From the overwhelming smell of blue-bottles, long-dark aisles and crusty pages of battered books, these libraries clearly stand apart. Glossy hard-backs, plush tables, high-speed internet and well-lit reading spaces make the libraries attached to various consulates a watering hole for bibliophiles.

The library at British Council enjoys a growing patronage for its extensive collection of books of all kinds and has also succeeded in sustaining its decade-old members. With over 33,000 books and 8,000 members, it is one of the largest foreign libraries in the city. “It is amazing to see how even children are keen on picking up books during holidays.,” says V. Bhuvaneswari, Head Young Audience (South India), British Council.

Saturday Matinee is the lure of American library, which attracts a large chunk of students and researchers. The borrowers, apart from going through works of American authors, can also get to watch classic Hollywood films and documentaries at the library. “It is our way of reviving the reading habit among youngsters. This propels a change in the minds of students who would otherwise not visit libraries,” said Mysore K. Jagdish, director of the library.

The non-English libraries at Max Mueller Bhavan, Alliance Francaise, and Russian Cultural Centre are also busy registering check-in and check-out books. Alliance Francaise has an expansive print trove of French books. If beginners can get their hands on learning the basics, those with fairly good knowledge in French can delve upon philosophy and religion. “We have over 8,000 books that are well utilised by students. With French becoming a popular language, we see a lot of our people becoming members to get access to our French books,” says A.Vijayan, one of the librarians.

Books on German architecture take up the majority of shelf space at the recently reopened library of Max Mueller Bhavan. German books that are translated in Tamil catch the fancy of Tamil readers. “We conduct reading session every month to encourage students to participate actively in library activities. ,” said K. Ilavazhagan, Library Head, Max Mueller Bhavan.

Taking cues from these libraries, Inko, the Korean cultural centre in the city, has taken its first step towards library-building measures. The centre, which now has a collection of 600 books, will soon offer membership for those interested in reading the celebrated art and craft methods of Korea, said Nandhini Menon, Managing Teaching and Information, Inko.

Even as the much-lamented talks about waning reading habits among youngsters seem everlasting, these libraries are reinventing themselves as places of intellectual retreat.

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Patronage for libraries on the riseFebruary 15, 2010