How libraries are getting their groove back
No dusty book cases. No straight-backed chairs. Best of all, no one telling you to Ssh! Today’s readers have it better than ever.brunch Updated: Aug 16, 2015 15:13 IST
Weekends at Trilogy at Raghuvanshi Mills in Lower Parel are clearly family days. Pre-teens are in one corner, older people occupy the others, but everyone is absorbed in a book. It’s pretty much the same at Just Books in Nerul, while at Leaping Windows in Versova and The Hive in Bandra, young people are sprawled on rugs and cushions or curled up in nooks and crannies, each with their face in a book.
These places are not bookshops. They’re libraries. But not the kind you’d remember from your school days. There isn’t a single stern librarian demanding utter silence. These libraries believe reading is about entertainment and relaxation.
So Trilogy, which opened last December and now has more than 100 members from Mumbai and Thane, is a library but also part-bookstore and part-event space hosting poetry projects, workshops on comparative mythology, and regional film screenings.
Just Books, a library chain across 11 cities, with five outlets in Mumbai, runs on a bookstore-like system, complete with a ‘New Arrivals’ section and touchscreen search facilities.
Leaping Windows, which specialises in manga comics and graphic novels, offers a delicious café menu, and The Hive, a cultural hub and performance venue, offers 3,000 titles – or you can bring your own book to read.
Even older, established libraries such as the one at the Nehru Centre, have relaxed their rules, all to draw dedicated readers in, and create new ones. Being a member of a library isn’t what it used to be.
Let's get physical
“Today, libraries need to be active social spaces,” says Arati Desai, librarian and documentation officer at Nehru Centre Library, which was moved into another building, renovated and reopened in November 2013. “We demarcate a ‘Silence Zone’ and open up the rest of the space for group readings, TED Talk screenings, writing workshops, and literary activities.”
At the core of the makeover is personal contact with physical books and events. In an age of online information and online friendships; accessing tons of books, meeting fellow readers or being drawn into events and performances in casual settings is a great draw. Indeed, the central aim of Trilogy, say owners Meethil and Ahalya Momaya, is books, writers and readers. The Momayas cater to each member personally, recommending books, and keeping the readers’ excitement and interest alive.
The Hive, on the other hand, was already a community space, that decided to create a community of readers as well. “We did not want to ‘enforce’ the reading habit, but wanted people to engage with books, book clubs and storytelling sessions,” explains Sharin Bhatti, co-owner of The Hive.
Share your books
The recently launched book-sharing app and site, Clap Share helps you exchange books “so to read a book, you don’t need to buy it. You can borrow it from someone who owns it,” says IIT-Bombay graduate and co-founder Ashish Bhansali. “We want to encourage the culture of sharing.”
How it works:
No membership or annual fee. Just pay for the book you order. They will even order a book for you if you can’t find a title. If you have books that you would like to lend, send it to Clap Share.
The app is available on Google Play for Android phones, or you can log on to:
“People are always looking for something different to do, and we are trying to make reading a part of that. The approach had to be different as we are a generation that is averse to slowing down. So we have approached it with a community focus.”
Access is key
The idea, of course, is to get people interested in reading again, or actually (because reading is not really a dying activity no matter what pessimists say) to make books more accessible.
“The avenues to find books are limited in the city; we don’t have enough bookstores,” say the Momayas. “Plus, you can’t keep buying books. One of our members said that as a kid he’d cycle to his neighbourhood library, pick up a book, read it, and go back in the evening to return it. But his son, even with time to read, and a cycle, has no place to go to check out books. An avid reader will find a way to read no matter what. But for a casual reader, access to books is important.”
And because casual readers outnumber avid readers, libraries have to be attractive, both in terms of the facilities they offer, and how welcoming they look. “We understood that if we didn’t change, people would stop coming,” says Desai.
“So changing the ambience was very important. Nobody wants to come to a dusty, damp and poorly lit place anymore. So we created a garden-like ambience, and it is comfortable with landscaping and air-conditioning.
We now allow students to come in with their own study material, and we are open for a longer duration on a few Saturdays of the month. Our quarterly figures show a growth in number of visitors; now there is a regular stream of people walking in, and usually people are waiting at the door every morning when we open.”
Become a member
Library, Bookstore & Literary Events, Lower Parel.
