Society

Grab a book to do a digital detox

T S Govarthanan checks his catalogue

T S Govarthanan checks his catalogue   | Photo Credit: S James

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Afraid that libraries are losing their appeal to the new generation, Madurai man gifts one with some special features to the city

A year ago T.S.Govarthanan chucked his job as director of a pharmaceutical company to start a library. His teenaged son was the reason he says.

“We earlier lived in Vellore and my son grew up as an avid reader as there were no kids of his age to play around with in our locality. But four years ago when we came to Madurai, he changed, sucked in by peer pressure and technology,” he says. To distract his son from gadgets, Govarthanan purchased books worth Rs.35,000 in one year for the boy.

“He returned to books, but I realised not every parent can buy books worth so much money and not every home has enough space to keep so many books,” he adds.

And so after 12 months of research, study and surveys, he conceptualised ‘Readabit.in’ as an online library that would deliver books to readers at their doorstep anywhere across the country free of cost. He has tied up with courier companies and is also in talks with India Post for reaching the books to his valued members as they grow by the day in every nook and corner.

Readabit.in was launched on April 18 and by World Book Day (April 23), more than 50 members had registered. “I only shared my idea with a few friends and people from Dindigul, Sivakasi, Chennai enrolled. The immediately positive response has made me realise that libraries can still give a competition to ipads and mobiles,” he adds. It has also propelled him to attempt Guinness record for enrolling maximum number of members in single day. “The big day is on June 10 and Guinness officials have set a benchmark of 1,200 members but I am targeting 5,000,” he informs

Grab a book to do a digital detox

After reading about some well established online libraries in Kolkata, Canada and Australia and elsewhere, Govarthanan worked on his own model avoiding the mistakes and replicating the success of others. Though he considers his to be a work-in-progress, he claims that his library is the only among the very few online libraries in India that deliver the books totally free to the members.

He has also introduced certain features that make ‘Readabit’ stand apart. Starting with a collection of 15,000 books – of which 75 per cent he has purchased new and 25 per cent have been donated by family, friends and acquaintances – Govarthanan is determined to keep only brand new copies of books on his shelves. “You will not find a torn, worn-out book here. Any damaged copy will be replaced immediately without charging anything extra from the member,” he says as we go around the 1,200 sq feet ground floor of the building which used to be his home earlier. “I have shifted out with my family to be able to dedicate the entire space for setting up the library,” he says.

People from the neighbourhood have already started visiting the library though it is established as an online library which readers can browse from anywhere to choose a book from Readabit’s catalogue. They can also recommend books of their choice to other readers or suggest one that they themselves want to read and Govarthanan promises to promptly add them all to his bookshelf.

He also plans to mentor the readers by getting experts from various fields to suggest good books, especially to the beginners. “Many times people feel lost and are not sure what book to choose and our experts will guide them accordingly to sustain their interest in reading.

From classics to the latest, the scent of new books crowds the shelves at Readabit now. There is a wonderful hodgepodge of works of writers children and adults are familiar with – from J K Rowling, Enid Blyton, Devdutt Patnaik and Sudha Murthy to Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie Arundhati Roy, Raghuram Rajan or the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys to Geronimo Stilton Sherlock Holmes series.

Hundreds of books are still lying unpacked in cartons as Govarthanan grapples with enquiries and calls from old, new and prospective members. In the world of internet, libraries were becoming a remnant of the past, he thought. But seeing the response he feels people are realising that ultimately libraries will help in digital detox.

“Libraries are safe places to find empowering and transformative information,” he says and quells doubts about the online access to books. Though he is stocking several popular and best sellers under fiction and non-fiction for adults as well, Govarthanan’s focus is mainly on children’s reading habits. And he is encouraging memberships from schools and colleges. He says Readabit will give the unique logins only to the parents while for every 100 students of a school one teacher will get admin login. “This is to ensure cyber safety and keep a check on what books are read by students,” he adds.

Govarthanan has introduced two subscription plans. By opting for ₹150 p.m. limited subscription, a reader can take books worth ₹750 every time. And those who take Rs.500 p.m unlimited subscription plan, will be allowed books worth ₹1,000 on each visit. It will depend on individual readers how long they take to finish a book and the moment they are done they only have to click a button and the books will be collected or new ones delivered as per their choice within reasonable time.

Developing a reading habit with online library is extremely economical, asserts Govarthanan. “Those who do not find time to visit a library can save time, money and shelf space by renting books,” he says and adds, “community engagement is important to keep the libraries going.”

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 10:33:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/afraid-that-libraries-are-losing-their-appeal-to-the-new-generation-madurai-man-gifts-one-with-some-special-features-to-the-city/article23696106.ece

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