Aksharaveedhi: An open-air library in Kerala that makes books accessible to all

People need not necessarily ‘walk in’ to this open-air library.
Aksharaveedhi: An open-air library in Kerala that makes books accessible to all
Aksharaveedhi: An open-air library in Kerala that makes books accessible to all
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How often have we yearned for a quiet weekend spent reading the books we have always put off? What would make the equation more desirable, you ask? A cup of steaming hot tea, sitting out in the open, where nobody would demand a subscription fee, nor would ask you to leave.

A group of artists and art lovers in Thiruvananthapuram is not only basking in the sunshine, but also in the glory of having conceptualised an open-air library. 

For over a month now, an open-air library called “Aksharaveedhi” has been functioning on the streets of “Manaveeyam Veedhi” (cultural corridor). The Malayalam word “Aksharaveedhi” roughly translates to “the path of words”.

For the uninitiated, “Manaveeyam Veedhi” took shape in the year 2001 as the State Cultural Affairs Department’s initiative to support artistes and to make art more accessible to the public.

Since then, the street would come alive on weekends with art exhibitions and folk song programmes, and became a platform where artists from across the state could meet.

The open-air library was conceptualised by Team Nizhalattam, an artists’ forum with close to 100 members. It functions during the weekends from 6 am till late in to the night. The books include famous novels and children's literature in Malayalam, English and Hindi. However, newspapers, that figure into the essentials list for a Malayali after food, shelter and clothing, are made available throughout the week. 

Ratheesh Rohini, a member of Nizhalattam says that the team has managed to collect over a thousand books so far, most of them donated by the public. However, only 500-odd books and some Malayalam newspapers are displayed in the one book-shelf that is kept on the street.

People need not necessarily ‘walk in’ to the library. They can either borrow books for a period of two weeks, or chose to read it then and there. Hot steaming tea from a nearby tea stall is an added bonus, Ratheesh laughs.

The limited number of public libraries and university libraries accessible to the public prompted the group to set up a library. Four walls and a door would also mean that it needs to be shut at some point of time. And hence, the open air library was an ideal alternative.

Ratheesh says that for most working-class people who have conventional jobs find public library timings troublesome. “The libraries would be closed by the time they get back from work. That is what we wanted to change. Here, most of the people who come after 7 o’ clock belong to this category. They normally sit here until late into the night reading, or borrow books to be taken back home,” Ratheesh says.

Arun Samgraha, an artist, is the kingpin of the concept. 

Anything that is easily accessible to the public naturally attracts safety concerns. However, at “Aksharaveedhi”, one would not find anybody keeping a watch over the books. Though the initial few days saw a couple of newspapers being lost, gradually it stopped. 

“Even when it rains, some one or the other who is present there would wrap a sheet over the book-shelf.  It is the responsibility of every individual to do so. Along with encouraging a reading culture, we also want to promote these kind of values,” Ratheesh says. The team looks plans to introduce CDs of classic films to their collection in the future. 

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