You don't need to visit these libraries or spend hours at every aisle before you decide on which book to borrow. Their catalogues are available with a search option and at the click of a mouse, the books you want are delivered at your doorstep. Tech-savvy, convenient and economic, online libraries are fast growing into a trend, says Anusha Parthasarathy
Amrutash Misra believes that while more people are reading now than ever before, the number of libraries in Chennai is startlingly low. Hence, in December 2009, Sahil Gore, a VIT Pune graduate and Amrutash, an alumnus of IIT Madras, quit their jobs to begin iloveread.in.
“There are only about 15 to 20 online libraries and a much less number is actually functioning as full-fledged physical libraries in the city,” says Amrutash. “We decided not to charge a late fee or have a due date because the whole point is to make people read.”
And with his 3200-strong library growing by 200 books every month, Amrutash and his team of 12 keep the spirit of reading alive. “We have about 2,000 customers across schools, corporates and individuals. We also do school programmes, recommend books to readers and share reading lists of people with similar tastes. Most of the books we buy are also recommendations from our readers. We can't offer the ambience that physical libraries do but this facility has its own advantages.”
Book and Borrow
Four school friends grew up on neighbourhood lending libraries and decided to get into the book business together. Hence, Book and Borrow, the first online lending library in Chennai, came up in July 2009, the brainchild of Rukmini Amirapu, Anu Alagappan, Raji Divakar and Malvika Mehra.
“We thought about all the problems people face when they become library members; getting to the place, late fees and due dates. We have plans where they can be members for six months or a year based on how many books they want to borrow on every delivery,” says Anu.
While most of the titles are sourced from popular publishers, the women too take a hand in deciding which books to buy. “We know the bestsellers and old classics that people may like. When we buy books, we buy the entire series so that we have the whole range for the reader to choose from,” adds Rukmini.
At Book and Borrow, the readers are growing, with 500-odd regulars and others who drop in once in a while. “The concept has caught on really well, especially in the suburbs where there aren't many libraries,” says Anu, adding, “many senior citizens also find it useful and get their children to help them register and borrow. We have about 7,000 books with us and we keep updating every week.”
Shilpa Narayanan always wanted to start a library and decided to quit an auditing job in 2009 to follow her dreams. With just 1,000 books to begin with, she began Reader's Nest in August, first for her neighbours. “People in my apartment were borrowing from me at that time. Later, I heard that another neighbourhood library, Beever Lending Library was closing down, so we bought their stock. Now we have over 25,000 books,” she says.
Shilpa and her husband, who takes care of the technical aspect, then moved homes to Tambaram where they found a bigger space to house their growing collection of books. “The biggest problem was space,” Shilpa explains, “When I started the library, I thought I'd make it a place where people can come and sit. Then we just made it an online library with a delivery system, where you can choose from our online catalogue and order.”
But Reader's Nest is like any old lending library with a virtual touch. “We do have due dates and a late fee but it's a very nominal amount. Also, since we took over a library that has been around for a very long time, there are some books we have that you don't get anywhere else. We don't have plans and allow readers to just pay for the books they take,” she says.
And being the librarian full-time has its own charms, she reveals. “There's a good work-life balance with this job and my work hours are flexible. It's not like a lending library where I've to be around all the time to watch over the books. It gives me time to do my own things.”
After 25 years in the book business, S. Gopi wanted to start something by himself. A library seemed a natural choice. Thus, K.K. Nagar's very own neighbourhood library, Bookworm's Library was formed in 2001. And last year, the library also went online and mobile.
“The online library allows us a new customer base, where we deliver books home. So far, since it's only a year old we haven't done much marketing. In fact, we're working on a new look for our website which should be up in a week or so. This will have our entire database of 25,000 books online and we'll deliver the books within two business days,” says Gopi.
And the online library business is catching up fast, he says. “It's a great concept because we don't have time to go to a library these days. But we consciously try to steer our library customers against buying online because we'd like to widen our customer base. Right now there are only about 50 people who are regulars there,” he explains.
The books here increase on a weekly base. “We update and make sure we have many copies of bestsellers. We do have due dates, but no late fees because we pick up the book unless the reader chooses to extend the period.”
Keywords: online libraries