(This is an old article which was published in the Hindu, in 2005)
Many are worried that Bangalore will lose its beautiful greenery and balanced climate because of the IT explosion. They needn’t waste their time as the city has already shed its past for a glitzier era of lights and money. However, carelessness of the past and the burst of television in the ’90s has certainly affected one of our valued heritages: government-run libraries.
As a child I remember going to the City Central Library in search of comics and detective novels. All I got were torn Tinkles and discoloured Tintins.
This was in the early ’90s when satellite TV was just about making an entry into Bangalore. It wasn’t long before I stopped visiting these libraries.
Believing that the City Central Library would cater to changed tastes, I visited it again after a few years, and this time as a collegian. Yet again, it was disappointing to find that there were hardly any good books on the shelves that once would surely have hosted the giants of literature.
Even when you managed to lay hands on an outstanding work, it would be soiled, torn or mutilated.
Years later I visited yet another library, this time near my workplace. I went in to get a membership without having a look at the collection, which was well stocked with bound books. The person in charge looked askance at me, and almost with pity told me to first have a look at the books there.
I complied and thanked him silently as it wasn’t to be third time lucky for me. I saw the same imprints of mediocrity in this relatively new branch. There were books aplenty and in good shape too, but most were obscure and, I guessed, were of average quality.
My disappointment with the library is not a complaint against the people who run it. It’s not as if these libraries don’t get good books. They perhaps receive more top-quality books than private libraries do. But with the low membership fee and deposit, they are sitting ducks for educated thieves. Such is the pervasiveness of thievery in public libraries that the deed has an almost heroic ring to it.
With so many software companies making hay here, can’t our IT czars adopt our public libraries, nourish and maintain them? We should safeguard books in the interest of honest readers and keep keep track of every book borrowed. Then my fourth visit to the City Central Library might prove fruitful, yet.