Good writers, rare titles, books by Indian publishers such as Yoda Press and Mapin Publishing. Trilogy offers a fresh look at travel, military history, warfare, and city history books. They have even made their own classifications for books with common themes, such as ‘Connected Lives’, ‘Feel-Good’, and ‘Dangerous Secret’, and also offer books on books, on writing, and on authors.
(Photo: Meethil Momaya)
A History of the World in 100 Objects
by Neil MacGregor; and the Murty Classical Library Collection
Building No 28, First Floor, Above Sanghi Motors, Raghuvanshi Mills Compound. Lower Parel. Call 8080590590.
Log on to:
Just Books, Kandivli, Powai, Nerul, Thane
Members of this circulating library get access to over six lakh titles. They can also borrow or return a book in any city at any time. There is lots of space for browsing, it is well-lit, air-conditioned, and also offers a bench and a few chairs for reading before you choose a book. The radio tags system makes it easy for members to search for a specific book.
Its collection of books in regional languages.
Log on to:
Nehru Centre Library
High ceilings, lots of space, wood interiors, and tranquil landscaping make this reference public library an inviting option. Sit at any of the community tables, or take a private booth for surfing, writing, or watching videos. Great for those working on novels or long projects.
Select works by Jawaharlal Nehru, a rare collection of books on Mahatma Gandhi, periodicals and journals, and for research, pre-made ‘info packs’ on topics such as JN Foreign Policy – a compilation of books, articles and web sites.
Nehru Centre, 1st Floor, Discovery of India Building, Dr Annie Besant Road Worli. Call 24964676.
Log on to:
This simple neighbourhood library has separate rooms for adults and children, with a collection of over 13,000 books, comics and magazines. Colourful throw cushions, reading nooks, desks and chairs, and its quiet location make it a good choice for readers as well as students in the area. They also sell books very cheap.
Their active literary events calendar that includes book clubs, film clubs, and workshops for kids and adults.
Princess Building, D’Monte Park Road, Near Bandra Gymkhana, Bandra (W). Call 26411497.
Log on to:
The Hive’s crowdsourced collection of books includes subjects like art, cinema, poetry, management and short fiction for kids. The draw at this casual reading space is to get lost with a book inside its 6,000 sq ft bungalow space, with a chance of collaborating or hanging out with like-minded folk.
The complete Artform and Osian series of journals, an extensive cinema research collection, and self-published authors.
50-A, Huma Mansion, opposite Ahmed Bakery, Chuim Village Road, Khar Danda, Khar (W).
Leaping Windows, Versova
This library and café in a shaded bylane offers an inviting silence. You can choose to sit at the indoor or outdoor sections of the café, or take the spiral wooden staircase down to the basement, which houses the library with open shelves, posters, and comfortable floor seating with chatais and throw cushions.
Its rare and fun collection of graphic novels and comics; and its soon-to-launch new menu at the café.
3, Corner View, off Yari Road, opposite Bianca Towers, Versova, Andheri (W). Call: 26329133.
Log on to:
Take a book, leave a book
Little Free Library
Part of the Little Free Library worldwide movement that started in the US in 2009 to encourage book exchanges and reading habits, in essence, this is a box of books, kept in a busy neighbourhood, from which people can dip in, take a book and leave a book in exchange – absolutely free. The first one in India is located in Bandra (W) inside the small ALM Park where a tiny cabinet shaped like a giant book has been built, and it is divided into two shelves – one for taking a book and the other for returning a book. It is free and the door of the cabinet is always unlocked.
At: ALM Park, D’Monte Park Road, Near Bandra Gymkhana, Bandra (W).
Log on to:www.littlefreelibrary.org
Book Exchange Club of Mumbai
The three-year-old enterprise has almost 1,300 members and has held more than 80 meet-ups to swap books and get like-minded readers to meet. They also organise the Take-A Book-Leave-A-Book exchange at BRU World Cafés across Mumbai.
Log on to:
This online library that launched in 2007 now has over 75,000 book titles and 9,000 members including 90 corporate houses in Mumbai, Pune, and Bangalore. It focuses on cost, convenience, collection, and choice and offers doorstep delivery. Librarywala.com will soon expand to Delhi-NCR, Gujarat, and Kolkata.
A crowdsourced library
Copywriter Pushpendra Pandya started India’s first crowdsourced library in 2013 and has since acquired over 5,000 books in donation. Each time he receives a new book, he emails his list of members, and if someone is interested, he physically delivers the book or sets up a midway meeting point – for free. He has more than 45 members, and is looking to open a library in Vasai to house all the books.
From HT Brunch, August 16
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