What can a library mean to a city? A lot, if one goes by the vociferous ‘Save Our Library’ campaign that thousands of members of the British Council Library (BCL) in Thiruvananthapuram and Bhopal ran for three months. There were candlelight vigils, rallies, signature campaign, blogging and online petitions. Both libraries downed their shutters on Friday, though members in Thiruvananthapuram won a victory of sorts as the state government decided to take over the library.
Emotional scenes played out at the time of ‘closure’. In Bhopal, one old man said that he was going to be “lonely once again”. Rohit, a Class XII student said, “It is like watching a close friend succumbing to an untimely death.” For Vijeta Shrivastava, 21, the Bhopal BCL was like a second home. She says, “I fought very hard to save the library.”
At Thiruvananthapuram too, members came with their families to take pictures inside the library. Says Professor P Vijaya Kumar, who teaches English in a women’s college in the city, “The BCL has been a cultural landmark, our window to the world. I feel like having lost a limb.” Krishnamohan, an engineer in the forefront of Save Our British Library campaign in the city said, “The British Council has disregarded our sentiments by unilaterally deciding to close the library.” The British Council had earlier closed its libraries in Ranchi, Patna and Lucknow.
British Council India says that the two recent closures is part of its global restructuring and the changing ‘nature’ of its work in India. Now it is refocusing its energies on the Gulf and China. Recently, the Council closed its offices and libraries in Peru, Athens and, Kathmandu. And the library in Kuala Lumpur is to close by June.
The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) with whose collaboration the British Council ran the two libraries has come in for flak from protestors for being a “silent spectator”. But ICCR maintains it has no right to interfere in the affairs of a sovereign organisation. Says Pavan K Varma, director-general, ICCR, “We provide only administrative help. We cannot veto their decisions.”
People in Thiruvananthapuram now await the new library which sources say will be run by an autonomous body, with a governing committee headed by the chief minister. The MP government has invited the British Council for discussions in March for an alternative library.
(With inputs from Vanita Shrivastava in Bhopal)