During my school days, I used to frequent a local library called “Raviraj Lending Library” at Usman Road, T.Nagar, Chennai. In a large dusty room on the first floor of an old building, they will be having story books, comics, novels and magazines of every known publisher. I loved going through the piles of comic books scattered around – finding and picking up a new Archie comics or Uncle Scrooge or Richie Rich or Amar Chitra Katha was a moment to cherish! The reading charges, by today’s standard, was really cheap – and my parents readily gave me the money for reading, encouraging my reading.
Later, during my college days, when I graduated to reading big books – software books, technology magazines, novels and non-fiction, the library that I started frequenting was (then) newly opened Eloor Lending Library, North Boag Road, T.Nagar. I became a member there around 1994 – my member # was 227, for the first few years I got to read the books I liked for free, as the proprietress Mini Luiz approved my offer to help them on selecting the titles, especially on computers and management, that they can buy. Though I won’t call myself a regular after I started my business in 1997, still I used to go at least few times in a year. At 10% of the book price as reading fees, the library services were not cheap, but their selections made it irresistible.
Once my son started reading a lot, Eloor Library became his favourite weekend visits. After every visit, he will be bringing home, a dozen books or so, all of which he would finish reading in the next few days. When he was in Class 4 or 5, we were called to the school by his class teacher to complain that he brings more ‘fiction’ books to school than his textbooks. In making my son a prolific reader, Eloor Library has played a big part, thanks to all the staff there including librarian Ravi & others.
Unfortunately, every good thing has to come to an end. Due to the advent of technology and change in reading habits, most of the local libraries are getting closed. In that list of closures, it is sad to see Eloor Library joining. Due to reduced patronage and rising costs, they have decided to close by March 1st – as an entrepreneur, I can understand and appreciate the reasons; but as a reader, I feel a part of me has died. My son almost cried when we went to the library to close our membership and buy some books as memory.
Last year, I enrolled after many years in British Council Library, Anna Salai – but I didn’t renew it this year, as I found the selections they have is limited and the library being crowded with students of their English courses, making the place not conducive for peaceful reading for my taste.
I am optimistic about the future of reading & libraries.
Reading, will not be same as the one I grew up with, but I think it will be thriving. Three things are happening – ebooks have made books affordable to most (more than ever before in human history) and the prices will be coming down as volumes go up, local public libraries like the recently renovated Ashok Nagar public library or Seattle public library will become popular as people will want a community gathering place as everything else around them becomes digital, and, digital subscription services like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and free services like Project Gutenberg and Project Madurai will bring most of the written knowledge, accessible to all.