From 600, the number of libraries has come down to 417
Despite a marginal increase in the number of libraries registered with the State Library Council in the district, many libraries have closed down over the years.
The gradation committee of the Library Council has received applications for grants from 417 libraries in the district this year compared to 402 libraries last year and 398 the year before that.
However, statistics show that there are supposed to be over 600 libraries in the district which means that many of them have closed down.
The District Library Council has plans to revive many of them but is hard pressed for funds.
Besides, the libraries often find the fund allocated for buying books inadequate considering the high price of books.
Annual grant given by the State government and the library cess collected by local self-government bodies along with property tax continue to be the main source of funding received by the State Library Council.
“But local bodies across the State have run up huge dues in terms of library cess as they divert it for other purposes. Despite handing over a substantial amount to the Library Council last year, the Kochi Corporation along with panchayats, and municipal bodies in the district still owe the Library Council several lakhs of rupees,” said John Fernandez, secretary of the district library council.
It is mandatory for libraries to spend 75 per cent of the funds received by them from the State Library Council for buying books and only the rest can be spent on allied-activities.
An executive council member of the taluk library council visits libraries within their limits once in three months to ensure that funds are properly utilized.
The gradation committee that vets requests for grants will also monitor the performance of libraries and their fund utilization.
While the Library Council will not admit it, the fact remains that membership in libraries, except in some major libraries in the urban areas, has been dropping even amidst the revival of reading. Many reasons are cited for it including lack of time to visit libraries and increased purchasing power of readers to buy books of their choice.
Mr. Fernandez said that libraries should be transformed from mere book lending points to cultural centres to stay relevant.
This calls for a slew of measures including the modernization of libraries.
Also the librarians, who now undertake the job as a voluntary service, need to be paid more.
At present librarians s belonging to the top three grades receive a paltry Rs. 1,200 per month while it is Rs. 750 per month for librarians in the remaining three grades.