Online libraries help reclaim a lost love: of spending time with books
Remember the last time you visited a library? For many, it would be a distant memory, probably when they were still in school or college. Somewhere along the years, in between the traffic jams and hectic schedules—not to mention the ill stocked shelves in the library itself—the charm of browsing through different titles, discovering new authors, and finally picking a book that evokes interest has been lost; a charm that a growing surge of online libraries are trying to re-kindle.
Probably the best selling point of online libraries is convenience. All that you have to do is register yourself, and then browse and choose a book. It will then be delivered to you at your doorstep, and when you are done, there is no hassle of renewal or return—they will come back to pick it up. All the while, you don’t have to move from the comfort of your home, or from your office chair.
“The concept of online library is working because of the comfort of delivering books at home. In an ideal setting, you go to a library and borrow a book, but who has the time in a metro city these days? By virtue of convenience it offers, online libraries are not only creating avid readers, but also bringing back readers to their lost love,” says Vani Mahesh, who started Easylib, touted as the country’s first online library, back in 2001.
Bangalore-based Mahesh is an engineer by qualification, but an avid reader at heart. The idea of starting an online library 13 years back, when the internet itself was at a toddler stage in India was a risk, but one worth taking, she says.
“I was in the US for a few years and remember the online revolution there around 1997-98. As a young mom, I used to find online shopping very convenient. Back in India I realised that the library system was not very good, and realised what was missing. I knew books and technology, so I decided to start an online library, whose software I designed myself,” she recounts.
What started with 3,000 books, has now grown into a full-fledged 28,000 titles rich library, which houses different genres—fiction, non-fiction, children—and is regularly updated with latest releases and best sellers. Among her readers are a growing number of youngsters.
While Easylib has its services restricted to Bangalore, INDIAreads, another online library has a pan India presence. Started more recently, in 2010, it has a wide variety of books on its shelves—including a reference section on government reports and studies, aimed at students, academics and bureaucrats, and not easily available to public, and also a separate category of books being made into movies or TV serials.
“Our aim is to make books accessible to everyone in the country; to make reading an enjoyable and hassle free experience,” says Shrawan Chhajer of INDIAreads, which has its head office in Noida, and has over 6,000 people registered with them.
According to Chhajer, apart from addressing the problem of time shortage, online libraries also address the problem of ill stocked shelves in libraries and bookstores in smaller towns. Moreover, schools and colleges often don’t have the space and resources to continually update their collection.
“Additionally, we don’t have a deadline to return a book. So once you have the book delivered at your door step, you can take your time to finish reading it, and then have someone pick it up from you,” he added.
Delhi-based Vikram Khosla, whose online library hookedonbook.com has 40,000 titles, says that subscribers list their top 10 preferred titles online, and while their top favourite gets delivered first, the delivery man carries the reader’s next favourite while going to pick up the first.
“There is also a provision for those living outside Delhi to rent books; we courier it to them,” he said.
The rental charges for most online libraries depend on how many books you want to borrow a month. For instance, in hookedonbook.com you pay Rs.200 for borrowing two books a month, and it can go up to Rs.1,000 per month for unlimited books.
Most online libraries also have a brick and mortar model (bookstore), and organise events like book release functions, meet the author, and workshops from time to time.
Although a big success, Mahesh does not think that online libraries mean the end of conventional libraries. “As long as there are hard bound books, there will be libraries and there will be takers. What needs to be seen however is what happens in the next five years, with the increased digitisation of books. In the US, for example, hardly anyone reads a hard cover anymore,” she says.