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Calling all bookworms!

There's plenty to browse through at the Escapade Children's Library in Tiruchi. Photo: A. Muralitharan

There's plenty to browse through at the Escapade Children's Library in Tiruchi. Photo: A. Muralitharan   | Photo Credit: A_MURALITHARAN

Libraries in Tiruchi pack a youthful punch in their services

As internet connectivity upstages almost every aspect of life and knowledge resources as we knew it, is it just a matter of time before the libraries are shuttered up too?

Parents and educators rue the visible effects of gadgetry-obsession on children today – the shorter attention span, the thrill-seeking in violent video games and a tendency to look for electronic solutions to simple problems.

Books, the ink-and-paper kind, are slowly disappearing into the electronic readers whose backlit screens allow people to scroll through pages long after the world has gone to sleep.

Displaying a set of encyclopaedia volumes at home is no longer a sign of erudition; nor is it very cool or exciting to heft a dictionary and thumb through its alphabetical lists to look for the meaning of a word. ‘Google’, the name of a search engine, has become a verb in almost every language of the world.

Hooked by books

But the spread of technology has been uneven. Which is why, though computerisation has outmoded traditional publishing forever, its close cousin, the internet has been unable to abolish the traditional library, which functions outside the educational institution.

“Compared to earlier years, more youngsters are using the library,” says V.S. Nawshathali, librarian at the Tiruchirapalli District Central Library (DCL).

Its new premises on West Boulevard Road near Singarathope, built at a cost of Rs. 4.30 crore, was inaugurated in June, 2013, with 1.5 lakh titles. The DCL also provides a range of services, among them, a dedicated section for children.

“We have designed this as a play-cum-reading area, and are in process of adding air-conditioning,” he says, as he shows us around a colourfully decorated hall.

A story-telling session is held on the last Sunday of every month, in addition to annual Library Week competitions for school children, and weekly screenings of educational programmes. The children’s section also has computer desktops.

Though only 50 children are using the library actively as members, it is visited by nearly 3,000 school students up to Standard X, says Nawshathali.

“One of our most popular sections is the study circle for government exam preparation,” he says. “A little ahead of the exams, we invite in-service government staff to speak to the students. We feel this is also a good way to raise awareness about the library itself.”

Variety of options

But a library need not just be about reading and books, says J.K. Ramapriya, whose Escapade on Warner’s Road, Cantonment offers its members the option of borrowing toys or DVDs with books. “The book is compulsory, so there’s no question of borrowing only toys or only DVDs, but it is good to have a variety of options,” she says.

Starting out in 2011, Escapade Children’s Library has got 300 members on its rolls, with around 150 actively using its collection of 5,000 books, that cost Ramapriya approximately Rs. 4 lakhs to put together.

“Initially I couldn’t meet the running expenses, but now I can pay the bills, and buy books regularly for the library,” she says. “It may not be a big achievement, but we are growing.” Anyway, she adds, a library can never really be a profitable business. “If we can make even a small difference to the ratio of people reading books, I’d be happy,” she says. The decision to be completely offline (though the title database is computerised and the library also has a website), has been a conscious one, says Ramapriya. “It’s true that people go to Google for information. But for entertainment, and relaxed reading, they come to a library. It is a pleasure reserved for books.”

Reading out stories is another activity that enhances bonding between parents and children. “As it is, the children’s days are packed with after-school activities like dance or sport lessons. The quality time that parents can spend with their child while reading out a bed-time story, is precious. No gadgets can replace that,” she says.

Escapade has separate schools offering art, chess and music lessons on its premises. Ramapriya is planning to reach out to members in the suburbs through a mobile library service.

Between the lines

The Karmugil Book Centre has been pulling in generations of bookworms since 1974. Its Rockins Road premises is crammed from floor to ceiling with reading material of a mind-boggling variety. “We have stayed away from the idea of computerising our collection for so long, but now my children are considering it,” says founder and dramatist Muthu Velazhagan.

There are around 4,000 books for children on the ground floor, which usually get picked up by grown-ups, he says. “Mostly I see mothers bringing their children along after school, but I have also noticed that there is an adult readership for children’s literature like Harry Potter [by J.K. Rowling].”

Vacation months are the busiest time for children’s libraries. “Many kids join up after hearing about us from their friends,” says Velazhagan.

“Actually children’s books are more attractive today than they were a few decades ago, and also printed more often. But not everyone can afford to buy all the books in the market. This is where a library plays an important role by making books available at a fraction of the cost,” says Ramapriya of Escapade.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 1:13:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/calling-all-bookworms/article6865287.ece

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