CHENNAI: The doubling of the library cess collected by the city Corporation as part of property tax has taken residents by surprise. Property owners will now have to contribute 10 percent of their general tax towards libraries instead of the five per cent which had been collected over the years.
Officials in the Corporation claim those who are unaware of the increase are being given time to pay the extra amount. However, property owners allege the increase was a “quiet affair.”
“It becomes incumbent upon the Corporation to notify the property owners through press release,” said Jayaram Sivaram, a resident of the city, who has carried a cheque for the usual amount. “We had plans to roll out the increase in library cess as early as 2008 but we have increased it only from this financial year,” said a senior official in the Corporation’s Revenue department.
For most residents the increase is just a two-digit sum. However, the doubling of the library cess brings to the fore the conditions in the 150-odd libraries in the city.
A field visit to libraries in the city by Express shows that the most libraries are without computers. Collections are dominated by dated exam-oriented guides, question banks and comic books. Broken chairs and creaky fans are other commonalities. “The library cess primarily goes toward improving the Anna Centenary Library and Connemara Library. Very little importance is given towards improving the smaller libraries,” said an official from the Directorate of Libraries.
This disregard for smaller libraries is evident in the government library in Choolai. It is yet to receive its first computer. “We have asked the librarian several times for a computer. He keeps saying ‘it’ll come,’ but it hasn’t,” said S Karthik, a student who regularly visits the library.
The librarian’s disconnect from the ones procuring books, providing amenities and his limited say in the matter is seen in the government library in Mylapore, which has a bigger collection, but very few new ones. “The library has the same Enid Blyton books that I read as a kid. I’m not saying they should throw them away but they should get newer books,” said Praveena Bharathi, a resident of Mylapore.
Librarians claim that the surge in internet availability has affected patronage. However, the effect of poor amenities cannot be discounted. The women’s library at Pudhupet is a prime example of how lack of amenities can shoo away curious visitors. The dingy hallway which leads to the small library is lined with shops dealing with automobile spare parts, which have placed old tyres, tools and water cans on the hallway. “Women rarely come here. We don’t even know why it is open,” said a worker in one of the shops.
But officials in the Directorate of Libraries expressed hope that libraries in the city would improve in the coming days. “The increased cess will also help us buy more books and computers for the libraries,” said an official in the Directorate of Libraries, who said a fresh load of books would deck libraries across the city in a few weeks.