Public libraries struggle to survive onslaught of e-books, Kindles

On the ocassion of World Book Day, former MLA Ravikumar started the 'public library selfie' challenge in social media, hoping to inspire youth to visit them often.

The social media was abuzz with World Book Day celebrations on April 23. Users posted book reviews, selfies with their favourite books and photos of the books in their reading list. Once a year on this day, social media is every bibliophile’s heaven.

Any ‘challenge’ extended in social media sites tend to trend. Be it the ice-bucket challenge or 10-year challenge, these tend to push social media users actively participate in a particular topic, by means of sharing their ideas or photos or videos.

Hoping to cash in on one such challenge, former MLA D Ravikumar of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) threw the challenge of a ‘selfie in public library’ on his Twitter and Facebook accounts. He urged his challengers to click selfies in public libraries and share them in the “comments” section. For those who ‘accepted’ his challenge, Ravikumar promised to gift a book.

Book lovers who found the challenge interesting and rewarding, posted selfies in Ravikumar’s handles. He got over 200 responses across his social media accounts. However, only a half of them had posted selfies taken from public libraries. Ravikumar was particular to reward only those who had met the main condition of the challenge, namely posting a selfie from a public library.

As the selfies started to pour in, it made him wonder if people still visit public libraries amid the rise of e-books and Kindles.“I started this challenge to encourage people to use the public libraries” says Ravikumar. This is not a one-off incident in which he gave out voice for public libraries. His maiden speech in the state assembly was about to increase the number of books purchased by the state government for its libraries. He also helped to reinstate seven libraries affected by the Chennai floods in 2015, by donating books worth ₹1 crore with the help of some publishers. He also brought bank employees association on board to renovate MGR Nagar library. His love for public library has a personal reason.” I completed both my degrees (MA and BL) with the help of public libraries. They have helped me beyond academics as well,” shares Ravikumar.

Libraries – should be a centre for cultural activities

On the occasion of World Book Day he also donated books to the district central public library in Villupuram. G Olivannan, CEO of city based Emerald Publishers says that the government enable these public libraries to be ‘centres of cultural activities,’ as opposed to branding them as just a place to read. While people like Ravikumar whose efforts mean well, people should be persuaded by the government to use the public libraries, he said.

“We need to convert our public libraries into a space for creativity. Every public library should organise live programmes relating to arts, literature and culture. We need to create a readers’ circle and create a space for conversation. Only then we can grab the attention of youngsters,” he says. Tamil Nadu, a front runner, but needs more work.

It is important to note that Tamil Nadu is the first state to enact Tamil Nadu Public Libraries Act of 1948. It also introduced ‘library cess’, a first in the country. The tax collected by the local bodies will be diverted to public libraries for its maintenance and other related activities. But for the past three years, due to the absence of local bodies, since the elections are not being conducted, the libraries lack funding and they find it difficult to provide better services to the readers.

In Tamil Nadu, the public libraries are governed by School Education department. Though the directorate of public libraries undertook several measures in association with schools such as celebrating ‘Library Rejuvenation Year’, they failed to attract readers, especially the youth.The books for these libraries are sourced by a committee appointed by the government.

After orders are placed with the publishers, the books will be sent to all the 32 district central libraries, from where the books are distributed to the libraries within the districts.“But the books selected by the committee are not of a high standard. In most of the public libraries readers can find only nationalised books. But books which help Kindle creativity or significant contemporary books were not purchased,” says Olivannan. If voted to power as an MP, Ravikumar says he plans to open ‘study centres’ in these public libraries in his constituency.

“Today, public libraries are largely used by civil service aspirants. But books that they require to aid in their preparation are missing, sadly. In the West, libraries have ‘reading rooms’ where the readers can bring their own book and read there. We should create such an atmosphere to woo the young readers,” says Ravikumar. He believes that promoting home libraries can help eradicate the rise of terrorism. “If a book enters a home, bigotry exits.”