play area, a mother is sitting inside a small fancy playhouse while her children play around it.

Main area of the library forms the study room, where children productively invest their time in the summer vacation. In the adjacent room, an art class is in progress.

Amidst the bustle in the busy space, is Shubha Issini, the owner of Discover Kids. A private establishment that she started 10 years ago with 1,000 books, it now has a collection of more than 8,000 books. With membership plans for three months, six months and one year, it charges Rs.400 per month. To keep the library afloat, she runs the library, by combining other fun and creative pursuits, to sustain readership amongst children. This is a stand-alone library, meant for the young, developing readers, that hasn’t stopped drawing attention from various parts of the city.

“The purpose for starting this concept originated from the love for reading and children,” said Shubha, adding that customers visit as often as every 10 days.

Saturdays consists of storytelling activities with guests for poetry-reading and book reading sessions.

The library has employed permanent teachers at Discover Kids and also allows parents to volunteer as teachers there. Not only that, but there are also books for adults in a different shelf.

Being at par with the tech-savvy world, they’ve “software of books for children, where they can check in and check out on the system, after scanning the barcode of the book they are interested in,” told Deepa, the librarian at Discover Kids.

“Older children are quickly growing out of libraries, unlike the younger ones,” added Shubha.

“Lending libraries are an integral part of the city life,” said Aruni, a mother of three kids at the library.

Although schools encourage reading habits, “In schools, the library period is only weekly and just for an hour,” chipped in Maria, Aruni’s daughter. In school, they don’t get to choose any book that they want. The books are segregated class-wise, where the qualified librarian decides for the children a particular section to read from. Due to these limitations, such libraries still stand strong and appeal better to children.  Aruni finds Discover Kids “soothing and homely” and Prarthana, another child, who has been visiting the library for the past five years said, “I love the environment here. It’s playful, fun and enjoyable.”

The trendsetter in Bengaluru is a chain of libraries, named “Just Books.”

Just Books franchise owner, Suresh Warrier, looks after two libraries, one in RR Nagar and another in Banashankari, in Bengaluru.

“Somebody who felt Bengaluru didn’t have good libraries, seven years back in Indiranagar, started more of a neighbourhood library, and spread it throughout India,” said Suresh.

Accessible to only the members, the privately funded library uses the motto “Rent, Read and Return.”

The library fee varies, starting from Rs. 300, depending upon the number of books the members want to take at once.

He said that the first segment of their consumers is formed by children studying in kindergarten up to high school. Keeping in mind their financial status, conscientious parents don’t want an influence of technology on their children. The second segment comprises of older people above 45 years of age, who aren’t keen on reading on Kindle. This implies that a large chunk of the population still relies on libraries instead of the digital versions of books.

A strategy to hook the readers, “We predominantly bring Indian authors to talk about their books, as part of the activities of engaging the readers; whereas international authors go to bigger book stores. Even non-members can join in during this,” said Suresh.

In the age group of 18-35 years, there are lesser readers because one tends to be busy with other things, such as college activities and then later working and getting settled in life becomes a priority. There, reading takes a backseat. After crossing that stage in their lives, they realize they need to spend time with themselves. In certain cases, parents read out to their children in summers. Despite the fast-paced life in the cosmopolitan Bengaluru, Just Books enjoys a large share of its readers, from almost all age groups, at some point of time in their lives.

Chanda Jadhav, a retired principal living in Bangalore, remembers visiting a library in her childhood in Mumbai.

“Of people who visit libraries have decreased due to the technology factor,” said Chanda. For her, another factor is time..

“A housewife like my 58-year-old sister is an active member at a library in Pune. She still visits it regularly. I was tied down by work in school and never had time to visit any,” Chanda explained.

However, she said she thinks lending libraries won’t fade out, as there still are children and grown-ups who prefer reading actual books over their electronic versions: “One who can’t afford books will always visit the library.”

Alifiya Saifee, a Bengaluru homemaker who has been an active member at Just Books for the past five years, said, “In my childhood, going to a library was a luxury. Hence, I used to borrow from friends. Also, parents stressed more on the exchange.”

She said that she prefers Just Books 90 per cent of the time because the adults’ books are constantly updated, unlike with children’s collection.

She added that with the lending library facility, parents are able to divert their child’s attention and prevent them from just sitting in front of TV.

Dr. R. Rajesh, a sociology professor at Bangalore University, said that libraries can sustain themselves by providing exclusive research content, which has to be otherwise paid for online or subscribed to. Also, in rural areas, people aren’t technologically-equipped enough to access e-libraries. Every system serves particular needs; hence these lending libraries won’t be completely out of the picture.

Parents equate reading habit to good academic performance. As the literacy rate is improving, the tradition of lending libraries shall continue, perhaps, evolving with new technological strokes of perfection. Situated in different parts of the city, these libraries continue to serve many, while struggling to survive in the digital times. Today, the readers are pampered with numerous choices, on different platforms, still they prefer libraries “ people love the smell of the book. They want to insert a bookmark in it, keep it on the chest, which people still prefer to do,” said Suresh.

 The story was originally published in The Beat magazine.

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