Libraries that aren’t on the same page with time

The M.K. Raghavan Memorial Library at Chullickal. A readers’ forum that regularly donates books keeps the library going. Thulasi Kakkat

The M.K. Raghavan Memorial Library at Chullickal. A readers’ forum that regularly donates books keeps the library going. Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Shortage of librarians, absence of digitisation, and neglect sound the death knell for publicly-funded libraries in the city

The Kochi Corporation’s libraries are stuck in a time warp. The lack of digitisation, absent or elusive librarians, and the neglect that keeps books behind locked cupboards have edged the publicly-funded institutions closer to their death.

Albert K.X., retired as attendant at L.G. Pai Memorial Library at Amaravathy over a year ago. But in the absence of a librarian, he continues to unlock the reading room every day for the library’s few patrons. The books, a collection of over 7,000, have remained locked up since the last librarian left five years ago, Mr. Albert said.

The stack of newspapers that arrives daily is no longer paid for by the corporation. Mr. Albert could sanction the bills and send them to the corporation till he retired, but without a librarian or an official attender, the bills were left unpaid till the ward councillor, Benedict Fernandez, began to foot them.

The library predates the formation of the State, according to former Mayor K.J. Sohan. It was shifted to its current premises by the corporation in 1990, but in the 30 years since, the post of librarian has still not been created. “The last librarian who worked for a few months came through the employment exchange, but the State Public Service Commission [PSC] appointment will not happen till the post is sanctioned,” Mr. Albert said.

After lying vacant for months, the librarian’s post at the Corporation Library at Palluruthy and the K.J. Herschel Library at Fort Kochi were filled earlier this month. The Vyloppilli Public Library at Kaloor is also without a librarian, according to M.K. Gopalakrishnan, the caretaker. “The PSC rank list for municipality and corporation librarians in the district was released in 2016. The list expired earlier this year with several candidates still without postings,” said a candidate on the rank list. “It is up to the corporation or the municipality to take initiative and get the posts sanctioned by the government. But it is easier for the civic bodies to make temporary appointments and pay small daily wages,” the candidate said.

“According to the new rules, a librarian for the L.G. Pai Library can be hired only from the employment exchange. We have placed a request for an appointment,” said Benedict Fernandez, councillor from Amaravathy.

The K.J. Herschel library at Fort Kochi lacks even a board outside that could announce the presence of the institution, which is over a century old by Mr. Sohan’s account. The library has 35 active members, said Haseena T.A., who was the librarian till her transfer in July this year.

Fort Kochi’s waste is collected and loaded onto trucks behind the Health Inspector’s Office next to the library. “The stench from the garbage has been keeping readers away from the reading room,” she added.

Despite housing around 14,000 books, the library does not have a computer, or even a telephone. “We had placed multiple requests before the corporation for a computer, but that never worked out,” Ms. Haseena said. The library went without electricity for six months this year when the KSEB cut connection on the grounds that it was drawn from the surrounding buildings, she said.

All the seven corporation libraries, including the one at the corporation’s Centre for Heritage, Environment and Development, and a few private ones receive books worth ₹25,000 supplied by the Kerala Book Marketing Society and funded by the corporation every year. The set that the L.G. Pai Library received last year was added to the stack of books locked up. “Sometimes, books we already have are supplied again, and we end up with multiple copies,” Mr. Albert said.

“The librarian is not involved in ordering books, so there is little scope for requesting titles that are not in the collection,” a librarian said.

The library at Vyttila is the only corporation library that is a member of the State Library Council. It receives an additional grant of around ₹20,000 annually from the council for book purchases. But there are few members, and the books are locked up when the librarian is on leave, with only the reading room left open. “It is neither run efficiently nor has the staff introduced any positive interventions or proposals to revive interest in the library,” said P.S. Shine, member of the corporation standing committee for welfare.

“Libraries that are part of the council are required to conduct regular educational activities and discussions as per the council’s directive,” said a Library Council official.

The corporation must pay 5% of the annual property tax collected as library cess to the Library Council, which distributes it as an annual grant among the libraries that constitute it. According to the corporation’s receipt and payment statement schedules from 2018-19, the library cess payable amounts to ₹4.19 crore. “According to the 2017-18 local fund audit, the Kochi Corporation owed an amount of ₹24 crore to the Library Council. Small amounts were paid after the audit, but the dues are still large,” the official said.

The M.K. Raghavan Memorial Library at Chullickal defies the image of the musty, deserted corporation library. Saleem Shukoor, the librarian, chalks it up to an active readers’ forum that regularly donates books. One of the library’s 300 members even donated a computer.

The building was renovated around five years ago, leaving it more spacious, Mr. Shukoor said. But an attendant has not been appointed since 2013, leaving Mr. Shukoor to tend to the place himself all through the year.

Plans were afoot in 2017 to set up computers and digitise sections of the M.K. Raghavan Memorial Library at a cost of ₹5 lakh, said Saneesha Ajeeb, Chakkamadom councillor. But the plans fell through as there was no response to the tenders, and the funds lapsed, she added.

Mr. Albert remembers a time when the L.G. Pai Memorial library would be so crowded with readers that a newspaper would have to be split into many sections and handed out. But that sort of demand does not exist anymore, particularly among youngsters, he laments.

If a public library had regularly updated collections, both in English and Malayalam, along with a digitised list of books and reference books, they could be ideal places for research, countered Anna Kattampally, a student of St. Teresa’s College.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 9:13:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/libraries-that-arent-on-the-same-page-with-time/article30814525.ece

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