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Updated: April 29, 2011 03:44 IST

Mobile magazine libraries losing circulation

Liffy Thomas
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Members of circulation library get to read several books at a nominal cost. P. Arun, who runs a circulation library, delivering books to a customer in Mylapore. Photo: R. Ravindran
The Hindu Members of circulation library get to read several books at a nominal cost. P. Arun, who runs a circulation library, delivering books to a customer in Mylapore. Photo: R. Ravindran

Lack of staff, availability of books online the main reasons

For over 10 years now, reading magazines has been a favourite pastime for K. Sadasivam and his family members. The magazines are delivered on their doorstep in Kodambakkam thrice a week and picked up after two days by the staff of a circulation library based in Mylapore.

“It is a hassle stocking too many books or magazines at home. You get a paltry sum if you sell them to those dealing in old magazines. More importantly, often you would not read them if you have it for yourself,” says the 76-year-old Sadasivam. He pays Rs.160 a month to the circulation library and is entitled to take five magazines at a time. The library charges Rs.300 a month for supplying magazines as soon as they hit the stands.

Thanks to circulation libraries, many households like his in the city get to read several magazines by spending a nominal amount. Such libraries, however, are slowly going out of business. Owners of lending libraries, who initially had circulation libraries, say getting people to take up the job, essentially involving going to the customer's premises at a regular frequency on a bicycle, is not easy, even it is a part-time job. Some of them have also started using motorcycles to deliver the books.

Presence of many libraries and easy availability of books online have taken the charm out of the circulating libraries. Moreover, there is never a good time to deliver the books in a working couple household.

Five years ago, Maruthi Lending Library in Anna Nagar West Extension was circulating books in and around Anna Nagar. Now, it has restricted its services to Thirumangalam, where it has a membership of 200 houses. “We collect Rs.150 to Rs.200 per month from a member and salary for the delivery boy who works only in the evenings is Rs.2,000. It is difficult to sustain margins,” says S. Boopathy, owner of Maruthi Lending Library. To add to that, the library has to provide a bicycle to the delivery staff, and during summer vacation, the demand for books is low, he adds.

Easwari Lending Library, which has several branches in the city, also started as a circulation library. It has since discontinued the service as finding people to deliver books is difficult.

Many individuals, however, continue with the business as they say it requires minimum investment. Plus, it is one venture that is here to stay as reading is the best company for people of all age groups.

P. Arun, who runs A.K. Model Magazines Circulating Library, says he doubles up as delivery person. “I have hired three people, but as we deliver books to at least six areas, I also chip in.” He says that they work from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on a typical day, cover 60 houses. According to Mr. Arun, Mylapore has the maximum number of circulating libraries – nearly 300. “That's less. Years ago there were many more,” he says. If a customer is not sure of being at home when we go, I ask them to put the books in a polythene bag and hang it on the door. I leave the new magazines in the same bag, he adds.

There are individuals who are innovating on the circulation library concept with a difference.

Bookworm's Library, for instance, has converted a TATA Ace vehicle into a mobile library in which it stocks over 3,000 books and journals.

On weekends, the vehicle goes to the localities where it has members and allows them to choose from the collection.

Old magazines are bound together and rented out. “We allow our members to retain the books they choose for a month and we charge Rs.90 for 10 books,” says S. Gopi, founder, Bookworm's Library, which operates in 15 areas in the city.

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Liffy ThomasJune 28, 2012

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