Libraries are shutting down — but not because of dearth of readers

Library, Reading, Books, Eloor libarary, Central library, Bengaluru, Chennai, Anna Centenary Library
Public libraries are doing worse off than private ones.

Located at the heart of the city, Cubbon Park in Bengaluru attracts many visitors on the weekends. It is the perfect place to sit on the concrete benches beneath a thicket of evergreen trees or on lush green lawns and read. While most bring their own books, a few walk over to the mobile library parked nearby and borrow an interesting read.

A bus-turned-mobile library is stationed inside the park. A collection of predominantly old Kannada novels and non-fiction books are stacked on adjustable iron racks. A couple of wooden stools and iron boxes serve as the seating arrangement for those who want to sit inside.

The mobile library, which makes pits stops at various locations over the week, parks at Cubbon Park on Sundays. Two hours after opening shop, it has barely attracted visitors. John Celestine, 57, is the driver and in-charge. He has worked as the librarian of the mobile library since 1993. Even as states like Karnataka and Kerala observed June 19 to July 18 as reading month to commemorate the birth anniversary of PN Panicker, the pioneer of the library movement in India, most passers-by choose not to stop by the library.

Seeing people walk past his library doesn’t bother Celestine. He says that while the membership hasn’t dropped much over the years, the number of people borrowing books has reduced drastically. He adds that mobile libraries attract some crowd during summer holidays but not otherwise. On an average he sees 15 customers a day. The lifetime membership that allows one to borrow three books anytime costs ₹100 per person. In the age of e-libraries, gone are the days where people stand in queue to borrow books from us, he says.

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