The Kozhikode Public Library and Research Centre here is a skeleton of its former self.

The shelves are almost bare. The periodicals in the large, airy reading room on the ground are in tatters and lie carelessly strewn around. Upstairs, meant for members, the yellow pages of a Mario Vargas Llosa peeks out from an unpolished, rickety book shelf. The furniture is mouldy and the bathrooms reek.

“What was once a paradise for students and readers is now a bare, plain shadow of what it had aspired to be,” P. Vasu, octogenarian freedom fighter, book buff, and convenor of the Kozhikode Public Library and Research Centre Samrakshana Samithi, said on Monday.

Samithi members, including Gandhian Thayaat Balan and human rights activist GROW Vasu, have camped outside the centre premises demanding that the State government take over the running of the centre.

The five-storey building located at Mananchira Square was constructed in 1996 in a mellow blend of traditional and colonial architecture.

Promises were made to introduce modern facilities such as computerised catalogue and a reference collection. Grand plans were announced to network the library with other libraries in the country.

But 17 years later, today, the library is on the brink of closure.

The salaries of the 14 staffers have not been paid for three months. Periodical subscriptions have been drastically cut. The last book for the collection was bought a year ago. The library’s governing body led by District Collector has not met for over a year. The governing body also includes noted writers M.T. Vasudevan Nair and M.M. Basheer.

“We have approached the Finance Minister, Education Minister and the Chief Minister for funds and a request that the government take over the library. The situation is pathetic,” Mr. Basheer said.

Fund-generating proposals like using the two upper floors for a children’s library and a researchers’ hub have not seen the light of the day. The centre survives solely on the rent received from a handful of shops it has let out. But the rent is minimal, barely Rs.1500 and hardly enough to pay for electricity and maintenance.

“The library needs at least Rs.1 lakh to survive. This library was built on the ambition that it would be a social and cultural hub in Malabar. We used to buy books worth Rs.10,000 a month here. Now, it is hand-to-mouth,” Mr. Basheer said.

To top it all, the Revenue Department had recently asked the library to pay Rs.50,000 as building tax – something public libraries in other cities in the State are exempted from paying, Mr. Basheer says.

To cap it all, a prolonged litigation in the Kerala High Court between the governing body and the District Library Council over the take-over of the centre has sapped energy and funds.

The case deals with a government order issued on December 15, 2010, authorising the Kozhikode District Collector to hand over the Kozhikode Public Library and Research Centre to the District Library Council.

Aggrieved, the governing body members had moved the High Court, calling the order arbitrary.

The court granted a stay on the implementation of the government direction. The case is pending.

The litigation has also stalled the transfer of 60,000 books from the Kozhikode District Central Library to this centre. This collection is one of the largest in the district with back issues of over 100 magazines, reference books and official gazettes dating back to 1947.

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