“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man”– T link i en blog.S. Eliot
As a kid, I remember, the one document which used to fill me with immense excitement was my library card. It was my ticket to paradise. This ancient building with its tall shelves, which were decorated with innumerable books ranging from the classics to contemporary works of fiction and non-fiction, was always a place of sheer enigma. I started reading very early, which is why, as a student, my library periods were my favourite time of the week. In that brief half an hour’s time, I tried to explore as many shelves and as many writers as possible. Be it plain and unsophisticated second-hand books with scribbles on them, or the tattered copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, every book was riddled with mysteries. As a child with soaring flights of imagination, I was deeply fascinated.
Not much has changed since that moment, as whenever I open a book, even today, I am instantly transported to the world created by the writer. As Haruki Murakami beautifully describes, “Most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages – a special odour of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers.” Reading has dramatically changed my life as it is an excellent source of alleviating stress and anxiety, and boosting overall happiness. Apart from being a rich source of knowledge, studies have shown that reading has strong positive effects on the brain as it enables us to stay mentally stimulated and prevent diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Similar to solving puzzles, reading books is a great way to exercise your brain and keep it healthy. My tryst with books has sharpened my writing and critical thinking skills. The world of fiction allowed me to travel to different worlds where I could get a glimpse of other cultures and places. Books expand your mental, emotional and intellectual horizons as they are the perfect way to visit a strange country in your mind. As Oprah Winfrey rightly says, “Books were my pass to personal freedom.”
A library carries a very essential place in every society as it is vibrant, progressive, and culturally divergent. It is a way of life as this repository of diverse ideas is all-embracing. People come to libraries not just for reading, but for a holistic experience. It is a hub for all kinds of readers and non-readers to gather, interact and talk about issues, from the mundane to the philosophical. As a social movement in Kerala, almost every road in this gram panchayat in Kerala’s Kannur district leads to or ends with a library. Kerala has a robust tradition of libraries as K Baiju, secretary of Kannur district library council, opines, “Libraries have to become a hub of activities, from reading to social activities to entrepreneurial action.” At a time when the culture of public reading is slowly changing, owing to the advent of modern digital technology, the culture of libraries has blossomed in Kerala. While the Kannur district itself has 900-plus libraries, the highest number of libraries for a district in Kerala, the state remarkably owns 8,464 libraries attached to the Kerala State Library Council. This high-spirited social movement is a glowing tribute to the sacred libraries which shall continue to act as a guiding light for all the generations to come.
This is a shining example of how libraries are evolving with the world. When e-books and audiobooks had just launched, many decried the end of the public library; they claimed that there was no more reason for people to go to these hallowed walls. But libraries and librarians across the world persevered. They updated themselves with time, offering e-books and audiobooks to their readers. But that’s not it. The digital library is now a thing! Various institutions are slaving to protect whichever texts they can lay their hands on, using the best of technology to preserve them physically, and scanning it all to build digital archives of the sort which would have been unthinkable, without the steady support of technology. So, technological advancement isn’t necessarily a foe of books, in fact, block-printing and the invention of the printing press were both beacons on technological advancement in their respective times. These efforts of various organisations to digitise books cherish the spirit of the library, whatever the form might be. For what is a library, if not a safe haven for books and people alike? With our books protected, we can take shelter in the knowledge of hundreds of years of progress, each letter on each page a standing testament to the human endeavour across time.
In The View From the Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman does a wonderful job of describing the role that libraries play in a child’s life, setting him or her up for a lifetime of reading, introspecting, imagining, and creating. Netflix’s You, a disturbing and problematic show otherwise, wonderfully portrays the joy and stability that a child coming from a broken home derives from the books loaned to him by the protagonist. And that is precisely what libraries do for people who can’t afford to buy books, or quiet spaces to breathe in. Libraries across the world have put in immense efforts to change things into an entire experience, with some loaning briefcases and other paraphernalia to the underprivileged, jobless and the homeless, to allow them to perform better in interviews.
And what these naysayers fail to understand, is the very spirit of the library, which isn’t restricted to just a few walls with books stacked against them, for people to loan and read. Libraries are places of refuge, places where one loans not just books, but also precious moments, away from the world and its concerns. Time stops in these walls as readers, young and old alike, sit together, reading in silence, each lost in his or her own world, embracing ideas which will ultimately help build a better real world.
J.K Rowling rightly says,
“When in doubt, go to the library.”