A library is not just about books or reading. It can be much more, as shown by the Vidyaprabodhini Grameena Vayanasala in Vilappil panchayat.

Located in a rural setting, with the bustle of the nearby capital city slowly beginning to knock at the door but yet to come in, the library, set up in 1935, has been more than a space offering books and newspapers. Starting with training in radio and television repairs and mechanics about 20 years ago, Vidyaprabodhini has offered tailoring classes for women of the panchayat, computer classes for the youth, and now is offering coaching to a handful of teenagers for all sorts of competitive examinations. Family counselling sessions and counselling for school students are on simultaneously, and next on the cards is a personality development programme for students from classes 7 to 9.

Interestingly, this library’s role in the history of the Vilappil, a panchayat that has unfortunately been in the news more because of a controversial garbage factory there, includes the setting up of the Vilappil Service Cooperative Bank, a financial institution now with over Rs.80 crore in deposits. The library members were the founders of the bank, and this was much before the country gained Independence.

Collection

With a cache of nearly 16,000 books, the library has a modest list of 200 life members and about 800 normal members; 200-odd people drop in on a daily basis to surf through the newspapers and the magazines. Contrary to trends in the nearby city or elsewhere, there has been no drop in the ‘fan following’ of the library, G. Sudhakaran Nair, president of the library since 1989, says.

The library, he says, has been able to maintain its connect with the people of the panchayat, both young and old, and is yet to face the challenges posed by new-age counterparts such as online libraries or Kindle.

Undaunted

“We are of the opinion that if the library is opened at the right time and maintained properly, the readers will come,” says Mr. Nair, adding that Vidyaprabodhini was among the first to conduct reading contests for school students, now an idea being carried out regularly by libraries across the State.

However, that has not meant that all is rosy for the 79-year-old library. And those issues, Mr. Nair says, are common to most libraries across the district and the State. Non-payment of grants, meagre funds that come slow, and so on have seen the library put on hold several projects it had lined up for the panchayat. Even payment of the electricity bill is a nightmare.

There are many more libraries like Vidyaprabodhini in the rural and semi-urban terrains of Thiruvananthapuram district, some of which have recorded more than a century of existence.

Sadly, despite their roles as hubs of learning, of social service, and much more, the attitude of those who hold the purse strings in the State has been rather cold towards them.