Wanted: Another library movement

Youth engrossed in reading books and newspapers at the Regional Library. Photos: K.R. Deepak

Youth engrossed in reading books and newspapers at the Regional Library. Photos: K.R. Deepak  

The National Library Week is being observed from November 14 to 20.

One often comes across youth complaining of the high cost of books and their inaccessibility to academic libraries once they are out of their college or university. A majority of the parents are content with providing the prescribed textbooks for their children and do not seem to think beyond them.

Not many schools provide good libraries and the children are forced to waste their precious spare time before the idiot box, watching adult stuff most of the time. Public libraries are a means to bridge the gap. The Government is neglecting libraries, which are a must to promote the reading habit and spreading literacy.

Libraries are generally used for education, information, recreation and research. Academic libraries are used for education and research and special libraries for information and research. Public libraries are used for all the above purposes.

Public libraries are meant to cater for the needs of the general public, who do not have access to special libraries like those attached to educational institutions and industries.

The library movement was carried on simultaneously along with the freedom struggle. Public libraries have been established right from the grassroot-level. However, with meagre funds being allotted to them, libraries are unable to serve the purpose for which they have been set up.

Ironically, five-and-a-half decades after the nation attained Independence only 10 States have enacted the Public Libraries Act. Library cess is being collected in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Haryana for the maintenance of public libraries. Though no cess is being collected in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Manipur, they are still being run.

A hi-tech library under construction at Dwarakanagar.

A hi-tech library under construction at Dwarakanagar.  

In AP, there are Zilla Grandhalaya Samsthas (district libraries) in 22 districts, besides the City Grandhalaya Samstha in Hyderabad, which are under the control of the Department of Public Libraries. This apart, there are seven Government Regional Libraries at Visakhapatnam, Rajahmundry, Guntur, Tirupati, Warangal and Nizamabad and the State Central Library in Hyderabad, which is the apex library in the State.

The budget being given to Regional Libraries for purchase of books and periodicals, which was fixed at Rs.60,000 per annum 15 years ago, has not been revised till date. The libraries are not in a position to buy books and periodicals with the meagre funds.

"Even if one per cent of the expenditure being incurred on literacy programmes is spent on improving the infrastructure in public libraries, it will go a long way in promoting literacy," feels a librarian who prefers anonymity.

The Regional Library in the port city is located on the first floor of the Municipal Elementary School, opposite the Nehru Bazaar, Dwarakanagar. Though a cursory glance gives a rosy picture of the state of affairs, a careful examination reveals that many of the books have been stacked at `unreachable' heights of up to eight feet due to lack of storage space.

About the condition of periodicals and newspapers, the less said the better. The number of catalogue cabinets is inadequate resulting in the names of some books not being entered in the list. Some of the chairs are broken and they have been dumped in a corner for want of funds to get them repaired.

The saving grace is that the library is getting donations in the form of books and chairs. The library accepts books which are in good condition and which would be of some use to the public.

The Regional Library, established in 1965, is having nearly 50,000 books and subscribes to 70 periodicals. It has 5,300 registered borrowers. There are a good number of reference books which include dictionaries, encyclopaedias, yearbooks and biographies. It has a rich collection of books pertaining to history, language, literature and social sciences.

The library is also equipped with a xerox machine and readers are permitted to take get copies of the information they require by paying a nominal cost.

The in-charge librarian, Krishna Reddy, has grandiose plans to strengthen the book stack, increase the number of members (library users), and to establish a `Civil Service cell' to provide books and periodicals to candidates appearing for the Civil Services examination. The Government has sanctioned land for construction of a permanent building to house the Regional Library.

Meanwhile, the hi-tech library planned to be set up in the city is finally taking shape. The Visakhapatnam Public Library Society was formed with the idea of establishing the modern public library, equipped with Internet and other electronic facilities. The former Mayor, Sabbam Hari, and the then Municipal Commissioner, A. Vidyasagar, had agreed to the idea of building a two-storeyed building at a cost of Rs.50 lakhs on the corporation site and hand it over to the society for maintenance. The society was entrusted with the task of raising Rs.30 lakhs to set up and start the library.

The foundation-stone for the building was laid in 1999, after an initial amount of Rs.10 lakhs was raised in the form of donations. The construction work could not be taken up in view of the municipal elections in March 2000. The work is now progressing at a brisk pace with the initiative taken by the present Mayor, Rajana Ramani.

The Vizag M.P., M.V.V.S. Murty, had sanctioned Rs.10 lakh towards the construction of the building and had also promised to sanction additional funds from his local area development fund for computerisation of the library and installation of Internet. The executive committee has plans to set up a corpus fund of Rs.1 crore so that the recurring expenses like staff salaries, purchase of books and periodicals and organising talks and seminars could be taken up by the library. The committee appealed to philanthropists to contribute generously for the purpose.

The District Central Library (Zilla Grandhalaya Samstha) located in a far-flung corner of the busy Jagadamba junction lacks basic amenities like tables and chairs. The catalogues are also not maintained properly, which is causing inconvenience to users.

In contrast, even the county libraries in the US offer a wide range of facilities free of cost to members. The membership procedures are also very simple and almost any resident who has some valid document showing his identity can become a member.

There are book mobiles (mobile libraries) for the convenience of those who cannot go to the libraries. The county libraries offer a wealth of information on a wide range of subjects. Lack of information on any subject is a rarity and if that is the case, the member of one county library can access the books available in another library through `inter-library loan'. These libraries have children's section, teen service and books for all age groups. They have information on almost anything regarding any part of the world.

Recently, a person from AP wanted information on `Palnati Yuddham', he searched in vain for the book in different libraries in the state and finally got the information from a friend in a library in the US!

We can only hope that our libraries will one day live up to the maxim `a treasure house of knowledge', where the search for information should end. For this, perhaps, we may have to launch a second library movement.


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