Sixty years after its inception atop Koshy’s cafe on St. Marks Road, British Council Library in Bengaluru, which later moved to Kasturba Cross Road, has shut its doors. It will now be available only online.
Earlier this week, British Council announced that five of their eight libraries in India will be made exclusively digital. It informed library members that its physical libraries in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Hyderabad and Pune “will now become fully online services”.
“More recently, we have started online English language learning courses for adults and young learners, and we want to ensure that more people in more cities can access our wide range of digital learning resources,” the announcement read.
The library will be converted into a centre to conduct International English Language Testing System (IELTS) tests and other United Kingdom examinations operated by BC Examinations and English Services India Pvt Ltd.
It isn’t the end of the library, technically. British Council has said, “We will be launching the mobile app version of the digital library at the end of June for both Android and iOS platforms.”
But perhaps as S. Narayanan, 67, a retired English professor, says, “It wouldn’t be the same as reading a book.” He was a member of the library from 1984 to 2011. “You get a sense of joy when you search for a book and find it. Sometimes, you end up discovering new books that are interesting.”
Narayanan recalls the time when he’d visit the library when it was above Koshy’s. “The library used to be open on Sundays. So, I used to go there from Yelahanka, meet my friends over coffee and snacks at Koshy’s. I really miss the experience.”
According to Santosh Koshy, a third generation owner of Koshy’s, there were many like Narayanan. “My grandfather facilitated the British Council library to be set up above the cafe. A lot of our customers used to visit the library or vice versa.”
He recalls Prince Charles’ visit to the library in 1991. “Only a few people were allowed to meet him. My dad could go in. And, the rest of us, who waited outside, shook hands with [Prince Charles] outside.”
Writer C.K. Meena, who used to visit the library in her college days (late 70s), says it largely comprised books for studying rather than light reading. “Journals, foreign papers… I used to go there for literature books. I even had a copy of a Shakespeare folio with the old English spellings. But once literature books decreased drastically, I stopped going there.”
Now, British Council’s online library will have thousands of ebooks, audio books, magazines, journals, movies, music among other things. But many from professor Narayanan’s generation will miss the serendipity of stumbling upon a new book.