Sunday, August 19, 2007

Shelf-life, extended

Shelf-life, extended
R Krishnakumar & Vijesh Kamath
Outdated titles and a continuing focus on academic non-fiction are pulling State-run libraries down in the popularity charts. Clearly, in the age of the e-novel, it takes more than computerised catalogues to lure in the youngsters. Deccan Herald browses the racks to find out whats missing.

The writing’s on the racks. Pitted against smart, well-stacked private libraries, the State-run libraries in Bangalore are fast being reduced to newspaper reading rooms and reference units. The State Government allocates substantial funds for books in its libraries every year, but opinion is divided on the choice of books. Critics feel that in a publishing age that has redefined marketing blitz, it’s the laidback, babu-like functioning that continues to pull the State libraries down.
The book selection committees, attached to the Department of Public Libraries, decide on the books to be purchased every year. Apart from the State Central Library and five zonal City Central Libraries, the City has around 70 branch libraries. The choice of books and the frequency of updates is not something that the readers agree upon.
Popular fiction, both Kannada and English, has minimal presence in the State-run libraries. Popular non-fiction, including travel, self-help and new-age philosophy, also draw a near blank. While children and teenagers are pampered by private lending libraries with a range of choices — from Amar Chitra Katha to J R R Tolkien to Frank Miller — they don’t have much to cheer about here.
State Central Library
The wooden interiors and silence give the State Central Library in Cubbon Park the air of an old-fashioned reference library. From Hindu Law Digests to Kannada folk literature to cricketers’ biographies, SCL cuts across genres. What it falls short on is the buzz and freshness that a young reader would look for.
However, the library staff maintain that the reader profile cuts across segments. “As this is a reference library, everyone from school students to researchers come here,” says K D Haalavar, Chief Librarian. SCL buys books every year, on a budget that ranges between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 75 lakh. While readers agree that the library is well-stacked, there is worry over the outdated titles. “You don’t get sections like folk literature in every library... but they can do better on updating the collections, especially in Kannada literature,” says 27-year-old Jairam, an SCL regular.
You can spot William Dalrymples and Dan Browns here, but only just. The religion and science sections have many worn-out titles. Cataloguing — a book on museums is displayed in the Journalism racks — also has its share of bloopers.
The lack of contemporariness could be a turn-off for youngsters who look for bestseller fiction. However, the counter-argument is that the library, by design, caters to students. “SCL works as a reading room, where you can also take notes or get the text photocopied. You don’t read novels here,” says Ramakrishna, an SCL loyalist.
The first floor space for newspapers and periodicals is packed. Reflecting the simplistic take on libraries — that they are essentially for those who just can’t do with one newspaper
Malleswaram library
The Malleswaram City Central Library on Sampige Road is a library of contrasts. While the reference and periodical sections are extremely popular, the borrowing section is in tatters. The well-lit newspaper and periodical section is full any time of the day, and is used both by the young and the old. The library also has a multimedia centre with internet facility, and an archives section for old newspapers.
Many readers come here for the classifieds and job opportunities sections in the newspapers. Students extensively use the reference section on the II floor, which has a good collection of textbooks and guides for competitive examinations.
On the other hand, the encyclopaedia collection in the reference section seems to have remained untouched for years. The library has on its shelves the standard Britannica, Americana and the New Universal Encyclopaedia, apart from books on niche subjects like Electro-Chemical Technology, all purchased in the 1960s and containing outdated information.
In the borrowing section, there is demand for Kannada fiction. However, the common complaint is that many popular titles are not available. Not that there is a shortage of books, there are at least 12 rows of slim ugly looking volumes bound in cheap cloth cardboard. English fiction is almost non-existent: there are just 31 books in all, most of them by unknown authors.
The library is a second home to many who have been regulars for more than 20 years, ever since it was housed in an old apartment near 11th Cross, Malleswaram. The library, that was shifted to the present building in 1993, has a collection of more than 4.5 lakh books and a membership that exceeds 30,000.
Rajajinagar library
The Rajajinagar City Central Library, on the busy Dr Rajkumar Road, seems to be stuck in the 1970s. Most of the books in the borrowing and reference sections were purchased in the early 70s.
Browse through these sections and you get a feeling that it’s more of an archive than a library.
Where else can one lay hands on the 50-volume Harvard Classics published in 1957 or the Grolier Classics published in 1965? It’s hard to fathom the logic behind having five copies of Planning Development of Regional Disparities, published in 1987, in the library. Each book costs Rs 700 and has not been borrowed by a single member for the past 20 years. Long-term Planning for Agriculture in Nepal, published in 1972, is another shunned title.
There are seven copies of Gadadhari Chaturdasa Laksani, a commentary on Metaphysics in Sanskrit! Each copy costs Rs 350 and the books have hardly been touched. The library subscribes to 22 newspapers, 22 weeklies, 13 fortnightlies, and 37 monthlies. Here again, the periodical section is popular, but has a congested space.
*Launch: November 29, 1966
*Total number of books: 2,70,000*
*Newspapers and periodicals subscribed: 245
*Children’s books: 11,000
*Visitors per day: 1,700
*Books referred to per day: 2,300
* Approximate figures
What they say

Ivisit the Viveknagar City Central Library on a regular basis. Public libraries are very useful but they need to be upgraded and revamped. I’m interested in knowing the latest developments in science, but there are not many new titles in the library. Also, there are not many English books
Arbaaz Ahmed, student

In the age of Internet, information can be accessed at the click of a button. There is no need to go to libraries and browse through books. However, standards need to be maintained in libraries and they should be kept open to all those who find them useful.
Abhishek Jha, golfer

As a child, I used to visit the City Central Library in Banashankari. The maintenance and cataloguing in public libraries are not up to the mark. There used to be days when I waited and waited for the book I wanted to read... but the book would never be returned. Now, I prefer to visit other libraries.
Arvind, student

I’m not much of a reader. The college schedules and other activities keep me busy through the day. Even if any new book gets me interested, I don’t think I would go to a public library to read it. I would rather read the book on the Internet.
Mithun, student


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