From a small neighbourhood shop in 1955, Easwari Lending Library has expanded into a ten-location enterprise with 45,000 enrolled members from around the city. Liffy Thomas reads the success story

It is a little past noon and the basement of an apartment on Lloyds Road, where Easwari Lending Library functions, is buzzing with footsteps. As readers keep pouring in, N. Palani, the library’s proprietor, sorts out the books and occasionally attends to special enquiries by customers. Almost everyone has a warm smile for him.

Palani has indeed come a long way. Back in the1950s, he eked out a livelihood running a waste paper mart in a shack, barely 100 yards from his present shop. On the subject of how the library took shape, the 75-year-old says, “I received many old books and began to build a collection." A voracious reader of Tamil literature, Palani was easily drawn to books.

With over 500 books, a majority of which were from his personal collection, as stock and Rs. 800, taken from the paper business, as seed money, Palani took the plunge in 1955. From members, an initial deposit of Rs.5 was collected and 5-10 paisa was charged per book. Over a period, he expanded his collection by buying old books from the Moore Market. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Easwari Lending Library is not just one of the oldest lending libraries in the city, but is also among those with a wide presence. Mylapore was the first outlet that it branched out to. Today, Easwari Lending Library has expanded into a ten-location enterprise and is run on a franchisee basis in two pockets. It has close to 45,000 enrolled members, of which the maximum – 15,000 – are from the Adyar branch.

Palani says the loyalty of its clientele encouraged him to expand to various neighbourhoods. “You name the book and you will get it here,” says B.Vaishnavi, the third generation in her family to have a membership with the library.

Palani runs the show with the support of his two sons, P. Saravanan and P. Satish. Saravanan takes care of the finance, and Satish tries to leverage the business through technology.

Book-binding is another segment of the business which is doing equally well. Despite escalating rentals and difficulty in sourcing manpower, plans are afoot to take the library to more neighbourhoods. As a result of these constraints, the brothers have gone in for the franchise model in a few cases.

Being spread across the city, the library is turning to technology to maintain standards. “We will soon be connecting all our branches online,” says Satish. “This will enable a customer to return or renew a book at any branch.”

(A column about entities that have outgrown neighbourhoods)

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