Bengaluru: Children who grew up in an era without cell phones and the internet are familiar with local libraries. There were tiny private libraries in the neighbourhood that were sometimes run in car garages. With piles of books stacked on every side, it was quite an adventure to browse through them, and the librarian’s ability to know which book belonged where, from a mammoth collection of books, would even put “Google search engine” to shame. If you were a regular visitor, your librarian would be aware of your reading habits, and would suggest books that will fit your requirement. Such was the close ecosystem that existed in a library where people bonded and reading thrived. However, with changing times, private libraries kept closing their shutters. What led to this change? How are private libraries faring in Bengaluru? Koshy Mammen, a partner of “BooksAxis” library, located close to Indiranagar Metro Station, started his journey in the world of libraries in 1997. He was part of “Justbooks” rental library from 2009 and started running the Indiranagar franchise with his team from 2014. In 2019 they moved out of Justbooks and rebranded the Indiranagar branch as “BooksAxis,” which has 16,000 books across genres, including magazines and regional language books. There are 450 active members as of today. “Two major age groups of readers that we have are between five and 15, and between 50 and 80 years. Fiction and Children’s categories are mostly in demand. The older people also prefer current affairs under the non-fiction category. Regional language books are only read by the older generation,” said Mr. Mammen.
“Busy lives and reduced reading habits amongst youngsters have led to degradation of library culture. Children are not encouraged to read at homes nor in schools. The new generation hardly reads a physical newspaper. With gadgets such as Kindle (ebook reading device) which is convenient to read while travelling, at least a small segment of people will choose that option,” said Mr. Mammen. “The cost of a book has gone up and the cost of a Kindle device has gone down,” he jokes.
Challenges of running a library in this day and age are numerous. “Post Covid, costs of books have increased by Rs. 200 to 250. For the price of one book today, we used to get three copies earlier. We used to invest Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 60,000 every month for buying new books but now with increased costs, Rs. 10,000 in three months itself seems daunting, as we now get 20 books as opposed to 40 earlier. In addition, running a library in a rental place with water and electricity increases the monthly expenditure.”
Through the challenges, Mr. Mammen believes that a library can sustain on new books. “You must always have a good collection of books. People mostly prefer new arrivals, and the library has to be choosy about the books it keeps.” He also believes that marketing via word of mouth by members is a big help.
One of the oldest private libraries in Bengaluru which runs even today is “Eloor Library” (established in 1989) on Infantry Road and the main reason why it thrives is because it is their own place and rental costs are saved. “Justbooks” rental libraries have drastically gone down in the last few years. Today, there are three branches in Bengaluru as opposed to 40. Earlier, there were close to 100 branches across India.
The struggles of running a library will continue to get tougher. Those who wish to start one are skeptical thinking of the costs of running one, but, there will always be a few who will strive hard to cater to the ardent readers of the city.