Coimbatore’s District Central Library is a fine institution that makes available its vast resources to the common man

“No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library — Samuel Johnson.”

So reads a wooden panel at the reception of Coimbatore’s District Central Library. Shrouded in silence but for fans turning, pages rustling and the occasional horn outside, the library is home to two lakh books spread across three floors. If Johnson were to pay a visit, it would be proof enough to him not just of the vanity of human hope, but its variety.

Just off the reception, the library opens into a cavernous room with a large placard right upfront saying ‘Reference’. Smaller placards follow, labelled ‘Literature’, ‘Fine Arts’, ‘Zoology’ and so forth. “When people ask us for any book, we’re able to locate it just by the subject it comes under. The library has 12 staff and we know the ordering inside out. There’s also a computerised catalogue which readers can access,” says V. Sudha, office assistant.

As we speak, other assistants proceed through a vigorous dusting of the shelves and books, after which they spend their day working under Rama Kumari who spearheads the classification of new books that arrive on recommendation from Chennai. “Every book that comes here is sorted, labelled and our library stamp placed on every 50 pages so that the mark will remain even if it is stolen,” she says. Over 2,000 books were recently sent from here to the newly-opened Anna Centenary Library.

At the centre of the ‘Reference’ room stands a long wooden table which ends at the ‘New Arrivals’ section. A few early-morning walkers with jogging shoes still on, examine the latest books. Others march straight into the next room, floodlit through large windows, where over 10 newspapers and 50 periodicals are displayed. “Some visitors come every day the minute we open and stay till late afternoon,” says Sudha.

The library has over 600 visitors each day, with the numbers rising on weekends. On weekdays, college students spend 10-12 hours at a stretch in the ‘Exam’ section on the first floor. It contains both periodicals and textbooks for those preparing for entrance examinations, particularly engineering, management and Government services. “I come here daily with my own study material and use the library’s resources for extra reference,” says T. Raja who will give his IAS tests soon. This section is especially dear to him because other aspirants attending coaching classes share their material with him at the library. “We recently added a discussion room here for those who prefer group study. Some visitors are even tutors, who come after work hours and teach CA students here,” says Sudha.

The exam section leads up to the lending library on the third floor. One room contains only Tamil literature and another largely English with two shelves for Hindi and Malayalam. The library has over 52,000 members who utilise this department with 200-plus books being lent every day for a fortnight each. “For World Book Day, we ran a special membership drive and over 1,000 people joined us last month,” says Sudha. “This is one of the few places where we find Hindi books so I come often,” says A. Hema who is pursuing an MA in the subject. The lending library also has a well-stocked children’s section, again divided into Tamil and English, with low-lying tables, small yellow chairs and stuffed toys. Avantika, for instance, spends her holidays reading here every morning. “When I have school, I come on weekends and borrow for the week ahead.”

From 1987, the library has served the public from its present home. Earlier, it was housed in Gandhi Memorial Library Building at VOC Park, and prior to that in Victoria Town Hall from 1952. Of its vast patronage, Sudha says, “There are people who come here and tear out chapters from the reference books. But for every one of those, there are so many others who value the resources, return books promptly and even courier them back to us across states it they’ve left Coimbatore.”

QUICK FACTS

Where Cowley Brown Road, opposite Forest College’s main entrance

Timings 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (IAS Section: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. )

Holidays Friday, Second Saturdays

Membership Fee Rs. 60