Sai Prakash, who is in his late twenties, is one of the first people nowadays to climb up the cramped steps of the Ernakulam Public Library. Hailing from Thrissur district, Sai is preparing for the competitive examinations to get into the Indian Railways.
Like him there are many who hang out throughout the day in the century old library, making it their personal coaching centre. But for the past few years, they have been raising requests to ease the library rules, especially with regard to permitting entry of personal materials like laptops and outside books into the library for reference and study.
Because of the lack of infrastructure, the library, one of the oldest in the state, was not able to take up these requests. But with a new building to be constructed as part of the centenary celebrations, the library is going to get a makeover and officials have wholeheartedly considered the long-pending request.
Established in 1870, the library started functioning in the present day Maharajaâ€™s College in Kochi. The present library building, situated on TD Road next to Mahatma Gandhi Road, was constructed in 1972.
The library, which has about 10,680 members, houses a collection of nearly two lakh books in multiple languages such as English, Malayalam, Hindi, Sanskrit, Konkani and others. On an average, 500 members visit the library and around 800 books are issued per day.
The reference section, mostly used by research scholars and those preparing for competitive exams, is at present no bigger than a teahouse. The library has not been able to procure and store sufficient books per the increasing demand because of the infrastructural limitations of the present building, say library officials.
â€śDue to the shortage of space, the library has not been able to accommodate all research scholars in the reference room or allow them to use electronic equipment required for study or to bring in books from outside. Moreover there are safety concerns due to the condition of the present building, as it was built mostly with limestone. So we have planned to construct a new building with state-of-the-art facilities,â€ť librarian Priya K Peter tells TNM.
Speaking about the proposed building, whose construction will begin towards the year end, Sai tells TNM how the Ernakulam Public Library is different from others.
â€śI have been coming here for the past many months. I spend about 12 hours a day in the reference section preparing for my exams. All I have to spend for this is Rs 30 per month, which is the probably the cheapest fee any library charges. In some places, like in Hyderabad, the Public Library charges are Rs 1,000 per month,â€ť says Sai.
To be constructed at a cost of about Rs 12 crore, the new library building will be spread across 49,000 sq ft over four floors, in the land adjacent to the present library. The existing building will be scrapped once the new building is constructed. The new building will house a 3,600 square feet reference section. A 300 seat auditorium and a 250 seat mini-theatre have also been proposed inside the new building.
The reading room, which is at present a wardrobe-sized space, will get a major facelift in the newly proposed building. The new reading room will encompass 3,000 square feet and can be accessed even by non-members. The proposed cafeteria and art gallery, it is hoped, will increase the influx of people to the library. Library officials have also planned to digitise various materials from the archives, some of them even dating back to a hundred years.
Speaking about the proposed changes, Sai says, â€śThe only problem right now is the dearth of books in the reference section and the rules that prevent us from taking study materials from outside into the library. Iâ€™m really glad that these will be permitted once the new building is opened,â€ť he says.
Interestingly, the reference section will also have cubicles with computer systems and internet facilities for research scholars and media persons.
Harish, who works in an insurance company nearby, also expressed his happiness about the proposed amenities. â€śThe major problem with the library is the space constraint. The reading section, which is open to even non-members, and the reference section, which is mainly used by research scholars and students, are very congested. It is wonderful that more facilities will be added soon,â€ť Harish says.
Dwindling number of children
Though vocal about the planned makeover, Priya, who has worked as a librarian here for the past 18 years, cannot but mention the concern about the dwindling number of children visiting the library.
â€śTill five years ago, one saw a lot of children coming to the library in the evenings after their school hours. But now things have changed, it has become a rarity to see school students here. There are many children who have taken membership in the library. Even nowadays we see parents coming with children and making them take membership, but no one is turning up frequently after that,â€ť says Priya.
To woo more child readers, officials have also planned to include a special childrenâ€™s section in the new block.