First hit by the digital boom of ebooks and now, the lockdown necessitated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, reading and lending libraries in the city have been struggling for survival. Of the 190 libraries across Pune (100 privately-owned and 90 government libraries), at least 100 have witnessed reduced subscriptions and revenues over the past few months. Going online, waving off late fees and entry only on reservations- city libraries are now coming up with different ways to still be relevant.
One of the city’s largest libraries, the British Council closed its Pune operations in June. The library is now online and informed its members of this decision via mail. The mail read, “As the coronavirus situation is evolving in India, the British Council supports and cooperates with national and state government authorities to put all necessary measures in place, and ensure the continued well-being of all whom we engage with in the course of our operations. In light of the various state government advisories on closing all educational institutions and avoiding mass gatherings, British Council Library in Delhi, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune will remain closed for public access starting March 15 until further notice. We are also extending your library membership by six weeks and no overdue charges will be levied for the closure period for late return of books and other library materials; so you don’t face any inconvenience during this time.”
Besides this library, 90 other libraries and reading rooms registered with the Pune district library officer will remain closed till August 31, following the Maharashtra government circular. However, with the constant support of bibliophiles, some of the privately-run libraries are braving the Covid-19 situation and opened to business in July.
Apart from financial loses, libraries were losing at least 60 per cent of their members. Ulka Awasthi, owner of Reader’s Library in Aundh recalls how senior citizens started withdrawing their membership or putting it on hold when the lockdown was first announced. “It was a wave of panic when the lockdown was announced. Many, who were interested in reading books, took as many as 10 books with them, while some of them began withdrawing their membership or requested me to keep it on hold,” said Awasthi.
Meanwhile, vorocious readers like N Varke from Aundh believe books are the best source of infotainment and had been patiently waiting for the library to open. “I am 70 years old and since my children live abroad, only my wife and I stay here. We tend to read a lot and are not interested in TV series. We feel that books are the best company we have. Hence, even though it is risky, we go to a library in Aundh.”
“A few of the members wanted to stock up on books during the lockdown. I kept the library open for half-a-day in April, becuase if I closed it permanently, I would lose subscriptions. It helped me pay half the rent too. Now, the library is completely sanitised, however, some still do not come here. There are a few senior citizens, who are avid readers, who come to the library every alternate day and exchange books. The situation is tough for our business,” added Awasthi of Readers’s Library which offers children’s books and a vast collection of Diwali Ank for its readers at Rs 250 per month.
Owner of Books Meridien, Dhiraj Kothari, suggests prior appointment to avoid crowds at the library. “Readers are a bit cautious, but book lovers can’t stop exchanging books. Hence to help them, we have online book reservations wherein they can simply pick up the book off the counter instead of spending time within the library. Due to the lockdown, I lost 60 per cent of my members, but now the situation is slightly better,” said Kothari.
Seema Sharma is yet to visit her library in Kothrud as it will be closed till August 31. “I stay in Bavdhan and my library is in Kothrud. My son loves to read and because of Covid-19, we have not been able to go to the library to get books. He has finished reading his entire collection at home,” said Seema.
Nagar Vachan Granthalaya, which is a 172-year-old library in the city, with five branches, opened for business after three months of lockdown in July. “We started operations on July 1 and received a good response from our members. Some were very grateful that we opened our doors and also ensured social distancing and sanitisation. Many members said that they were bored at home with books. Initially, we kept the library open between 10am and 2pm, but now it is open throughout the day. We even waived off the late fees for many of our subscribers who had books with them before the lockdown,” said Suvarna Jayant Joglekar, secretary of the Laxmi road branch. The library has 2,000 members and several new members joined post the opening of the library. It charges Rs 30 per month for books in English and Marathi and offers home delivery service, which is currently shut down due to Covid.
Unfortunately, Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad library has not been able to open its doors for its members. “We are ready to welcome our members, but sadly we are following the government protocol to keep it closed till August 31. Most of our members, which are close to 1,000 who pay Rs 300 per month, are senior citizens who are vulnerable to Covid. Thus, we are closed but this closure is adding to our losses,” said VD Pingale, director of the library.
Follow more stories on Facebook and Twitter