K. Rajendran gets his daily dose of news from the Circle Library on Bharatidasan Road at Teynampet. His grouse is that power cut often interrupts his browsing through newspapers.

“When the public come here with the hope of spending some valuable time reading, at least a generator should be installed.”

Recurring power cuts are not the only problem plaguing public libraries in the city. Lack of sufficient shelf space, inadequate procurement of new books, shortage of staff, weak cataloguing and poor illumination – there are problems galore, say regular users, including students and aspiring civil servants.

As visitors to public libraries learn from the eveningers that the imposing Anna Centenary Library at Kotturpuram will be converted into a paediatric hospital, they discuss the need for improvement of facilities offered at the local libraries.

The biggest issue seems to be shortage of staff. Around 1,000 books are stacked on a shelf at a branch library at Teynampet, but the rest of the collection is under lock and key. The reason: no one has been appointed for their maintenance. “None of these books is made available to the public, since no staff member has been put in charge of the library. When the lone staffer goes on leave, the library closes down,” says A. Ramaraj, a visitor.

There are complaints that not all fluorescent lights work in libraries, while the furniture is termed uncomfortable.

Most visitors to the circle and branch libraries come to go through the dailies and periodicals. “Only some magazines of good quality and reputation are subscribed to. There is a list of nearly 100 weeklies, but some leading periodicals have been left out,” says R.A. Ameena. Sometimes it is difficult to navigate through the shelves, complain visitors.

“There is no proper system to catalogue the books, nor enough people appointed to guide visitors,” says P. Senthil Kumar at the Devaneyar Paavanar Library in Anna Salai.

Library users also suggest a relook at the collections. A fresh stack of 300 new arrivals can be seen at a branch library, but visitors say that such fresh purchases are not often up-to-date or of sufficient variety.

Karl Marx, librarian, Devaneyar Paavanar Library on Anna Salai, says every year around 3 to 4 lakh books are ordered and distributed among libraries in the city.

At another public library, heaps of books occupy almost half a room. Incidentally, these were donated by the University of Madras to Anna Centenary library. “Now, probably more books will be added to this heap for the shifting,” says the librarian.

Students

The civil services study circle and students section in some of the libraries remain empty. “After the Anna Centenary library was inaugurated, students prefer going there and visitors have reduced,” says a staff member at the Bharatidasan Road library.

Aspirants for the civil service say the Madras District Circle library in Adyar is well-equipped with books for preparing for their exams, but feel that the ambience there is not ideal.