By R.K Narayan
5th April 1953
I AM generally put off by the expression Library movement. The very word “movement” endows the whole business with an abstract, unreal air. It produces in one’s mind a picture of humanity, jammed together, moving in a mass towards a goal – a very impressive picture no doubt, but having nothing to do with the business of reading. Or am I mistaken in thinking that the champions of the library movement are interested in the business of reading? Library science seems all concerned with furniture, locks, keys, registers, vouchers, and statistics, everything except reading. The most noticeable deficiency in any library to-day seems to be lack of propaganda for books themselves. It would be useful to inscribe on every library-wall the motto: “Books are meant to be read and not merely to be classified and preserved.” In every library elaborate rules are being framed for the borrowing and returning of books. There is a university library that I visit, where there are so many regulations for book-borrowing that few ever find the time to go in and borrow a volume.you have to spend half an hour before you get through the formalities of picking up a book from the shelf, and another half an hour before you can get through the various entries and signatures and go out of the library. Compared to this the ceremony of getting through a custom’s inspection looks like child’s play. In every library there are so many involved technicalities for this transaction that I sometimes wonder if they would not do better to keep dummy books with gilt titles in sealed almirahs, so that they may only be seen and counted and never taken out, which seems to be the best way of keeping a library secure, above reproach from auditors, and with unimpeachable stock registers.
The great handicap for the libraries now is that governments have begun to take an interest in them, and eminent men utilize them as thems for grandiose speeches. As a result of it most library efforts get entangled in red-tape, and become a matter of cess, Authority, statistics, and funds.
Recently when I visited a certain important town I saw a new library-building coming up at fevrish speed. The name-boards of the architect, contractor, electrician, and sanitary engineers, stood up on all sides of the compound in letters of the gold. The group was swept, lawns were laid and waterd desperately, and all workmen were finishing up their tasks by gas light. I felt pleased: the thought that someone was hurrying on at a desperate speed to provide cultural amenities to the townsmen was a very pleasant and sustaining thought. I felt that you couldn’t see that zest in any other part of the world. I felt that the friendship of those who were responsible for this was worth cultivating. I sought them out and expressed my feelings. They were naturally pleased with the compliment and were willing to give me all the facts connected with it. I learnt that the building was costing them two lakhs of rupees. They gave me the names of all technicians who were at work there, and concluded, “According to the terms of the contract the building must be handed over to us by the tenth of this month.”
“Why such a firm date?”
“Otherwise it will be no use for us. Sri, …… Will be passing this way on the tenth and he was agreed to perform the opening ceremony. If the building is not in our hands on the date it will be practically useless for us afterwards.” I could not accept the statement. “Why do you say it will be useless? You may always stock the books and start using the building any moment, irrespective of whether an eminent man is passing this way or not.”
“Oh, books!” he said. “We are not bothered about that now. We are thinking of only the opening ceremony.” I could not help asking, “when are you going to bother about it, anyway?”
“Oh can’t say. It Will depend upon the funds available at the end of all this.”
“If and when you decide to admit books into the library what will be your procedure for acquiring them?”
“We will probably call for tenders for the supply of books. We want to encourage the local booksellers and distribute the patronage evenly.”
I couldn’t help asking ” How are you going to select the volumes?”
“We shall leave it to the booksellers. We shall first measure the total shelf-space, get an approximate idea of the number of volumes required to fill them, and call for quotation for the supply of this quantity. Anyway we are not going to worry about this detail now. Our first requirement is building and furniture. After that we must find funds for spending up someone for library training, for which we are already receiving numerous applications.”
And so I gathered the fallowing facts and figures about the library:
Building Rs.2,00,000; Lighting Rs.15,000; plumbing etc. Rs.12,000; Garden lay-out and supervisors’ charges Rs.5,000; counters, shelves and furniture Rs.30,000; opening ceremony; printing of invitations, welcome address, president’s speech, and secretary’s report Rs.2,000; pandal and tea Rs.4,000 and Books No budget yet.
There I shall leave it without further comment.
The Hindu speaks on libraries
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