When was the last time you visited a library, browsed through the hundreds of titles, and finally borrowed a book that evoked your interest? Online libraries that promise to offer nearly the same experience have caught the readers' fancy and are rekindling a lost love.
The online library system works like your conventional library. Once you register, you can browse and choose a book to read, which will be delivered to you within 24 hours, and also be picked up after you are done. There are fiction, non-fiction and children's categories and, apart from renting, you can also buy books.
Easylib, for instance, has a whopping 28,000 titles. Started by Vani Mahesh, an engineer and a self-confessed "avid reader", the Bangalore-based venture has been creating ripples among book lovers.
"I have always been an avid reader, and wanted to start a library. But I became an engineer instead. I remember when I was abroad, back in 1994, the internet had just started creating a buzz and by 1997-98, the online revolution in the US had happened," Mahesh told IANS.
Recounting how as a young mother she found online shopping so convenient thanks to Amazon and eBay, Mahesh realised what was missing in India once she returned with her family.
"I knew books and technology and realised that the library system in India was not good. So I decided to start an online library. I designed the software myself (which) took about eight months and started my venture with around 3,000 books," she said.
While Easylib's services are restricted to Bangalore, INDIAreads, another online library, has a pan-India presence. Started in 2010, it has a wide variety of books on its shelves, including a reference section on government reports and studies, aimed at students, academics and bureaucrats, and also a separate category of books being made into movies or TV serials.
"Our aim is to make books accessible to everyone in the country; to make reading an enjoyable and hassle-free experience," said Shrawan Chhajer of INDIAreads, which has its head office in Noida and has over 6,000 people registered.
"In metros, traffic is a big problem and access (to bookstores and libraries) isn't always easy. In smaller towns, bookstores are not always well stocked. In schools and colleges they often don't have the space and resources to continually update their collection. Taken, you can find pirated books at the traffic signal, but they often have pages missing and in any case it's morally unsettling. To address all these concerns, we started INDIAreads," he said.
Chhajer said there is no deadline fixed to return a book.
So, once you have the book delivered at your doorstep, you can take your time to finish reading it.
Has this new medium re-kindled a lost love, especially among youth? The answer is a definite yes.
"Youngsters have a world of their own online. They are very computer-savvy; so this medium of discovering books and reading has definitely been a hit with them. Since the last two years we have had a large number of teenagers and youngsters registering themselves," Mahesh said.
Most online libraries also have a brick and mortar (bookstore) version where people can do some real browsing and be a part of events like 'meet the author', workshops and book launches.
So go ahead, click and read!